Intermediate language-learning: Beyond the basics

This is the Linguistadores logo for Dutch -- one of several languages

This is the Linguistadores logo for Dutch — one of several languages offered

At this point, the language-learning market is saturated with on-line tools. They tend to fit in two categories: 1) very basic vocabulary and exercises (eg, Transparent Language) and 2) social networks for language exchanges (eg, iTalki).  Very little exists, unfortunately, for more intermediate learning. What do you do if you have the basics of the language down fairly well (eg, verb tenses, noun declensions, 200+ vocabulary words), but want to move on? You don’t know enough for, say, movies without subtitles or podcasts. Conversations with native speakers can’t last very long yet. Linguistadores has imagined the next step by helping your learning through native-language content, geared to your level.

Your choice of media

Your choice of media

This platform offers access to real pop culture items, but broken down for language learners. I tried out Dutch as the language I was learning and English as my native language. First, you have to input your language ability level. Then, the application will serve up material for your level. Materials come from three categories: written, videos, or music. The written are articles from popular periodicals.

From a music video, you can look up a word from the lyrics and add it to your list.

From a music video, you can look up a word from the lyrics and add it to your list.

Videos are popular TV shows or movies hosted on another site (eg, YouTube), and music are videos of pop songs. The pop songs play the video with the words of the song next to the video, but I couldn’t find subtitles for the non-music videos. You can easily look up words from the articles and songs.

You can save and collect words into a list to create flashcards.

You can save and collect words into a list to create flashcards.

Linguistadores also offers you a way to keep track of new words. As you run into unfamiliar words, you can click on them and save them. You can use these lists as flash cards for memorizing the words.

The site is in its beginnings, so I hope that it will grow in a few areas. First, I hope they come up with a mobile platform very soon. I do all my language study on the go. If I’m on a computer, I’m at work. (And I better be working!) I could only watch videos and scroll through the songs’ texts on my iOS and Android devices.

A representative of Linguistadores let me know already (they were very responsive to me on Twitter) that they are working on a mobile platform. I will be giving them my ideas and suggestions — and I’m looking forward to the results. I’m hoping that the word lookup function and the videos will be available in the mobile version.

Second, I hope the language offerings are expanded. Right now, the choices are English, Dutch, German, French, and Spanish. I know these languages fairly well, and I would prefer to spend my time getting my lower languages up to a higher level. I think it will take some time to expand offerings, however, as the quality and quantity of the language materials are very high. It takes a lot of effort to keep things at this level. (How long till they get to Farsi and Somali? LOL)

Third, I wonder about the future of the material they have. How do they plan to keep the offerings fresh? There are only so many music videos, for example. I’m afraid I could possibly get bored if I have to watch the same ones too many times. Also, several of the videos I tried to watch were taken down by the original owner, which is bound to happen down the line.

Nevertheless, I believe that on-line language learning has to go the direction that Linguistadores laid out. As a kid, I stepped up my native language by looking up new words in the dictionary. I also spent a lot of time reading the lyrics to songs I liked, which gave me an ear for how people enunciate in music. I want to get to a point where I can learn on my own from native content, and Linguistadores offers a wonderful stepping-stone.

What are the on-line tools you’re using for language-learning? What do you love about them?

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11 comments
  1. Interesting. I have used this sort of material before, albeit not online – there was a newspaper aimed at intermediate learners when I was studying French and German some years ago that I found helpful, but this was in the days before the internet expansion.
    Personally, I like to go in at the deep end with a foreign language, so even with a basic vocabulary, I would be watching TV programmes, listening to songs, reading papers and trying to talk to native speakers. It works for me, but you have to be pretty strong-willed and dedicated.

    • @alexpolistigers, that was the same for me with Italian and later Dutch: I preferred to pick up a newspaper rather than tote my textbook around. The problem was that it took a lot of time to look up every word in a paper dictionary and….then what? We hope that people like you (and me) will find Linguistadores as a helpful way not to do something ‘new’ per se, but more efficiently and enjoyably.

      We’ve been exploring types of cues or prompts that can help reduce the amount of personal ‘will and dedication’ needed for this type of learning. Do you have any ideas? What works for you?

      • @Brittany I just had an idea. Could the tool highlight words in a new article that you have in your word list? It would be neat to have a cue to say, “You should probably already know this word.” Kind of like a pop-quiz.

      • I have given this a lot of thought. I think a pop-up box could be a good idea – with synonyms, explanations in the target language. I avoid using a dictionary as much as possible when reading texts and try to use the context to work it out. A synonym might just jog the mind! The pop-up box could also contain grammar info eg “imperfect tense” or “genitive case” or “emphatic construction”

      • Yes! Synonyms would be awesome! Then you could create a more immersive environment without the “intrusion” of your native language.

        I know lots of tools with grammatical information that pops up, but only for texts that are established, eg, Greek in the Bible. I worked on syntactic tagging (morphological tagging had been done for a while) for a Hebrew Bible software application, and it was very time-consuming. They’re really helpful.

    • I did that for a while, too. The book “How to Learn Any Language” suggested a highlighter and a newspaper and a dictionary and a grammar book. You highlight words in the first article on the page, look up the words in the dictionary and refer to the grammar book occasionally. I think it’s the most effective, minimalist approach.

      Linguistadores is the best approximation of this approach, in my opinion. I hope you get a chance to check out the site and offer your opinion.

  2. nktvb said:

    Thanks for this review. I will now attempt to use it in a bid to keep my self-taught German alive.

    • Impressive that you taught yourself German! Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Linguistadores team through the website or social media if you think something can be better. We’re here for you!

    • Good to hear from you again! Please check in here again and let us know how it goes.

  3. Thanks a lot for your thoughtful review, Richard! We are happy that you see the potential in what we’ve started to do with Linguistadores and also recognize this more ‘deep’ way of learning (as alexpolistigers put it above) as the way to engage intermediate level learners.

    You recognized some great growth/improvement areas which I can probably shed some light on, especially for those who are just hearing about Linguistadores.

    First, mobile. Not much more to say about this except to reiterate that we agree wholeheartedly that on-the-go learning is here to stay. Linguistadores is in essence a perfect on-the-go solution and we’re actively working to optimize the news, music, and videos for phones and tablets.

    Second, language offerings. At the start, we had to make a decision between quality and quantity. We opted for quality and have been working on creating a stable website for the first five languages. It’s getting to a point where we’ll be adding more languages in the not-too-distant future. Make sure to keep connected with us on facebook (www.facebook.com/linguistadores) and twitter (www.twitter.com/linguistadores) so your voice is heard when we ask for next language votes!

    Third, the music and videos. Using free sources (e.g. YouTube) is an interim solution that allows us introduce users to authentic music, tv shows, and movies without asking for prohibitive monthly fees. Since it’s proven to be something everyone likes, we’ve been working behind the scenes on improving the whole experience. You may have noticed you can suggest videos/songs you’d like to see on Linguistadores – please share for both the language you’re learning and your native language!

    There’s a ton ‘in the works’ that I think you’ll be delighted by. But as always, we welcome feedback from our users, whether praise or constructive criticism! Thanks again, Richard – looking forward to providing happy surprises in the future!

    • This sounds great! I like your “quality over quantity” approach. I just have to learn to be patient :) I look forward to the mobile interface.

      If only there were a way to make an easy subtitling tool for crowdsourcing. I don’t know what TED uses, but I *love* that about them.

      As a suggestion for videos, are there TED videos in other languages? I think it’s rare, but since they’re Creative Commons and subtitled, maybe it’s a good source? Just an idea…

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