A little over a year ago, I wrote a fairly negative review of LingQ after trying out the platform to study Mandarin. My biggest complaints revolved around the lack of original content, the lackluster review system, and that they tried to do too many things instead of just focusing on reading.
After re-subscribing for a month and re-trying LingQ for Spanish and Chinese, I’ve somewhat come back around and can appreciate the value it provides. That’s not to say that I don’t have the same complaints, just that they may be worth looking past.
Another reason that I felt like I needed to update this review was that it was focused on how good LingQ was for studying Chinese while ignoring its utility for learning other languages. No language learning resource can really be looked at in isolation and each language has some unique options worth considering.
For some reason (perhaps the unique writing system) Mandarin has some very good apps specifically made to provide reading materials at differing difficulty levels. As this website has expanded to other languages; I’ve been surprised to find that most don’t have as many quality resources for learning to read the language as Mandarin does.
While LingQ is far from my top choice for studying Chinese, I actually think it’s a great option for someone studying another language.
There’s a lot going on at LingQ (too much actually)
In my time trying out different language learning resources, there have been very few instances where a company managed to make something good while having a broad focus. More often than not, they spread themselves too thin and end up doing nothing particularly well.
This is sort of the case with LingQ. There’s a lot going on here. You’ll find lessons, LingQs, points, coins, avatars, tutoring, writing, and speaking corrections. It’s not particularly obvious how everything works and there’s a bit of a learning curve to get through it all.
However, the main thing LingQ is used for, improving your language skills through reading, does actually work pretty well. I think their product would be much better if they stripped away all this extra stuff and focused on making the best reading app possible.
But for now, let’s take a look at what it’s like to use LingQ.
Browsing lessons isn’t very user-friendly
Before you begin reading with LingQ, you need to choose what you’d like to read.
The Lesson Feed is the first place you’ll land and it’s a bit chaotic. Lessons seem to be ordered based on the last time someone liked them. You can also filter by difficulty levels or search if there’s something specific you’re looking for.
You’ll also see how many new words a lesson contains and what percentage of that lesson’s words are new. It’ll also show how many of you LingQs will be found in it. You can also save the lesson to your Lesson Library.
The Lesson Library gives you a few more filtering options, but it’s still not particularly convenient to browse through.
The next tab you’ll see is My Lessons. These are the lessons that you’ve opened at some point. You’ll also see the option to get the chrome extension for importing content from the web. I’ll talk more about importing things later as it’s the only reason I’ve continued being interested in using LingQ for reading Chinese.
Let’s see what reading on LingQ is like.
Blue, yellow, and white words
If it’s your first time using LingQ, you’ll find all of the words are highlighted in blue. As you read, you can click on any words that you don’t know and look up their meanings. You’re given a couple of definitions to choose from and you can select the most suitable one. You can also listen to the audio recording and make notes if you wish.
You can also choose to mark the word as known or to ignore it. If you look up the meaning of a word, then it automatically turns yellow and this is one of your LingQs – basically, just a word that you’re learning. You can change these any time as well.
As you go to the next page of any reading selection, any words left in blue will become marked as known and turn to white from then on. You can change this though if you’d prefer to manually mark each word in the settings menu.
Each public lesson also includes audio to listen to. As you encounter your yellow LingQs in later lessons, you can increase their status which will turn them from a dark yellow to lighter and lighter shades, until they’re eventually white and considered known.
The content comes from lots of different places with very little of it being original
Perhaps my biggest complaint about LingQ is the lack of original content. For example, with Chinese, the only original content I see comes either from a podcast that stopped production in 2009 or a series of mini stories. For most people studying Chinese, an app like Du Chinese or The Chairman’s Bao would be a much better resource to use.
Similarly, while using LingQ to study Spanish I found that although a fair amount of content was added by the LingQ Support account, only a tiny amount was original content created by LingQ themselves.
The vast majority of the content on LingQ is added by users and comes from lots of different places. While it’s disappointing to see so little original content, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t interesting material to read or that there’s no point in using LingQ.
There is actually quite a bit of interesting content that could be hard to find on your own.
The content for each language will vary quite a bit depending on the resources available. One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of the content was actually made by other resources, often times paid services and then had been uploaded by users.
How they get away with this, I’m not sure.
It honestly feels like they’re stealing content. I did notice that in the year between when I first tried LingQ and now re-trying it, that all the material from a couple of paid Chinese resources had been removed. Perhaps those companies filed a complaint and asked it to be taken down – though that’s just a guess.
There’s also lots of content from free resources like podcasts, textbooks, other online lessons, books, magazines and more.
Although there’s a lack of original content, there’s still a lot of interesting material to read and listen to.
Uploading content to LingQ
Since much of the content on LingQ is user added, it’s not surprising that uploading content is a pretty quick process.
You can import lessons, vocabulary, or an ebook. You can also choose whether to make the content public or private. However, public content must also include audio.
A while back I downloaded an ebook that I wanted to read in Chinese. It’s the first full-length book I’ve actually attempted to read much of and I ended up putting it aside because I found it too inconvenient to actually read the content.
Because there are still quite a few words in the book that I don’t know, I found it too inconvenient to read using other methods. I tried using my Kindle but looking up words was too slow on there. Similarly, I tried reading in a dictionary app but the text was too long. I even had it saved as an Evernote file and would look up words as I read, but I kept losing my place.
Perhaps there are better alternatives that I don’t yet know about, but LingQ is the first resource where I’ve actually found it to be really convenient to read the content. Because of this, I’ve already made a decent amount of progress.
A possibly useful tool that I haven’t used is the LingQ Importer browser extensions. This would make it really quick to import content from anywhere to read on LingQ. I could see this being a really convenient way to practice reading the content that you’re most interested in reading about.
This has been by far my favorite feature of LingQ.
LingQs add up quickly making it challenging to review words
If you spend much time using LingQ, you’ll end up with a ton of yellow words that you’re “learning.” Unless you specify otherwise, every time you look up the meaning of a word, it’ll turn into a yellow LingQ and will end up in your review queue.
I’m not a fan of LingQ’s approach to reviewing words. In the past, I’ve regularly used SRS flashcards as a way to review vocabulary that I learn and deem important enough to remember. However, I would never recommend adding every unknown word you encounter to your review list.
There are lots of words that you’ll come across that you need to look up the meaning of, but don’t necessarily need to remember yet. This is especially true for anyone still in the beginner stages of learning a language. It just doesn’t make sense to try to learn rarely used words when you still have a lot more important things to figure out first.
If you were to review every unknown word you encounter, your review list would become unmanageably large and would end up taking too large of a percentage of your total study time.
As this list of words to review continues to grow, I’ve just sort of accepted that I’ll never review words in the traditional flashcard manner on LingQ.
That doesn’t mean I won’t review words though. As you continue reading content on LingQ, you’ll continually come across all the words you’ve looked up in the past and are now marked as yellow.
If you remember the meaning of the word, then you should go ahead and change the number – with 1 representing a completely new word and 4 being a word you’ve learned. You can also choose to mark any words as known or to ignore them – something I’ve used very liberally.
While I’ve more or less decided to ignore this part of the app, LingQ also offers an SRS review section. You can choose which methods you want to use for review – flashcard, reverse flashcard, cloze, multiple choice, and dictation.
One small annoyance is that the audio used is text-to-speech and as such, doesn’t sound very natural.
After answering questions correctly, you can choose when you want to review it again based on how well you remember the word.
I like the various options for review as well as the flexibility of choosing which format you want to review in. I just wish it was easier to limit the number of words getting added to your review pile. Perhaps instead of adding every yellow word to the review list, there could be an add to flashcards option.
That way you wouldn’t have to choose between ignoring the word, marking it as known, or including it in your review list.
Stats, Achievements, and an Avatar
LingQ will also show compile your statistics. One of their most prominent ones is the total number of words you “know”. While it’s cool to see this number grow, I don’t think it’s an accurate reflection of someone’s total vocabulary. I think it would be pretty easy for language learners to overestimate their abilities based on this number alone.
Passive recognition of a word while reading is a lot different than being able to use a word in a conversation. Still though, this is pretty fun to see. They’ll also use this total number of words to track your language level, from B1 to A2. Again, I don’t think it’s particularly accurate, but if it motivates people than I have no problems with it.
Speaking of motivation, LingQ also has lots of challenges that you can join in on. A little bit of competition may help you to stay on track. You’ll also get streaks based on how many days in a row you study and can earn coins.
These coins are perhaps the stupidest part of LingQ – the avatar. As far as I can tell, the points you earn can only be used to buy stupid things like new outfits, a CD player, or a football for your avatar.
Maybe I’m just upset that I can’t afford an iPod.
The Language Exchange – You’d be better off going elsewhere
Another feature of LingQ is that it’s possible to engage in language exchanges where you can get feedback on your writing, audio recordings, and more.
This section is fairly dead though, even for popular languages like Spanish and Mandarin. I can only assume less studied languages are complete ghost towns.
For some languages, you can also book a tutor for a lesson taught over Skype. I’d strongly recommend looking elsewhere for tutoring services though as they can be a bit overpriced here, as well as not offering as many options or much flexibility.
italki would be a significantly better place for booking a tutor. There is an absurd number of options and you’ll easily be able to find someone to fit your preferences there. Not only that, italki is significantly better for language exchanges.
You can easily find someone to become a language exchange partner. Another feature of italki that I really like is being able to submit journal entries in their Notebooks section, and then get feedback and corrections on my writing. Because the community is so much larger, getting feedback is far quicker than on LingQ.
HelloTalk is another really popular platform for finding language exchange partners to chat and message with. Basically, don’t bother using this part of LingQ, other places do it far better.
The Free version of LingQ is pretty useless
While you can use LingQ for free, you won’t find much use in doing so. You’ll be limited to 20 LingQs per day, after which, you won’t even be able to look up the meanings of words.
I would strongly discourage people from signing up for the Plus plan at $39.99/month.
The only additional benefit compared to the $12.99/month Premium plan is that you’ll be given 3000 points per month. These points can be used to pay for services such as tutoring or writing corrections.
As I mentioned before, these services are a pretty bad value when compared to what would be offered on italki. The points also expire after 90 days.
LingQ is alright
A lot of people really like LingQ and I’ve found very few people speak negatively about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the most negative LingQ review online and even I don’t hate it. In fact, I’ll probably continue subscribing, at least until I finish the current book I imported onto the platform.
I’m a bit disappointed by the lack of original content on LingQ. Still though, from what I can tell, they manage to not be lacking in interesting materials, even if they come from other paid services.
I like how easy it is to add new content, for me this is a major benefit.
I think their review system has a lot of good things going for it (multiple ways to review, SRS, etc) but I find it annoying that every word I don’t know gets lumped together to be reviewed at a later point. I wish they would rethink this part of their platform.
I also see no point in using LingQ for language exchanges or tutoring. italki is a far better option for both of those.
The avatar is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen a language learning site use. If you’re going to use avatars, at least make them not terrible.
One final benefit to using LingQ is that you can switch languages at any time without paying extra.
While I’m more actively studying Mandarin, it’s nice to be able to easily spend a little extra time reading and listening to interesting content in Spanish.
So yea, LingQ is alright.
I wish they’d focus more on what they do well and improve some of their weaker areas while completely eliminating other parts. Although there’s quite a bit that I dislike, I found myself reading more while subscribed to LingQ and I guess that’s sort of the point after all.