Thursday, December 15, 2016

Why I am not using LingQ to learn Czech

When I helped develop some of BYU's Arabic curriculum, we spent a good deal of time discussing gamification of language learning. It is the trend in education, as well as other spheres. So of course, as I begin my journey to learn Czech, I had to "czech" out some of the available online platforms. Here is my review of LingQ.

LingQ is a really cool language learning platform. It is designed to gamify language learning. It uses a top-down approach that focuses on learning words rather than learning grammar. It is very similar to the approach that I prefer. Take a text, read it, look up all the words you don't know, quiz yourself on those words until you know them, listen to the text, read it again, etc.

It was recommended to me by a Czech linguist, and I had high hopes for it. It even had some potential to connect me with native speakers to correct writing and as speaking partners (among other things), which is an entirely different part of language learning that I really want to explore, and have not really figured out how I want to make that work. But I was just in it for the text.

But there are many problems with it. Too many problems. I ended up deciding to ditch it entirely.

This is the comment I wrote to the developers:
"You do not have a broad enough Czech market. It makes sense to me that Czechs would shy away from this pay-to-play model, when there are other kinds of language learning platforms available. I would have stayed with it if it contained a really good audio library of Czech text, but it simply does not. There is only really one main voice, and his voice happens to be extremely obnoxious to listen to (nasaly, whiny, very slow - even a nonnative Czech speaker gets annoyed by his slowness!). Then, most of the interesting, fun texts (fairy tales, etc.) are read by a robot. I can find the same story twenty times on youtube read for real Czech children; why should I stick around for the text version? Well, simply because having the text and the audio together would have been amazing. It is genuinely a pain to try to find the exact same recording written as text. But I would rather stumble around on my own and have excellent audio with original source material, and gather the vocab by myself with a third party service."
Vocab words that you are practicing are called "lingq's". The free version only lets you have 20. You have to "learn" them in order to remove them. Instead, I paid $5 for unlimited lingq's. But I was not willing to pay $5 per 15 minutes of correction from a person, or speaking time. That seemed ridiculously expensive for the amount of speaking time I know that I will need in order to become proficient. Instead, I looked for ways to earn "points" (500 points = $5) by correcting other people. But you know what? It seems there are quite a few native English speakers on this platform, because there were not very many things available for me to correct. It was frustrating. I read a very, very, very stupid and lengthy text that was obviously copied and pasted from a self-help book - a text which I utterly did not believe ("You don't need to conform to anybody else's rules! You can do anything and be anything you want! It all depends on you!" Yeah. Freaking. Right. Lies with a kernal of truth) - this made me feel like Ariel selling her voice to the evil Sea Witch Ursula.

Seriously. Why would I pay $20/hour to talk to someone when I have already found several Czechs who are really excited to do it for free? It's not like LingQ uses a different, improved speaking platform - they use Skype, just like all the other language learning platforms. Just like I do on my own.'s not worth it.

To me, $5 is negligible. To a Czech, $5 is more like 20 Czech crowns. There's just no way that the average Czech is going to want to fork out that money and interact on this platform, when there are other options available for cheap or for free. And there totally are. If you are a Czech reading this, and you want somebody with whom to exchange English practice for Czech, I'd love to do that with you. See. I have my own platform here, totally free. It's a little bit gutsier, and more effort, but it is free.

I think I will stick with Lang-8. It is free. It is writing-focused. It's basically a place to blog and get corrections from native speakers, and I can correct their English. It's fun to interact with people who are in the reverse scenario as me. I really enjoy it, and I enjoy building relationships which can evolve into speaking partners, etc. You pay to get a higher place in the corrections list. But if I correct a Czech person's English, they go back and correct my Czech; so far, all of my texts have been corrected within hours. I can't vouch for the "correctness" of the corrections, and I also really prefer to work directly in google drive (especially with people who are patient and can explain things to me in English) because the side comments make it much easier to follow a topic. And of course, it's where I've spent the last 6 months intensively collaborating on Czech genealogy/blogging projects, so I'm much more used to it as a collaborative platform.

With LingQ, I spent close to 75% of my time trying to navigate the site. It is designed on purpose to try to convince you to spend money. It does not have an intuitive design. It was very awkward to try to figure out things that should have been on the top navigation bar, like, "how many points do I have?" "How can I earn points?"

I just don't see why I should pay somebody for a product that is inferior to what I can find for free on my own. I mean, learning Czech via pohádky is really far superior to learning it from a monotonous, nerdy male voice, even if it takes me a little bit of time to dig up a text. Learning Czech via a Czech audiobook and the ebook that I buy would be far superior, and I would be willing to pay for it. I am sorry to have to be so scathing. It is the honest truth.

Honestly, I would rather listen to Radio Praha all day long, where I currently understand about 2% of the words, and they speak super insanely fast (of course it's not really THAT fast, but it seems that way!) than listen to dull, inauthentic, meaningless texts in Czech on LingQ (not all of them were, to be fair; but the vast majority were). Why do you think I spend my time writing example sentences that are about insane cave nymphs? It is because the reason, the real reason I am studying Czech, is because it allows me to escape out of the mundane, laundry-ridden routine of my daily existence; Czech allows me to think about the world in an entirely new way. It is new. It is variety. It is exciting. It is also the key to opening worlds of knowledge, currently completely unknown and inaccessible to me (think text history books written in Czech). And ever so much more interesting when the subject matter actually is interesting!

Learning is fun. Learning Czech is awesome, and so fulfilling. I will continue to learn, just not with LingQ - that is, until they can find a wider variety of voices for their audio. Also, I am sure that I will not be using their pay-to-play model to find speaking partners ever. I suppose this stinginess is because I am 25% Czech, after all.

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