My favorite website for learning languages – Guest post by JannaM of Janna’s English Blog and LingQ

The post below was published by JannaM on her webite and is reproduced here with her express permission. Janna went to the same university as I did and she has extensive experience with just about every Romance language there is, so don’t be afraid to take her advice about language learning to heart. She created “Janna’s English Blog” for her students in Spain and all the rest of you English learners out there, so be sure to follow the link and check out all the great content!

My favorite website for learning languages

Posted on March 31, 2011 by jannamelissa

The Internet is a very useful tool to help you learn English (or any other language). There are many useful resources on the Internet. Soon I will post a longer list of useful resources. But first I just wanted to highlight one website that I have found to be particularly useful in my own experience, learning Portuguese, Spanish, and some Italian.

The website is called LingQ, and the URL is It is an input-based learning system, which means that you increase your fluency by focusing heavily on listening and reading, and less on grammar.

In your regular language classes you might be frustrated or bored of focusing so much on grammar. There is a better way, and that is focusing on hearing and seeing the language as much as possible, so that the grammatical structures are naturally reinforced in your brain, without directly studying them. You should listen to/read the language in a wide variety of contexts and situations, with all the different grammar items mixed together—the way it is in a real conversation.

The benefit of LingQ is you can create a FREE account, and have access to unlimited free podcasts with transcripts. You can also download the MP3s and put it on your iPod or MP3 player. You can also use their system to easily learn new vocabulary words (it has a built-in automatic dictionary), so it makes reading new material in English a lot less tedious. There is also a tool for online flashcards (vocabulary cards), but you have to pay for this feature. However, the basic membership price is very reasonable—only $10 per month.

Here is a short video introduction of LingQ (demonstrating how it works):

I am currently a member of LingQ with the basic membership and I find it to be a very helpful system for learning various languages. I personally recommend it to you because I think you might find it to be helpful in your efforts to learn English. The more you read and listen and study using LingQ, the more you will benefit from your conversation classes. It’s necessary to practice both—reading and listening (input) along with speaking and writing (output). I can help you with speaking in my classes, but it’s up to you to read and listen outside of class to improve more. It’s not enough to just speak for one hour per week.

Another advantage of LingQ is you can import any articles you read anywhere on the Internet. So you can even import this blog post and use LingQ to look up all the words you don’t understand!

If you’re like me, you will find LingQ to be a fun and even addicting way to learn a language. The most effective language learning system is one that is fun, that you enjoy doing, so you will feel motivated and continue. In my opinion that includes things like reading books in English, watching TV shows and movies, listening to music, but also studying that language more intensely (examining new vocabulary, for example), and LingQ is a very helpful medium for that, another tool for you to use.

Try LingQ, and tell me what you think! If you do use it, please click on this link so we can be friends on LingQ.

And if you’d like to contact me on LingQ, just do a search for “DavidMartin” on the friends page once you’ve signed up for a free account! Thank you Janna!


“Every hour I’m [learning a language] feels like a minute. Every minute I am away from [the language I’m learning] feels like an hour.”

Become a Polyglot in Minutes not Years

“…And that is the secret to how to become a polyglot in minutes, not hours, months, or years. It’s to absolutely love it, so that studying isn’t a chore; it isn’t a task you want to get out of the way so that you can reach that fluency you lust for. No, lust fizzles – but if you love the language, if you love the language-learning process, those hours, those months, and those years, they’ll fly by.”

The above quote is from (jump to 8’10” in the video) and this post was inspired by Anthony Lauder from FluentCzech‘s YouTube video entitled Become a Polyglot in Minutes not Years, which you can view here:

Mr. Lauder has a wealth of informative, entertaining, and motivational videos about his experience with the language-learning process (especially as it pertains to Czech), and for all you English learners out there, his videos are a fantastic resource, as he speaks very clearly and provides good explanations of the topics at hand.

The modified quote that inspired the title of the post is mentioned by Mr. Lauder in his video. It is from Michel Petrucciani, a well-renowned jazz pianist who once said “Every hour I am at the piano feels like a minute. Every minute I am away from the piano feels like an hour.”

So the question is, how do you feel when you’re learning your language of choice? What goals do you have in learning the language? These are important questions to ask yourself, because they will inevitably determine how motivated you are to learn the language, and how much you do (or do not) enjoy the process.

As Mr. Lauder says in his video, 80% of the reward of something learned can be achieved with 20% of the effort (or time) that it takes to master it – this is known as the Pareto Principle. I’m personally still at a point in my Mandarin learning where I’m able to pick up new things every day, that is, I still haven’t gotten my 80%, but it still requires listening every day, and I don’t pick things up anywhere near as quickly as I do when learning German, Spanish, Dutch, French etc. It is amazing how much of these languages you can learn in just a few months if you work at it intensively every day.

With German and Spanish, however, I have definitely already reached this threshhold, which means I have to work hard (meaning I have to be very organized in my learning, which I achieve by using Anki and LingQ) at mastering these languages beyond the fluency I’ve already gained.

Does that bother me? Not in the slightest. Because I absolutely love the language-learning process. I live for the “Ah-ha” moments, the jokes that only make sense in other languages, getting to know people in their native language and really speaking to their hearts, and learning more about other cultures through the conduit of their languages. Live it, love it, and I guarantee you’ll learn it.

As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

100 hours of Mandarin listening! / Audio version of “Learning Languages Like Children”

I hit my first 100-hour mark last week! Sometimes I feel like I already understand so much, and sometimes I’m totally lost – I never appreciated how relatively easy it is for English speakers to acquire any Germanic or Romance language until I started listening to Mandarin. Instead of starting at 30-50% comprehension, you start at 0%. That’s why it takes two to three times as long to acquire some languages than others –  they’re not “harder”, they’re just “different” – so you have to start from scratch.

Refer to this chart of approximate Language Learning Expectations for English Speakers from the Foreign Service Institute of the Department (FSI) of State and this thread on LingQ for more on the subject.

***There’s also a Wikibooks link for the chart here).

I’m currently listening to the Elementary and Intermediate podcasts from PopUpChinese and CSLPod‘s Intermediate, Upper Intermediate, and Advanced series (CSLPod’s Elementary stuff is too slow and repetitive for my level) and trying out their Premium material (Lesson Guides and audios at the sentence level for some newer lessons) on a $10 Basic Subscription.

The only thing you get in the CSLPod Lesson Guides that you don’t get in the free content are the Hanzi texts for the post-dialog vocabulary explanations, but as these make up half of each audio track, I thought I’d try them out. However, as they don’t provide the translations for these like they do for the dialogues, I have to rely on rough translations from Google Translate. Sometimes I understand the majority, sometimes I don’t, but if the content is interesting enough, I keep listening.

One thing that’s nice is that CSLPod does the work of parsing the Hanzi text with pinyin so you don’t have to use a pinyinization tool like at PopUpChinese.

Also, I’ve just uploaded recorded versions of the intro and first chapter of Learning Languages Like Children by Dr. J. Marvin Brown to the LingQ English library.

You can access the collection on LingQ here:

I will be recording and uploading chapters 2-5 over the next few days, so make sure to check back for those if you’re interested!

Taking advantage of embedded lyrics to streamline your language learning

Since I got my Android Nexus One in May of last year I’ve been looking for an Android music player that displays embedded text (“lyrics”) while you’re listening, and I finally found a free one called Astro Player

I am currently in the process of embedding all of the characters, Pinyin transliterations, translations and vocabulary tables into all of my lessons from LingQ, ChinesePod, ChineseClass101, and CSLPod for easy viewing on my device. It’s a lot of preliminary work, but it’s greatly increased the effectiveness and convenience of my Mandarin learning.

The reason this is so great is that you can view the text that corresponds to any audio you’re listening to on your Android smartphone or mp3 device, it simply requires that you use iTunes to embed the text in the “properties” of the audio track under “lyrics”.

This means you can refer to the text of a lesson without having to access any sites or search for a particular lesson. (ChineseClass101 pre-embeds the simplified characters and the translations in their dialogues, which means that I only have to add the pinyin transliterations and the vocabulary lists from the lesson notes, whereas ChinesePOD and ChineseLearnOnline only pre-embed the characters, and CSLPod does not embed anything at all, and they are therefore useless to beginners who are trying to learn the spoken language first unless you add the content yourself).

This lyric viewing feature is standard on any Apple player with a screen (iPod/iPhone/iPad), but as I already had an Android phone and I didn’t feel like spending $100 or more just to buy an iPod, I was very excited to find this app.

On a related note, if you want a way to view these embedded lyrics within iTunes while you’re listening on your computer, I recommend Cover Version

I use this at work so I can listen to Mandarin podcasts while I’m working and quickly refer to the text of an audio without having to break away from what I’m doing.

If you have any questions about how to install or use either of these tools, please drop me a line. Happy learning!

Transition to WordPress

Hi all

Please forgive the capriciousness of my site while I make the transition to WordPress 🙂



My LingQ Lesson Checklist for Beginners

This checklist was inspired by my colleague Tina, who asked me how I get started learning a language, how I found the time to study languages every day and how to use study time most effectively.

As Steve Kaufmann from LingQ posted on the subject of finding the time to study last week

I was motivated to share what I drew up for her here.

Let’s say you’re starting to learn Spanish on LingQ and your native language is English.

I recommend starting out with the “Who is she?” and “Eating Out” series, as these are available for all languages, contain short, context-rich lessons that cover at least a few hundred vocabulary words, and as there are 26 + 4 = 30 of them, you can follow the learning cycle described below for one month J

These are the 7 steps I think you should follow every time you do a lesson on LingQ to get the most out of each lesson:


1)       Listen to the original Spanish twice without reading anything. (1 minute)

2)       Listen to the Spanish and read the (Google translated, unless translation is available) English twice. (1 minute)

3)       Listen to the Spanish and read the Spanish twice – DO NOT read the Spanish without listening to the audio, and DO NOT read out loud – this, in my experience, is detrimental to your pronunciation when you start speaking later. (1 minute)

4)       LingQ (“save”) the words in the lesson – DO NOT try to memorize vocabulary or grammar, or to find different forms (e.g. infinitives of verbs, etc.) or meanings of the words: as long as you get a feeling for the word in context, you’re fine.  (2 – 5 minutes, depending on the length of the lesson)                                                                                                                                     

5)       Listen to the Spanish and read the English twice. (1 minute)

6)       Listen to the original Spanish twice without reading anything and compare your comprehension to step 1 – believe me, it will be much better! J (1 minute)

7)       Download the audio and put it on your mp3-player/phone to listen to once before you go to bed.

Max. Time: 10 Minutes

Let’s say the above-described steps were for Lesson 1 on Day 1 of your (hopefully) daily learning cycle.

Day 2

Before starting Lesson 2, listen to Lesson 1 at least once without reading anything and once while reading in English.

Follow the 7 steps for lesson 2.

Day 3

Before starting Lesson 3, listen to Lessons 1 and 2 at least once without reading anything and listen to Lesson 2 once while reading in English.

Follow the 7 steps for lesson 3.

Day 4

Before starting Lesson 4, listen to Lessons 1, 2 and 3 at least once without reading anything and listen to Lesson 3 once while reading in English.

Follow the 7 steps for lesson 4.


Continue like this for 7 days, and after 7 days start removing one lesson from the list, so:

Day 7

Repeat: Lessons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Learn: Lesson 7

Day 8

Repeat: Lessons 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Learn: Lesson 8

Day 9

Repeat: Lessons 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Learn: Lesson 9



This may seem repetitive, but it will help to immerse you in the sound of the language at the beginning, and this is very important if you want to have a good accent. To this end, always do more listening than reading (this does not include reading the translation in English), as this will ensure your language acquisition is primarily auditory rather than visual, which, once again, I believe is more important at the beginning of your studies.

This method of always adding a new lesson and removing an old one from your daily listening should be continued for at least a month, as a certain amount of repetition is important to give you a feeling of “familiarity” with the sound and common words of the language, as well as helping you to retain comprehension for longer periods of time by staving off the normal process of learning -> forgetting -> learning -> forgetting when there’s not enough intensity.

When your comprehension gets better, you can start to listen to longer lessons and repeat them less times, but that’s ok, because common vocabulary will naturally repeat in longer lessons anyway.

Also, because the audio files for beginners are typically only 30 seconds to 1 minute long, you will never spend more than 20 minutes total on your ‘learning period’. No excuses! J Keep in mind, however, that if you listen more on a daily basis, you will learn to comprehend more words and more words will naturally repeat themselves, which means:


*** When reading the vocabulary reminder emails from LingQ, take a look at the words you saved but don’t worry about memorizing anything. Your primary means of review should be listening and trying to understand the language in context, NOT reading lists of words. Confer this great post from on some of the DO NOTs of successful language learning.

Happy learning!

My return to Mandarin

I’m happy to say I will finally be finding the time to return to my Mandarin quest, after an extended hiatus of slightly more than 1 year.

Said hiatus was a result of my having begun a job as a full-time German QA tester and translator for Sony Online Entertainment in February of 2010, as the hours I had previously dedicated to Mandarin were now to be spent learning esoteric German vocabulary used to describe any number of medieval weapons, armor and creatures in order to be able to translate SOE titles like Everquest II (

So, back to Mandarin – this morning I listened to an Intermediate podcast on CSLPOD 

and I was surprised to find out how familiar the language remains to me after having listened to it intensively for only 4 months and then perhaps only a few times in the course of the last 14 months.

Although I’d like to dedicate the 3 hours a day to listening I was able to maintain during my studies at the end of 2009/beginning of 2010, I doubt that I will realistically be able to do that on a daily basis, as I am also an aspiring mnemonist ( and would like to start competing in memory competitions sometime in the next 2 years.

I think it’s important to mention, however, that I DO NOT use mnemonic devices to remember words in Mandarin, nor in any other language I am learning, until I have reached the point where I can already speak comfortably (see

My primary method of learning still involves an 80-20 mix of listening and reading, respectively, in the target language (in the case of Mandarin I read the pinyin, not the characters – see my post from December 31st), where I try to listen to at least an hour of content a day and repeat lessons as necessary depending on the amount of new vocabulary.

Also, I begin listening to intermediate and advanced dialogues I have the texts for at an a very early stage, as these can be roughly translated into your native language using Google translate or Babylon, and then you can read them while listening – confer

In fact, one of the great things about CSLPOD is the fact that members can contribute translations for the lessons they are studying, and they are usually quite good (much better than using Google Translate, to say the least!).

And finally, although I would say I understand Mandarin at an Intermediate level, I have never attempted to have a conversation, as I simply do not feel like doing so. I am content with the knowledge that my comprehension and my feeling for the language are improving on a daily basis, as evidenced by the ever-growing number of audios I can understand.

I don’t worry about grammar, I don’t try to memorize vocabulary – I just try to find things interesting to me to listen to and I try to understand more every day. For an article that mirrors much of what I think about the “benefits” of “learning grammar”,  be sure to check out

I welcome any comments or criticisms, and look forward to posting again soon.

Regards from San Diego

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