Reading practice is one of the essential parts of language learning and vocabulary building. When we try to practice our reading we often struggle to find texts that are both interesting and that fit our current level. We are often forced to turn to adapted novels, or boring textbook reads waiting for the day in the undefined future when we will eventually be able to pick up a book and read it.
Being able to read native content early would be a bonus for learners on all levels and not only for those news-obsessed ones or literature fans (we know you’re out there!). There are a few tools on the market that offer an opportunity to access content written for and by native speakers and each of them has a slightly different offering.
This time we decided to review Readlang—a platform that, in the words of the creator, helps you learn the language by reading “whatever you like.” This is not a small claim to make, so let’s see how Readlang performs.
What does Readlang do?
The basic premise of Readlang is to allow you to read any foreign language text providing an immediate translation of a word or phrase you don’t know. When you click an unknown word it magically appears in the language you set as your native one. Upon clicking it again, it reverts to the original. Let’s see an example: if I set my mother tongue to English and I’m learning Esperanto, here is how it would look like:
So, no more jumping to Google Translate to look up a word and no need to translate the whole text, if you are only looking for one phrase.
By clicking a world you also add it to your flashcard pile where you collect unknown words to review. You can read the texts on the Readlang platform, but if you install the Readlang extension you can do the same thing on any website! That’s pretty neat! Picture yourself as a word hunter, freely browsing the web and adding all the nice new words and phrases to your word-basket… The platform and extension work on all devices (phones, laptops, tablets), so you can read and collect your words on the go.
Readlang covers an impressive number of over 50 languages, so whether you’re after Croatian, Catalan or good old Chinese, your needs will be met*. Some are still in beta version and because there are so many languages on offer we couldn’t test each and every one of them, so if you have any experiences – share with us and Readlang on Twitter!
I said Readlang allows you to read all texts you want. But, where to get them from? The feature called Library gives you three options.
Firstly, you can upload your own texts. They have to be in a specified format (.txt or .epub) so if you have a pdf that you long to read, that won’t work. You can also upload Kindle books! Uploaded texts can be set as private or public, and the latter will make them available for the community to access.
Well, this is exactly where you can find texts that others have made public. The great bit about it that those are not just all random texts. You can set search parameters that will display only the texts of chosen length, from genres you like and on your level. This is how it looks like:
So, here of course the variety of choice depends on the community. If no one added a 1500-word song then you won’t find it.
You can also use the search tab—it will search through titles and authors.
Here Readlang will automatically list a few most popular websites accessed by users who installed the the Readlang extension. If we trust the collective mind of other learners, those should be sites that have good content. Unsurprisingly what you will often find here are news sites and wikipedia.
All your texts are stored in the tab My Texts where you can mark them as “read”, “to read”, “completed” and “archived”—pretty handy, of you plan to add a lot of docs! When you start reading a text, the program will automatically track how far in you are and display a % of your progress.
I talked about the ways Readlang allows you to read texts. But this is only half of the promise of the platform. The other part relates to helping you learn a foreign language. Let’s look at the features dedicated specifically to that.
The main method Readlang uses to help you learn and test your knowledge are flashcards. The program uses a spaced repetition algorithm which calculates exactly when you are to review the words you have marked as new. The review is split into sessions with predefined number of words (8, 15 or 25). This adds an nice element of control and finiteness to your learning as starting off a session knowing you have 150 words to review would be pretty daunting.
An interesting behind the scenes information: The system also prioritises the words based on their frequency in the language! So you won’t be prompted to learn the word for the French screwdriver as much as you will be for recalling the verb to go.
During the review the page displays the card with the word alongside the sentence in which you encountered it. This makes it easier to recall, but also makes it easier to cheat, enabling you to guess the word from the context.
You can choose the style of your vocabulary practice; there is the typing mode (where you need to type the answer), speaking mode (where the program will read out the word you click or a flashcard you are meant to recall), and passive mode (where you only look at the words and recall them yourself). You can choose the mode in the Settings. Speaking mode is not available for all languages (yet), but already covers an impressive number of 17.
There is a feature of daily email reminders about your flashcard review. If you’re using Readlang for more than one language, you have to set the reminders and the review parameters individually for each language.
We all know that seeing your own progress is very motivating—hence all the streak-competitions on Duolingo—and yes, let’s agree, it’s pretty cool to sit back every now and again and contemplate what we have accomplished.
Apart from monitoring the % of your progress in each text, Readlang also has an activity monitor feature on your Home page. The activity monitor informs you about the amount word translations you have done that day while the accompanying graph tracks your performance in relation to the daily goal—a preset value of 10 word translations.
The settings allow you to choose a type of dictionary you want to use – translation or monolingual. The latter option is very good for advanced learners.
There is also a premium version which comes with a few extra perks, but the basic offering of Readlang is perfectly well-developed and a valuable help in anyone’s language learning journey.
So… what’s the verdict?
Readlang is a really great way to access native content. It does not only allow you to read everything easily, but also helps you find and choose what to read based on your level and preference. The fact that there is a browser extension is really great. It makes it quick to learn on any site eliminating the additional steps of copying, pasting and adding files to your library.
The review system is also pretty impressive. Spaced repetition algorithms are well known to language learning geeks, but the fact that Readlang also uses word frequency as a parameter is pretty unique. So those of us who want to get the basics down before that trip to Romania, won’t be bothered with reviewing words of perhaps lesser importance.
Readlang is a truly wonderful, clean, well-designed, product that will speed up your reading practice allowing you to access and enjoy native content on your favourite topics. To sweeten this recommendation even more, the platform is completely FREE to use!
So, if you have a favourite book or site, and you’re fed up with manually looking up words or copy-pasting phrases into Google Translate, check out Readlang now!
For those of you LinguaLifters who immediately thought of using Readlang for their study of Russian or Japanese, worry not! They are there too.