Lingvist.io: learning French the right way

Learning French… with pronunciation!

To this date, Lingvist.io remains one of my go-to resources for French. Although I’m no longer actively learning French, every once in a while I feel the need for a little refresher, and when I don’t have much time, I like going back to Lingvist.io for a short spell.

The reason is that Lingvist’s “main coursework” combines three of my ‘musts’ in language learning:

  1. Grammar shown within context,
  2. Spaced repetition, and…
  3. Audio!

And it does so quite neatly, if I may say so! You see, the charm behind Lingvist is that it offers a bunch of features in a deceivingly simple package. It is divided in the three following sections:

Memorize

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What looks like a simple fill-in-the-blanks exercise actually hides a word-by-word translation AND a full sentence translation (each shown by either hovering the mouse over a word or double clicking on the sentence), as well as a short grammar definition over the english hint, and the full sentence read out to you (with a natural voice) after you’ve answered. Any doubts about the language’s ? Click on the quotation marks above to have a veritable grammar textbook pop up!

Lingvist will keep track of the words you’ve memorized more strongly through repetition, and shift to new vocabulary or words you need to work on. I’m not completely sure if this is specifically part of the algorithm used in the Memorize section’s exercises, but I’ve noticed it to be quite considerate in terms of quantity, in that it confines the learner to a certain number of words learned before moving on to new material.

Doing work in this part of the site is essential because this is what allows the site to know how much you know, therefore fixing the difficulty levels of the other sections to match your own.

Read

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Read is a more self-regulated exercise than Memorize. What you’ll find here is a large collection of texts that are shown to you on the basis of the amount of words you know. You’re free to choose whatever you want to read; as in Memorize, you only need to hover over a word to see its definition. After you’re done, click finished.

I personally liked the lack of pressure involved in this kind of exercise. You get graded reading material, and you do what you want with it. However, if you’re the kind of person that needs a bit more of Duolingo styled competition in your learning routine, then this section may be slightly dull for you.

Listen

This section is structured similarly to Read, but in this library you’ll find short dialogues spoken clearly but at natural speeds by real people, with control buttons similar to podcasts in that you may go ten seconds back or forward. When I was struggling to match pronunciation and spelling, this section came in VERY handy.

History and question marks

According to its creators, Lingvist was created out of necessity by a veritable genius: Mait Müntel, one of its co-founders, had to develop a solution for learning French while working at CERN in Switzerland that didn’t demand as much of his time as a class would. He created a prototype of Lingvist, tested it on himself while studying for a French ability test, and passed with flying colors.

One of the site’s charms is that it will actually show you how you’ve been keeping up, and what your learning history is, so you can actually find out not only how long you’ve been “walking straight” (an eufemism a friend and I have adopted for not abandoning a language course), but also how many words you know by this point and what your reading capacity is at this point.

As a course, Lingvist depends a lot on self regulation. It lacks the “gamification” appeal of Duolingo and Memrise so if you can’t actually know where you’re ranking on the scoreboard or participate in language discussions with other Lingvist members; this doesn’t mean Lingvist is a bad choice, it just means it’s better suited for people who’re not looking for a gamified approach to languages. It’s also worth mentioning that currently, the choice of languages in Lingvist is limited to learning English from French, Russian and Estonian, and French from English, Russian and Estonian.

Lingvist is in open beta and will be free while it remains in beta. A release date has not been announced yet, so try it out while it’s free!