Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Get your foreign-language writing corrected online for free

When you're learning how to write in a language, there's nothing quite like getting your writing corrected. And when you're getting it corrected, there's nothing quite like getting it corrected totally for free. And when you're getting it corrected totally for free, there's nothing quite like getting it corrected for free and quickly.

Sound like something you'd be interested in? A comparison of the websites on which you can do just that, after the jump.

The first two sites below—Lang-8 and CorrectMyText—are focused primarily on textual corrections. The rest—Livemocha, Busuu, and LingQ—include textual corrections as one among many features.

One note before diving in... the comparisons below are only looking at what these websites do in terms of text corrections. All of these sites can of course do other things, but I'm leaving those features aside for now (although feel free to highlight your favorite features in the comments below).

Lang-8
  • Overview. Lang-8, based in Tokyo, is a two-person project by Yangyang Xi, CEO, and Kazuki Matsumoto, CTO, that focuses letting language learners get their texts corrected.

  • Content. Lang-8 is set up as a journal or a blog, but you're free to post whatever text you feel like posting. Although many people do post journal-like entries, I typically post all sorts of things in there. In addition to texts to get corrected, this mainly consists of language-related questions. Just as people are happy to correct your text, they're also happy to answer questions about whatever confusing point of the language you've come across.

  • Making corrections. Lang-8 first breaks the text down into sentences, separating them based on punctuation (this results in the occasional weird break-up when you have something like "12.1" in the sentence; Lang-8 interprets the decimal point in that number as the end of a sentence and breaks it up accordingly). Then correctors can edit sentence by sentence. The system flags uncorrected sentences so subsequent correctors can focus their efforts where most needed.

    Correctors edit each sentence in a little window. The one annoying thing about the editing process is that, if you want to add formatting to the text, you've gotta deal with tags tossed into the text in that little window, such as [BLUE][/BLUE] or [BOLD][/BOLD]. It can get pretty jumbled up.

  • Speed of corrections. Although none of these sites are slow in getting corrections back to you, the corrections come extremely rapidly on Lang-8; I rarely wait an hour, but I think the most I've ever waited is something like a day. In fact, one day I put up a whole bunch of posts on Lang-8 and, by the time I was done adding all the posts, most of them had already been corrected.

  • Correction presentation. It is up to individual correctors to make their changes apparent through formatting: bold, strike-thru, red, and blue text. Your results will vary, but most correctors do a good job of making it easy to see what they've changed.

  • Languages. You can post in any language you want, and native speakers of all major languages are well represented on the site. I make most use of Japanese, unsurprisingly, but I've also made use of Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, and French thus far. I'd wager that it'd take longer to get corrections for less frequently studied languages, but I've not tested that hypothesis.

  • Interface. Lang-8's interface is alright; it's nothing to rave about, but it gets the job done. I'd like them to make it even easier to view edits, but it's decent as is.

  • Bottom line. I find Lang-8 to be the best of the bunch, and I recommend it highly.

CorrectMyText.com
  • Overview. CorrectMyText, based in Russia, is the project of Dmitry Lopatin. It's a new entry to the free online text-correction market; as far as I can tell, it was launched all of seven days ago. As such, it's still got a lot of squeaky wheels that need some grease, but the functionality you need to get text corrected is already there.

  • Content. You can put any kind of textual content into CorrectMyText.com.

  • Making corrections. CorrectMyText first breaks the text down into paragraphs, separating them based on line breaks. The corrector can then edit each paragraph's text direcly.

  • Speed of corrections. Given how new CorrectMyText is, and thus the limited number of users it has compared to the other sites in this list, the corrections don't come quite as quickly. Nevertheless, if my limited experience is representative, you'll still get them within a day or two.

  • Correction presentation. The corrector cannot apply any formatting. CorrectMyText.com will automatically create side-by-side before-and-after versions of the text. The before version will show the edited text highlighted in red and struck through. The after version will show the edited text highlighted in yellow. The learner then has to compare correction by correction to see the changes.

  • Languages. Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish.

  • Interface. This is still a bit rough. It's sometimes hard to figure out what you need to press to move on, and I found myself pressing the wrong thing more than once. It remains very basic, as you'd expect from a newly launched website.

  • Bottom line. As a new entrant to the market, it still needs some work before it'll be a viable contender against Lang-8, but it's definitely a site to keep an eye on.

Livemocha
  • Overview. Livemocha's main product is it's Rosetta Stone-like language-learning courses, but the coolest thing it does is connect you with tons of native speakers, including through text corrections (see my complete review of Livemocha here).

  • Content. The textual submissions on Livemocha are at least nominally supposed to be based on prompts connected to lessons, e.g., "Describe the locations of a set of people and objects". However, there's nothing to stop you from writing about whatever you care to write about, and indeed that's what I've often done. In fact, Livemocha may soon be considering implementing freestyle writing. That'll be more than a nod to reality than an actual change, but I'd be happy to see the addition.

  • Making corrections. Correctors simply get a comment field in which they can make comments and variously format the comment text.

  • Speed of corrections. Livemocha has a very large user base, so corrections come back very quickly, certainly comparable with Lang-8.

  • Correction presentation. Like Lang-8, it is up to individual correctors to make their changes apparent through the various formatting options that are available. Again, your results will vary, but most correctors do a good job of making it easy to see what they've changed.

  • Languages. Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, English, Estonian, Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu.

  • Interface. As far as text correcting goes, I've got no major complaints. The interface allows you to get the job done.

  • Bottom line. Not a bad back-up to Lang-8 for text corrections, but as Lang-8 specializes in this feature and it's just another feature at Livemocha—and Livemocha's still not made for freestyle writing—I'm going to stick with the specialist Lang-8 and hope that Livemocha gives this feature some TLC.

Busuu
  • Overview. Busuu is a direct competitor of Livemocha, using a similar picture-based learning method, but it also connects you with lots of native speakers, including, again, through text corrections.

  • Content. Just like Livemocha, the textual submissions are at least nominally supposed to be based on prompts connected to lessons, e.g., "Describe a real person in your life", but, again, there's nothing to stop you from writing about whatever you care to write about.

  • Making corrections. Correctors simply get a comment field in which they can make comments and variously format the comment text, mirroring Livemocha. It does have one convenient feature that Livemocha lacks: a button to automatically copy and paste the unedited text into the comment field.

  • Speed of corrections. Although I don't have any numbers to back up my supposition, it seems to me that Busuu has less users than Livemocha, and accordingly will take a little longer. That said, corrections still come back within a day or so.

  • Correction presentation. Like Lang-8 and Livemocha, it is up to individual correctors to make their changes apparent through the various formatting options that are available. Again, your results will vary, but most correctors do a good job of making it easy to see what they've changed.

  • Languages. English, French, German, and Spanish. One of the largest differences with Livemocha is that Busuu covers fewer languages.

  • Interface. Busuu's interface is probably the nicest of the bunch, and it's just fine for getting texts corrected.

  • Bottom line. Given how similar it is to Livemocha, the bottom line for both is essentially the same; not a bad back-up to Lang-8, but until Busuu puts some more focus into textual corrections, I'll be sticking with Lang-8.

LingQ
  • Overview. LingQ's focus is on audio and textual content (especially audio with the accompanying textual content), and, among other things, it has a feature that allows you to get your text submissions corrected. LingQ's text correction feature, however, is not free (it's not terribly expensive though, basically coming down to $0.033 per word, although the pricing is a bit more complex than that). I've broken the free-stuff-only rule and included it here because it has some very interesting features that the completely free ones do not yet match.

  • Content. You can put any kind of textual content into LingQ.

  • Making corrections. You highlight the text you want to correct, and click a button. Up pops a window with the text you selected, and you can then edit it. Thus far, that pretty much makes it like all the rest. But then you then get the option to select what kind of error it is—spelling, word order, verb form, etc.—and that data will be used when presenting corrections.

  • Speed of corrections. Corrections are generally done by a learner's selected tutor, and you might have to wait a little bit before your tutor has a chance to correct your text. That said, tutors seem to reply relatively quickly. I'm a tutor on the site, and I typically try to do my corrections as soon as I'm notified they're there. My slowest response time thus far has been a single day.

  • Correction presentation. Just like CorrectMyText, LingQ will automatically create side-by-side before-and-after versions of the text. The before version will show the edited text highlighted in yellow, the after version in green. The learner then has to compare correction by correction to see the changes. Alternatively, the same corrections are listed out below the side-by-side versions in a table that also lists correction-specific notes and the type of each correction.

    And then here's where LingQ lays down some awesome. Using the type of errors that the corrector marked down, you get an analysis of your mistakes.


    Just. Fricking. Awesome. Getting this level of analysis is far better than just seeing your mistakes, because it can help you focus your efforts on where to improve. Although Steve at LingQ is not a big fan of focusing on grammar, this lets you do just that. If you see that you're struggling in a particular place, you can do a read-through of the section in your grammar on that topic, or take other steps to figure out why you keep messing up. Great feature.

  • Languages. Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish.

  • Interface. LingQ recently made some system-wide improvements to the site, which included some interface improvements. The site before was fine, and the improvements made it better. Overall, a very usable interface.

  • Bottom line. They've built in some very clever features into LingQ's textual correction system, but I just can't justify the cost for text corrections when Lang-8 and all the above are available completely free of charge.
So do you know of any other places where we can get our foreign-language writing corrected? If so, drop a line in the comments!

9 comments:

  1. These are great links, i had no idea there were these services out there. thanks!

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  2. Very nice overview - I wasn't aware of busuu.

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  3. Maybe lang-8 works better for non-English languages.
    If you are writing in English, it seems to be pretty useless site. At least after three days my text hasn't had any comments or corrections, and only three different persons have even looked at it (and one of them is highly likely a scammer seeking someone to scammed - a young woman with a sexy username with no corrections and with no texts of her own, wanting to be friends with me, a middle aged man. Yeah, sure. Believable - not.)

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  4. I think what's happening there is that Lang-8 has SO MANY entries being posted in English, and not enough English speakers there to correct them. I've occasionally spent a few hours going through and correcting English entries, and there were still pages and pages of uncorrected entries. I can imagine it must make the site pretty frustrating for someone who wants to learn English.

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  5. I'd suggest correcting a bunch of posts in your native language, and then gently asking those whose posts you corrected to correct a few of yours. If you keep doing this regularly (focusing on those who provide regular corrections for you), you'll eventually come up with a group of native-English speakers who will correct your text on an ongoing basis.

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  6. Difficulty in getting English corrected on Lang-8 is of course a simple supply and demand problem. English is by far the most popular foreign language worldwide, so it's not surprising that the demand for corrections outstrips the supply. This'll basically raise the cost for English learners in that they may have to spend a little more effort (like some TLC for potential correctors) to get regular corrections.

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  7. Great review. Found another amazing service called eangel.me
    Must try.

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  8. The best way for someone to learn a given target language is to learn Esperanto first.

    To read up on this concept, google for "springboard to languages".

    In addition to the inherent advantage of learning Esperanto first, there is also the prospect of actively using it as a "shoehorn" into the target language. This would be possible if "shoehorn" materials exist for the target language. Such "shoehorn" materials would be materials in Esperanto about the target language. For Mercan English, I have started a "shoehorn" dictionary. The idea is that you look up a Mercan English word in it, and the definition is given in Esperanto - the actual definition, not merely a translation into Esperanto. (In other words, it would be a "monolingual" dictionary.) I have only created a stub, and mostly use links to definitions in Mercan English in certain online dictionaries (Merriam-Webster, and Wiktionary, mostly). In a handful of cases, I have supplied definitions in Esperanto, and in any case often comment, in Esperanto, on entries in the dictionary, and provide many
    links, both internal and external, as well as a subject index (thereby making it a "deep" dictionary). As the project progresses, the links to
    other dictionaries will be replaced by native definitions in Esperanto (thereby making it a "universal" dictionary), but even in this present format the dictionary makes a handy one‑stop‑shopping experience, so to speak, for someone wanting to explore the Mercan language. Also, the portion of the dictionary consisting of my contribution is in the public domain. To find the dictionary, google for "Deep Dictionary of Mercan English".

    ReplyDelete