Sunday, April 25, 2010

A single workflow to make use of online language-learning tools

There are so many language-learning resources out there on the web, it's kind of tough to figure out how to make use of them all. In looking at how I'm using these tools myself, I put together the following little process to incorporate many of the language-learning tools I've been using into a single workflow:

Oh, and this workflow is completely free.

Let's walk through this, after the jump.

Start with reading and/or (but preferably and) listening to something in the target language. LingQ is all about content with both text and audio, so that's a good place to start looking, but you're hardly limited to LingQ; any recordings you can find with transcripts, unabridged audio books (including children's books), etc., will do the trick.

To the extent there's anything you don't understand in the text or audio, look it up and add it to your spaced-repetition system. Anki is my current SRS of choice, but some other popular choices are and Mnemosyne.

Then write something about what you read or listened to in the target language. Try to make use of whatever you needed to look up and add to your SRS, and to the extent that you need to look up anything else, add that to your SRS as well.

Then get that writing corrected. There are a number of ways to do this, but Lang-8 is my standing favorite, and italki recently implemented this feature. Again, if the corrections include things you need to look up, add them to your SRS system.

Once you've got the corrected text, record yourself speaking it and get that recording corrected by native speakers. I use Cinch and Lang-8 to accomplish this.

You've now written and read that writing. Now it's time for some plain old talking. Making use of everything you've learned thus far, record yourself saying something about the running theme and get that corrected in the same way you got the recording of your text corrected. Once again, if the corrections give you any thing that needs to go into your SRS, add it.

At this point, you should have everything you need to get in your SRS. Now go over to RhinoSpike and get native speakers to record the pronunciation of each of those words. Take those audio recordings and add them to your SRS system. From there, you just need to review your newly added items as part of your regular SRS review.

You've also got two things that you've recorded yourself: your corrected text and some plain old talking. Go to RhinoSpike again and get a recording of both from native speakers. Once you've got those recordings, add them to a playlist on iTunes and listen regularly. I'd recommend just throwing all of these recordings into a random-order playlist and listening to them in the background while doing other things. This will provide a review of all of the above.

This entire workflow can be tailored to your level. At the most basic level, you can even use children books; my kids have plenty of books that come with audio CDs in all three of their languages. But you don't necessarily need to dumb the text down; you can also just keep it short. For example, if you're just starting a language but want to read a news article, you could limit yourself to just the first paragraph. This will likely take a while, but it won't be insurmountable.

If you've got a way to make this workflow, I'd love to hear it!


  1. Looks like a great workflow and would probably lead to massive fluency. And it's nice that it's all free. But damn, that's a big, complicated process.

    Personally, I'd LOVE to pay a nice, clean monthly subscription for a service that automated some of the busywork between these steps. It might even be worth the money to hire a virtual assistant to coordinate different accounts.

  2. @Aaron: Yeah, I'm with you. Unfortunately, no one's even close to putting all of these functions under one roof.

    Lang-8 is probably the closest, but their SRS system leaves a lot to be desired, and they've got nothing in the way of recording or having native speakers record things for you. And their fee isn't "clean"; if you use it a lot, you'll need to pay more to get your writing corrected. could become another contender. They're strong in the SRS department (including audio with the items) but weak in the other areas.