Lingvist is a language learning resource that uses spaced repetition and flashcards to help you build your vocabulary in a new language. There are five language courses made for English speakers, and some of these have an extra challenges section with additional reading, speaking, grammar, and listening practice. Lingvist is straightforward, easy to use, and most effective for beginners or intermediate learners.
The interface is easy to use and practice is enjoyable, but the grammar explanations aren’t great.
The vocabulary practice is great, but the additional features are somewhat limited and vary by language.
A subscription isn’t super expensive, but it isn’t the best resource for a comprehensive education.
- It’s easy to use
- Learning new words is fun
- It’s effective at teaching new vocabulary
I Don’t Like
- The grammar explanations aren’t very helpful
- Practice can get monotonous
- Limited speaking and writing opportunities
Pricing options include $9.99 a month or $79.99 per year.
Most language learning tools either aim to do something different or to do something that’s been done before exceptionally well. Learning new words with flashcards isn’t a novel idea, but it can be pretty effective.
By incorporating machine learning and intelligent algorithms, the founders at Lingvist wanted to see just how efficient they could make the vocabulary acquisition process.
Lingvist is a language learning program available on the web, iOS, and Android. It has courses in five popular languages and excels in helping users quickly build their vocabulary with flashcard exercises.
While Lingvist offers some extra types of language practice (depending on the language), its primary focus is definitely on vocabulary acquisition through flashcards and spaced repetition. It does this well.
The resource isn’t best for learners of Russian or those that are looking for a more comprehensive language-learning process. It’s best for learners that like the professional aesthetic and want an effective and flexible way to build their vocabulary.
Starting Out — First Impressions
Fresh and clean! I like the minimalistic design that greets you when you first open the program, even if there is something vaguely reminiscent of Windows Sticky Notes going on.
It’s sleek and professional-feeling. The menu on the left-hand side of the screen also expands so you don’t have to rely on ambiguous icons while you’re getting used to the app.
The subscription gives you access to all of their language courses, which is great.
I started by choosing Spanish, a language I have a decent amount of experience with but always want to practice more.
Fortunately, Lingvist has a placement test option for people that already have some experience with a language.
The placement test involves a series of fill-in-the-gap exercises. At their most basic, it’s just a direct translation of a single word. You’re also exposed to longer sentences that have a word missing.
This is really the extent of the placement test question types. I was never required to type more than one word at a time, and I wasn’t asked to do much verb-conjugating at all.
Most of the resources I’ve tested with a placement test option for Spanish end up placing me in a level that’s a bit too low. Lingvist also falls into this category.
I definitely got some answers wrong while Lingvist was assessing my level, but interpreting these mistakes as “words I don’t know” isn’t exactly right.
Sometimes I made simple accuracy mistakes or tried to use another translation instead of the one they were looking for (although Lingvist does sometimes accept multiple answers). I didn’t come across any words that were actually new to me in the placement test process.
I think this highlights a shortcoming that many resources have when it comes to their ability to assess language levels. Lingvist’s is a pretty rigid assessment system and one that’s representative of just a small portion of your language proficiency.
In any case, I’m glad I didn’t have to start at the beginning with Spanish. I’m still getting exposed to quite a few “new” words that I’ve known for a long time, but I don’t know if there’s a good way around this.
It’s a little bit frustrating, waiting for the spaced repetition algorithm to sort things out. After a few days of regular use, though, my practice time felt considerably more focused and I was definitely learning new things.
The Lingvist layout is pretty easy to use and easy on the eyes. It’s understated rather than flashy and doesn’t have any catchy visuals. Some people will like this, others won’t. I’m a fan.
Navigation happens via the expandable menu that lines the left side of the web interface.
We’ll touch on each of the pages that are accessible through the menu, but you’re most likely to spend the bulk of your practice time on the Learn page.
The Dashboard page contains information regarding your learning progress and gives you access to additional course options.
Your learning progress is represented by a graph showing the number of cards you’ve completed this week. You can also see your daily progress.
Below the progress information lies a selection of course focus options.
Not all Lingvist languages are created equal when it comes to course focus options. Here’s how many there are for each language at the time of writing:
French – 17
Spanish (Latin American) – 16
Spanish (Spain) – 13
German – 2
Russian – 0
By default, you’ll start out learning the words in the general language course. These are made up of a lot of words, usually upwards of 5000.
You can either elect to practice one course focus exclusively or with other focuses simultaneously.
I like the flexibility that the course focuses provide. Along with the Course Wizard, which we’ll talk about later, you have a fairly high level of customizability in your study material. This is preferable to having no control over which of the 5000+ words you focus your study time on.
This is the main practice area in Lingvist, and it’s essentially a flashcard app. A good one. Like most good flashcard apps, it uses spaced repetition to increase how efficiently you commit new words to long-term memory.
It’s the same type of fill-in-the-gap question we saw in the placement test above. Here’s an example of a German flashcard I came across on the Learn page.
I’m an absolute beginner with German, so I got a lot of these wrong. That’s how you learn with Lingvist — when you’re exposed to a new word you simply press enter to admit you don’t know the answer and to reveal the correct response.
For the most part, I thought this worked well enough. It’s essentially a memory game, but each card’s got some valuable language information if you look for it and pay attention. You can see things like gender, case, and word type on each card.
In the above example, I got the answer wrong (I answered “das” on my first try). I was able to learn about the difference between “das” and “die” with the feedback.
This type of learning has its limits, though. Learning more complex ideas and knowing when to use certain structures requires more in-depth instruction and practice. Take the following example:
I got this answer wrong as well, and once again Lingvist provided me with the correct answer.
Alright, so I can see that I should have used the nominative case instead of the accusative case, but I’m not totally sure what those are off the top of my head.
I’ll still probably be guessing the next time I have to decide between “du” and “dich” if I don’t figure out what the difference is. I wish there was a more specific explanation that appeared here to steer me in the right direction.
There isn’t, but there is a Grammar Tips section of the platform, so I decided to check it out.
“The accusative case is the case of the direct object…” That’s about as far as the explanation goes. There are some examples of exceptions, but the words “du” and “dich” are absent from this explanation.
The section in the Grammar Tips on the nominative case is a little bit better, but still not super useful or easy to digest.
Unsatisfied, I looked elsewhere for a thorough explanation and happened upon this amazingly clear and detailed breakdown of the differences between the cases.
The above site offers this information for free! If Lingvist incorporated explanations like this into its material, its value would be much higher.
This is a feature that’s only available for French and Spanish learners at this point. It’s a way for learners to create their own course focus, and it can remain private or be made public.
What makes this feature unique to other ways of building flashcard decks is that it can be automated. If there’s a specific text you’d like to learn words from, for example, you can simply copy and paste the text into the Course Wizard.
This is the example in Lingvist. The Course Wizard picks words out of the text, provides the translations, and even supplies example sentences. If you don’t like the first sentence provided for a word, you can choose from a long list of possibilities.
The other ways to use the Course Wizard are to enter the words you want to learn individually or select a topic you’d like to learn about.
Here’s what happened when I entered “jungle” and selected the topic option.
Easy. I’ve got 50 words that are more or less jungle-themed.
I think this is a pretty nifty feature, but it’s only available for Spanish and French. If you’re only interested in learning Russian, you’ll pay the same subscription price but won’t get this feature.
The Challenges section offers extra ways to get language practice, but it isn’t the focus of the program.
It isn’t currently available for Latin American Spanish and Lingvist doesn’t have plans to expand the feature for existing or new languages. The languages with the most content are French and Spanish (Spain).
There are actually quite a few types of practice in this section. I think the listening practice activities are the most valuable, but there’s some good reading and grammar practice too.
The above is an example of a speaking practice exercise. Your job is to take part in the simulated conversation by reading the text provided. Your speech is then evaluated by speech recognition technology which, in Lingvist’s words, “isn’t perfect yet.”
I like that they acknowledge this. It’s a nice opportunity to get some pronunciation practice but isn’t a substitute for feedback from a real native speaker.
For Spanish, French, and German, Lingvist actually paired up with News in Slow [Spanish, French, German] to provide a bunch of listening material.
This material is good and there’s a lot of it. On the News in Slow… website, you can get samples of these episodes for free. You won’t get entire lessons via Lingvist, but it’s more than is available for free and is enough to provide some good practice.
The reading practice opportunities add some extra value to the language courses in which they’re available. It’s pretty basic, but it’s cool to be able to test your comprehension skills in addition to your ability to produce translations.
You can also get some grammar practice. I like having the option to get focused practice when it comes to learning verb conjugations, so I like exercises like the one below.
I think this type of practice would be more valuable if it was more focused. It’s definitely nice to have some grammar practice, but I would prefer it if there were explanations that accompanied the practice.
The grammar resource on Lingvist is pretty massive. They’ve collected a whole lot of information in this section, but it isn’t very fun to use (then again, how many grammar resources are?).
There’s some good information here, but I thought the layout made navigation kind of a headache. You can search for specific content or you can use the headings on the side, which is nice, but everything’s in small font and it’s almost monochromatic.
While there’s potentially a lot of informative material in here, I didn’t find it very useful in practice.
I briefly tried out the Russian course, as it’s the only language with English instruction that has a different writing system. Even though Russian uses a different alphabet, the learning process is the same.
If you don’t have a Cyrillic input option installed on your computer, you can use the built-in keyboard on Lingvist.
It’s nice to be able to have built-in support for typing the Russian alphabet, but clicking on each individual letter is a painstakingly slow process. Even more so if you’ve had no prior contact with the alphabet.
Trying to pick out foreign-looking characters without knowing what sounds they make isn’t fun! It’s also certainly not the fastest way to learn the alphabet.
I really wish Lingvist had a method for scaffolding the material in the Russian course. Having a course focus that was just the letters and the sounds they make, for example, would go a long way. Unfortunately, there are no extra course focuses for Russian, and the Course Wizard isn’t available either.
I’m sure you’d eventually learn some Russian with Lingvist, but there are definitely more efficient ways to start out with the language.
Lingvist offers a free trial with unlimited access to its features.
After the trial, you’ll hit a paywall and can choose between three recurring subscription plans.
A Lingvist Unlimited subscription gives you access to all language courses in the program and all features that are available for each language.
It feels natural to compare Lingvist to Duolingo. Both are language-learning apps with fairly basic functionality, and it’s tempting to question why Duolingo is free and Lingvist isn’t.
While they do feel similar in some ways, they have quite a few differences. Where Lingvist feels professional and streamlined, Duolingo is more game-like and flashy. The advertisements on Duolingo also take something away from the focused study time you’ll get with Lingvist.
I’ve got a preference for Lingvist over Duolingo. The audio recordings are better, I prefer that it’s more straightforward, and the practice feels more effective.
Babbel is another closely-related app that offers a more comprehensive learning experience. I think you could build up your vocabulary more quickly with Lingvist, but Babbel incorporates its grammar, listening and speaking exercises into the curriculum; this makes it more effective at getting you ready to have real conversations.
Vocabulary Acquisition Apps
As far as spaced repetition flashcard programs that are designed to help you efficiently acquire vocabulary, there are a few are noteworthy alternatives.
Memrise has an edge on Lingvist in some ways — for one, it’s got a lot more content. There are tons of language courses and even non-language material, and a lot of it is available for free. Memrise also includes pictures and videos in its paid courses. That said, the overall quality of the material is slightly higher in Lingvist and it feels more professional. Neither resource has great grammar instruction.
Clozemaster is full of game-like features. It employs points, levels and catchy visuals to keep users engaged. It’s got a totally different style than Lingvist; those that like their study time to feel more professional probably won’t fall for Clozemaster. Like Memrise, it offers a huge number of language courses and quite a bit of material for free, but the material isn’t quite as high-quality.
For those that want a similarly customizable way to learn new words with flashcards and spaced repetition, Anki is free. It’s much more basic, but it doesn’t cost anything and it’s fully customizable.
I like Lingvist. I might not be as excited about the Course Wizard function or the challenges as others, but I found myself enjoying the time I spent with it. I’m sure the different course focuses and Course Wizard would be especially appealing after extended use.
I tried it with both Spanish and German and found the German course more exciting. I’d never studied German before trying it out on Lingvist, and I found the language acquisition process rewarding.
The Spanish course wasn’t as rewarding because the platform showed me so many words that I was already familiar with, and the longer sentences used with more advanced words can frankly be quite boring.
Lingvist seems to work best for learners at a beginner or intermediate level and not for those learning Russian. Advanced learners could get some benefit out of the Course Wizard and the ability to study specific sets of advanced vocabulary, but it isn’t worth as much to those that are primarily interested in increasing their speaking fluency.
What are our top-rated resources? They vary by language. To see our favorites in the language you’re learning, check out the table below.