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Ling Review — Gamified Practice in Less Common Languages

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Quick Review

3.2 

Summary

Ling is a gamified language-learning app with courses on over 60 different languages. Practice happens through short themed lessons, making for convenient and entertaining study time. It isn’t the most comprehensive resource out there, especially for more popular languages, but it can make a decent way to get started with a less common language.

Quality

The app is easy to use and visually appealing, but I found some mistakes in the material.

Thoroughness

There aren’t many explanations, and the materials are the same for each language, but practice is varied.

Value

For many of its less common languages, there aren’t a lot of viable alternatives, but the price feels high.

Languages

Over 60 languages, including less common ones like Thai, Tagalog, Serbian, Nepali, Albanian, Bulgarian, Bosnian, Finnish, and Khmer.

Price

Monthly $8.99
Annual $43.99
Lifetime $119.99

Gamified learning is here to stay. The large pool of language-learning apps that leverage gamification in their courses is continually growing, and frankly, I’m happy about it.

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Ling Logo

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Developed by Simya Solutions, Ling is a language-learning app that provides gamified practice in more than 60 different languages. They’ve also developed fun projects like a Truth or Dare app and a Never Have I Ever app.

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The variety of language courses is actually the app’s biggest strength in my opinion. For a lot of the languages you can study on Ling, there just aren’t many great options out there for self-study. The resources that are available aren’t usually very much fun to use.

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Ling Languages

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An app like Ling, animated and gamified with native speaker audio, feels downright luxurious for some languages.

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As is usually the case, though, the double-edged sword that is a massive language library is also the likely source of what I think are some of the app’s major shortcomings.

 

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My Experience Learning with Ling

I was thrilled to see how many languages are available on Ling, especially to see that they offer an Albanian course. I’ve been living in Albania for more than six months and have reached sort of a plateau with my abilities in the language, having only picked up some functional basics.

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I credit this in part to a degree of laziness on my end, but also to a lack of engaging study resources in the language.

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In any case, I immediately decided to try out the Ling app’s Albanian course. I also spent some time checking out the advanced units in the Spanish course and took a peek at a bunch of less common languages with different writing systems to see what instruction looked like.

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Albanian Language Icon

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Spanish Language Icon

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After using the course regularly for several days, I can say with certainty that I know more Albanian than I did when I began and that it’s the most enjoyable resource I’ve used for learning the language.

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I didn’t get much out of the Spanish course, admittedly, which contributes to my belief that Ling is best for learners at the beginner level of less common languages. I’ll speak more about learning to write other languages with Ling later in this review.

Course Layout

The Ling homepage is very easy to navigate. The 50 units are divided into five difficulty levels: Beginner, Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert, and they each have a clearly defined theme.

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Ling Homepage

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Each unit is then made up of four different lessons, each teaching specific vocabulary through a variety of interactive exercises and a final exam.

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Aside from choosing which language you’d like to study, there’s no additional set-up required before you can start learning. There isn’t a level test to take that automatically places you at an appropriate level, but you can jump freely from lesson to lesson and complete them in any order you like.

Lessons and Activities

Selecting any unit reveals four themed lessons and highlights the target vocabulary in each. I thought the lessons built on each other fairly well and progressed in a mostly logical order.

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Introduction Unit Lessons

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You’ll get three rounds of practice in each lesson, represented by the checkmarks next to the target vocabulary. After selecting a lesson, practice begins with the presentation of the relevant vocabulary words.

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New Vocabulary Card

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It’s pretty standard stuff here — you get to see the translation of the vocabulary word as well as an example sentence, and you can listen to a native speaker pronounce each. I appreciate having the ability to listen to a slowed-down version of the audio.

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Next comes a chance to see if you’re able to remember the presented vocabulary. This practice comes in the form of a spelling activity, a sentence-ordering exercise, multiple-choice questions, and a matching task.

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Multiple-Choice Question

Sentence Order Activity

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Matching Exercise

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I found all of the activities to be intuitive enough not to need any instruction, which is something I like in a language resource. I also thought that the variety was enough to keep me from ever becoming overly bored with practice.

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The lessons are also short enough that getting some practice in never feels like a daunting prospect.

 

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Lesson Dialogue

After these interactive exercises, each lesson ends with a dialogue.

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Albanian Dialogue

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This was by far the most challenging aspect of learning with the app for me, but I also found it to be useful. It’s nice to see the target vocabulary used in the context of a conversation and to be able to hear native speakers talking to one another (it’s also the only time you get to hear a male voice in the Albanian course).

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Dialogue Gap-fill

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There’s also a basic gap-fill exercise that provides some interaction with the dialogue.

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One potential issue with the dialogues is that they often contain a significant amount of language that isn’t covered in the preceding lessons. Translations are available for each sentence with the touch of a button, but it can still be a bit overwhelming.

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This is especially true because there are no explanations or translations of individual words. While some languages have some grammar explanations (more on this later), learning grammar in a language like Albanian happens purely through exposure, which surely isn’t the fastest way to go about it.

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I was almost always able to deduce the meanings of new words in the dialogues, but there were also a few times where I was at a loss for what some individual words meant.

Exam Exam Button

Exams come at the end of each lesson. The only difference between the language exercises in the exams and in the lessons is that the exam questions are timed, and you can only get four answers wrong before “failing.”

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Exam Question

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While it’s nothing particularly fancy, it is nice to test yourself on all of the material covered in the unit’s four lessons. Retaking the exam presents a slightly different variety of questions.

Review and Review All

There are two review functions in Ling, and I’m not a huge fan of either of them. The Review feature is essentially ten randomly generated questions from any of the units you’ve completed so far. It functions just like the test, but there’s no timer.

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In my opinion, this function would be far more effective if it used a spaced repetition system (SRS) to keep track of your mistakes and presented you with the material you need the most practice with. Some review is better than no review, but with Ling it feels unfocused and inefficient to me.

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Then, there’s the “Review All” feature that’s available with each unit.

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Unit 3 Review All

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This is the closest the resource comes to providing a dictionary of all of the terms you’ve learned in the course. It would be much nicer if there was a searchable dictionary with audio recordings and translations of all of the terms you’ve learned.

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Review All Vocabulary Card

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As it is, you’ll have to search by unit and then scroll through the words to see what you’ve studied. This could be helpful if you wanted to make notes of everything you’ve learned or import phrases into a third-party program like Anki to get SRS practice, but I otherwise didn’t find myself using the feature.

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You’ll also be able to see and listen to the dialogue from each lesson in any particular unit.

Speaking and Writing

These are two features that are available for most of the languages on Ling, but not Albanian! Granted, Albanian doesn’t need its own writing section, but it was the only language I found that didn’t have a speaking exercise. Even Georgian, a language with roughly half as many native speakers, offered a speaking feature.

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Georgian Speaking Exercise

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The speaking activity is really just a listen-and-repeat scenario with speech-recognition technology that grades your pronunciation. I tested the feature in the Spanish course, and it seemed… okay. It doesn’t provide any detailed feedback about your pronunciation, but it will highlight specific sounds you may not be pronouncing correctly.

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I also looked at a bunch of languages that have their own writing system, and they all had a writing section: Thai, Korean, Arabic, Russian, Japanese, Nepali, Greek, Georgian, to name a handful.

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Nepali Writing Practice

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I think it’s really cool that the app makes an effort to teach these writing systems, but the actual mechanics of practice didn’t blow me away. I also found it absolutely necessary to do the writing practice on the app — a touch screen made the experience much more enjoyable and effective for me.

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The writing exercise first shows an animation of the character, then has you trace a guide with arrows, and finally asks you to write the character on your own. I found the grading system to be extremely lenient: drawing a line pretty much anywhere on the grid, provided it’s in the right direction, usually registered as correct.

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Teaching writing may not be Ling’s forte, but I still think it’s cool you can get any practice at all in the less common languages it offers. I wish I had known about it while I was in Nepal, for example, as I had a hard time coming across any engaging materials for learning the language.

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I thought it was interesting that Ling included a writing section for Vietnamese, even though the language uses a Latin-based script. The writing system treats vowels with different tones as unique letters, providing a way for users to learn to write and recognize tones.

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There’s also no writing practice for Chinese. I’m assuming this is because the Chinese writing system doesn’t use an alphabet, and teaching users how to write so many unique characters is a pretty massive task.

 

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Grammar

This is another feature that isn’t available in every language on Ling. I didn’t see any grammar explanations during my use of the Albanian or Spanish courses, but I did come across this pronoun chart in the first unit of the Thai course.

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Thai Pronouns

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According to this Reddit user’s review of Ling, there are also some grammar explanations in the Korean course.

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A chart with pronouns is something you can find pretty easily with a Google search in just about any language, but I think it’s still a good thing when resources try to give as much language information as possible. Taking notes on the pronouns here and doing some self-study seems like the best method to me, as there aren’t any activities on Ling that provide focused pronoun practice.

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Picking up a language’s grammar rules otherwise happens through exposure to examples in the Ling courses, which to me feels like one of the most inefficient ways to learn. I much prefer explanations when learning grammar.

Chatbot

The chatbot was one of the more underwhelming Ling features for me, though it was entertaining at times.

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Chatbot Conversation Example One Chatbot Conversation Example Two

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The exercise models a dialogue between two speakers in your target language, and you get to assume one of the roles by selecting from a list of pre-made responses. There are no incorrect choices, so it’s more of a choose-your-own-adventure exercise than a test.

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Sometimes it feels buggy, like when three of the response choices are identical:

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Spanish Conversation

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But it can also get quite entertaining, especially with more advanced language. My “Dating” conversation with the chatbot, for example, got pretty steamy.

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Dating Conversation

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Some handy elements here are the tags denoting whether a phrase is formal or informal and the ability to easily translate a phrase or listen to an audio recording.

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There’s also the option to record yourself speaking one of the response choices, which would be a decent way to get speaking practice that achieves at least some kind of semblance to a real conversation.

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Unfortunately, I had no luck with this while interacting with the Albanian or Spanish chatbots. Instead, I received a message saying that I couldn’t be understood every time I tried to record myself.

Mistakes in the Material

Like all language learning tools (especially those teaching many languages), Ling is imperfect. Here are some examples of language I came across that wasn’t totally correct.

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Bad English Translation

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The English translation in the above question just isn’t grammatically correct, and it’s the “correct” answer here.

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The below vocabulary card uses the wrong word in the example sentence (it reads “older brother” in Albanian instead of “younger brother”), and it shows up more than once in practice activities in the lesson.

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Incorrect Albanian Sentence

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The flag in the upper-right corner of the screen is where you can report issues in the material, and I did this to report the faulty example sentence. It’s a pretty straightforward process, and I received an email from their support team within a day thanking me and saying they would look into it.

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I find it rather discouraging to come across mistakes like this in a language-learning resource, and it’s an unfortunately common occurrence among resources that teach a lot of languages.

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Not all of these resources actually have good mechanisms in place for fixing mistakes, though, and it was refreshing to be able to easily report the problem and get a response from a human. I got the sense that the team behind the app is actually invested in its quality, which is a nice feeling.

Pricing

Full access to a language course on Ling requires the purchase of a subscription. There are two recurring subscription options, $8.99/month or $43.99/year, and there’s a lifetime subscription available for $119.99.

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Ling Prices

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The year-long subscription comes with a 7-day free trial, and potential users can complete the first two units in any language for free without providing any information.

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The monthly subscription price feels a bit high to me, considering that grammar instruction is limited and the courses are almost identical for each language. That said, Ling does offer some things you simply can’t find anywhere else.

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Want a fun way to learn the Nepali or Georgian alphabet? Want convenient practice in a well-designed app for Albanian or Croatian? Ling might be your best bet.

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It could also be a good option for someone who tends to move around a lot, especially to countries where less common languages are spoken. Ling seems like it could reliably provide at least an engaging introduction to a lot of these languages, especially of the Asian or Eastern European varieties (there aren’t many African languages currently available).

Alternatives

When it comes to engaging, gamified language apps with courses in more than 50 languages, Ling is a top contender. Here are some more heavy-hitters that are worth considering if Ling is the type of tool you’re looking for.

Duolingo

For me, this is the first resource that comes to mind when thinking of alternatives to Ling. It’s renowned for offering completely free gamified practice in a bunch of languages (35 for English speakers) and has a massive user base.

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Because of the price difference, I’d almost certainly opt for using Duolingo in place of Ling where both resources offer a course in the same language. Duolingo isn’t great at providing detailed, in-depth language instruction, but it works well as an introduction to a language. It’s also free.

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There are quite a few language courses available on Ling that aren’t on Duolingo yet, and this is where Ling has an edge on Duolingo. Ling might also perform better with Asian languages. Here’s our full review of Duolingo.

uTalk

Like Ling, uTalk offers courses in a huge range of languages. Both resources use native speaker audio and short interactive games to provide language practice. uTalk outperforms Ling in the categories of language availability and price, boasting over 140 language courses and a monthly subscription price of less than $4/month (though you’ll only get access to one language at a time).

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Where uTalk falls short is the quality of practice and its practice activities. uTalk doesn’t offer writing practice or have a chatbot, and its language games aren’t quite as engaging in my opinion. Read the full uTalk review.

Glossika

Another resource with courses in a large number of resources, Glossika will get you speaking in your target language right away. Practice mostly happens through exposure to sentences read aloud by native speakers, which you’ll be tasked with producing yourself.

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Some added benefits of Glossika are that it uses SRS to make practice more efficient and that you can learn any of its languages using example sentences from any of its other languages.

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The price is significantly higher with Glossika than it is with Ling or uTalk, though, and the material may not be suitable for absolute beginners. This is our full review of Glossika.

italki

This one’s a bit different, but it’s an amazing resource for getting personalized practice in a large number of languages. italki is an online tutor platform with tutors from all over the world setting their own schedules and prices.

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The practice you’ll get from one-on-one lessons with a real teacher is bound to be much more nuanced and in-depth than anything you could get from a language app, though it might not be the experience everyone is looking for, especially absolute beginners.

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Signing up to italki also grants access to some free language exchange features, including Notebooks, a tool that users can use to get free feedback on their writing from other users. We’ve written a full review on italki.

 

In Closing

It’s true that there are plenty of language resources that give more in-depth instruction and better practice opportunities, and it’s true that there are resources that offer instruction in more languages than Ling.

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There seems to be something of an inverse relationship between the number of languages a resource teaches and the quality of the material. I think Ling strikes a nice balance in this regard. For a lot of its languages, I think it’s the most exciting practice you’re likely to find in an app, and you should actually be able to pick up some useful language.

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Personally, I can think of two instances in which Ling would make a viable option for language learning. I was hard-pressed to find anything similar while I was living in Nepal, and it’s the most engaging resource of its kind that I’ve found for learning Albanian so far.

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Even in these situations, though, I can really only see myself signing up for a month-long subscription and then canceling before it gets renewed. This is because I think it’s strongest as an introduction to a language. It’s easy to pick up some useful vocabulary and get a feel for how the language is structured, but the more advanced material lacks the detail and explanations I’d like to see in a language-learning resource.

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All considered, the first two units are free to check out. If you can’t find any other good resources to get started in a less popular language, give it a go!

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