If there is something not up for debate it is the fact that as modern language learners go, we’re drifting away from the traditional format (that is, the classroom, the teacher and most notably, the textbook) and fulfilling our learning needs through more interactive apps. That said, there is something to be said about the wealth of information that a well-compiled textbook can become, and sometimes, they can be the whole basis of one’s learning routine (which is the reason why some people just can’t get enough of certain publishers or series).
I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into when I started using Lingualift. I hadn’t heard much about them and thus didn’t know what kind of approach to expect, although I was quite impressed by the enthusiasm shown by its members. Much to my relief, reviewing this product turned out to be a great experience!
The traditional approach, improved.
I don’t know about you, but although I haven’t been to a classroom in years, I have a soft spot for textbooks, reference books and dictionaries (so much that my top bookshelf, the one that’s most accessible, is always reserved for them). I won’t lie: there’s no such thing as the perfect textbook (and believe me, I’ve studied with some that were downright barebones), but there’s something undoubtably practical and integral about them, and time and time again, we find ourselves drawn back to them to check this or that out. You can hate them, you can love them, but they hold much of the theoretical knowledge you need in order to build the bases of whatever language you’re learning.
Lingualift is, for lack of better wording, the lovechild of the traditional textbook and the internet. It retains much of the structure and formatting you’ll find in a good textbook, while at the same time doing away with the pretentious wordiness and academic pretense that turns so many people off. Indeed, you’ll find yourself drawn to using Lingualift like you had a cool teacher and textbook rolled all in one. I believe this may be because the team of people that created it are young and enthusiastic about languages (and it really shows).
Multiple languages rolled into one program
While I’ve tried many programs offering several languages under only one price tag, I’ve realized that very few companies manage to offer multi-language programs without spreading so thin that you feel contents or functionality are compromised one way or another, so what I wanted to see most of all was to figure out for myself if they hadn’t simply rewritten some old course and pasted it under the same format that wouldn’t necessarily work for all languages. That said, Lingualift currently offers five languages (Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, French and Russian) under one subscription; in an effort to check out if what they offer is worth your dollars, I went hopping around the website like a linguistic butterfly, and tried out Mandarin, Russian and Japanese, languages I respectively know very little, more-or-less, and very well.
Although at this point it is one of the least developed courses (only Level 1, which serves as a beginner’s textbook, has been finished), Mandarin on Lingualift looks incredibly promising. By the point where I was invited to check this out, I’d tried out several things, and with one honorable exception, I wasn’t really convinced by most of them; Lingualift was pretty much a blast of fresh air in my face after trying out so many vaguely similar apps showing me the same “Introduction to Mandarin” information.
One feature it shares with almost all other languages is the vocab builder, a very nice phrase-based vocabulary linked to a hanzi database/dictionary/flashcard tool that can also be reviewed separately. As you can see, every new word includes an audio soundbite, transliteration, meaning, and as though it wasn’t enough, a bit of a musing on either the sound or the aspect of the hanzi that might help you memorize it. Since like I mentioned, this course’s second part is still in the oven, I asked when we could expect Level 2; Lingualift’s staff reported Levels 2 and 3 are slated for release in 2016.
The Japanese and Russian courses seem to be a lot more developed than Mandarin. Japanese, for example, is quite honestly one of the most elaborate beginner courses I’ve seen; after fooling around with it for a bit, I realized it would be quite the tool for anybody preparing for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test at the N5 (and with supplements, maybe even N4) levels. Besides sharing the vocabulary and kanji tools that the Mandarin course also has, the e-textbook is very culturally sensitive, and goes to extremes explaining what sounds natural and what doesn’t, something which most courses pretty much gloss over in favor of helping you sound like a robotic foreigner; the grammar is given a place of importance along with word order and vocabulary, to the point where after you’ve finished learning your hiragana and katakana, you jump straight into markers and particles. Why is this important? Because you won’t be making sentences until you understand at least four or five basic particles! It did surprise me that unlike most other courses, Japanese was lacking audio for dialogues but not for sentence examples–I hope this changes in the future.
The Russian course was a pleasure to go through for a language that has given me so much grief in the past. The grammatical explanations are very good, a far cry from the traditional ‘kill-them-with-grammar’ approach that turned so many people away from Russian classrooms. Like other courses, it has a vocab building tool and a cyrillic alphabet memorization tool as well as a tool to help you remember where the stress goes on your new vocabulary, but what really sold me the Russian course was that it even has a tool for working on verbal conjugations, in Present, Past, Future and Imperative. There’s a weird little glitch (or maybe it’s intentional) where dialogues that are supposed to be between a man and a woman are voiced by a man only, but that’s about as much fault as I found in it.
One of the things I appreciated the most was that every chapter is written humorously and in spurts just long enough to keep you interested but not, ultimately, tire you out through excess of information. Each chapter is measured and planned to present to you only the most relevant information; extra information is usually presented in two supplementary tidbits called ‘Housekeeping Notes’ and ‘Cake’ (yum!), which as you might imagine, is your reward for getting to the end of the lesson.
Behold! Humans on the other side of the line!
One of the craziest things about Lingualift is that it’s an ongoing project with a very high level of completion that actually has a very small staff, driven by enthusiasm and love for their languages. You can, at any point and through a special chat bubble on the site, talk to Lingualift’s staff in the language you’re learning, and they’ll be more than happy to respond. If you show you’re an active student, they’ll send you prompts, ask how you’re doing, and prompt you to interact with them. This kind of exchange is absent in most large scale language courses, and I think it shows a lot of the character of the site that they’ve enabled such active communication with language students.
Have you used Lingualift before? If so, what did you think? Share your comments below!