App Review: Lingvist

Hey friends,

As some of you know, I have been using Lingvist to learn Spanish vocabulary and I thought I should share my experience with you. I am close to reaching the 3000-word mark so I wanted to write a few words about it.
Disclaimer: I did not receive any compensation for reviewing this app and I am in no way affiliated with Lingvist other than being a fangirl.

What is Lingvist?

Lingvist is a language learning app created by a team of wonderfully talented magicians in Talinn, Estonia. The premise is very simple: You can learn 5000* of the most common words (and lexemes and lemmas) in your target language. *The Spanish course doesn't have 5000 words yet but we are expecting an update to the course sometime soon, as announced on the Lingvist forum. You can learn even more words if you consider that the sentences will contain words that you don't know (and should look up for your maximum benefit).The idea of the app is as follows: there is a daily goal consisting of doing 100 cards, recalling 80% of the (first 10) words correctly and learning 20 new words. Essentially, you are learning new words and reviewing the rest. The algorithm is like your mom, it doesn't let you rest too much and expects work to be done or you will have more cards to review. Instead of flipping through regular flashcards without context, you are always given the words in a sentence whether you see them for the first time or whether you are just reviewing. When you get a word wrong, the word will be marked in red, or if you confuse the order of the letters in the word, it will mark the letter you got wrong and you will be required to retype the word correctly. For verbs, if you get a verb wrong, a little section appears to show you the conjugation of the verb, which I absolutely love and you can conveniently click on other moods and tenses to see what that verb looks like. This is especially cool because Spanish has a lot of irregular and stem-changing verbs.

Each sentence given is translated into English (or whatever language you are using to learn your target language) and even a literal sense is given where appropriate. Furthermore, there is an option to listen to the pronunciation of each word and you can turn it off if you wish. A female robot pronounces the words and her Spanish sounds Castillian. The flavour of Spanish is neither specific to Spain nor Latin America but is rather neutral and it includes commonly used words including verb conjugations for vosotros, which causes some learners to go into hilariously angry rants. (You know, complaining about Spanish from the motherland is really embarrassing and should be reserved for those solitary moments when no one is around to hear it). They also have two themes, a light and a dark (called Cosmos). I prefer to use the dark theme.

Below are some images of what the app looks like.

A red letter highlighting a mistake in the word. The learner is required to retype the word.

When a verb is conjugated incorrectly, a handy guide appears and underlines the correct entry.
You will be asked to review words you learned previously, so you get plenty of opportunities to review the vocabulary. The app tracks how many words you learned, how much time you spent on learning and also your recall accuracy. The actual words you learned are now a premium feature. The app now has a section called "Challenges", where you can review concepts and they are organized by level according to the level of the Lingvist course (1 to however many levels your particular course has). The challenges section offers short grammar reinforcement exercises, reading and speaking (to the app, not a real person). There is a category for listening, but the Spanish course doesn't have anything there yet, so this is a feature we will just have to wait for. You can also find nicely organized grammar notes anytime in the mobile or desktop apps and they are organized into three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. I'd love to see more attention paid to particular difficulties of the Spanish language such as detailed guides on ser vs.estar, the subjunctives, por vs. para, preterito vs. imperfecto and others. A section on logical connectors and some common academic writing expressions would be great as well.

Lingvist Unlimited

Like a lot of apps that initially only had freemium versions, it was expected that at some point Lingvist would unveil its premium version and this is exactly what they did with Lingvist Unlimited.  Before the launch date later last year, existing users were given a trial period to test out Lingvist Unlimited and after that, users were given a choice to purchase a subscription or continue using the limited free version. They offered a discount for the holiday period, and if you purchased it for a friend, you would get a bonus for yourself too. The monthly price difference based on the type of subscription clearly suggests that they want you to buy the annual subscription.  Curiously, the prices given in the app are 11.25 USD which is around 14 CAD for one month, but the desktop app shows a monthly price of 9.41 CAD. There are either some issues in conversion or it's an error. Or perhaps they love us in Canada and they want our dollar restored to the times of its glory when it was stronger than it is now. In terms of features, you can see the comparison of each version below:

Screenshot from the desktop app, Unlimited vs Free features

Android app screenshot, Unlimited pricing
I think they like us in Canada because the prices don't match up. 

What I love about it

Overall, this app is excellent. You can almost effortlessly learn a lot of useful vocabulary, especially if you are a beginner. Use it on your commute to school, work or while you wait in line. Whether you are a busy person or have a lot of time on your hands, this app can really help you learn. I love its clean and simple layout. It is beautifully minimalistic and I hope they never change this. It feels more serious than other apps that have overdone it with the gamification of learning. I honestly don't care about experience points or some cute animated character motivating me to learn. I am already motivated, I want content!

I love that it also can help with conjugation because the app doesn't teach you only full words but also lexemes and lemmas. So this means that you will be given a verb like tener and you will see many conjugations of it. I think this app is perfect for beginner and intermediate-level learners but it can be useful for other categories of learners too. The challenges also seem to correspond to the beginner and intermediate levels as well. For those of us who speak English and other romance languages, the ability to ignore words we already know would be great, but this is not possible. They also seem to have a really nice and responsive team who closely follow discussions about Lingvist and engage with users and the community on social media, so this is always a nice touch. (Hola Javier y JenGracias por todo!

I also love being able to track everything and seeing how much progress I have made over time. For us nerds, this information is beautiful. So in 30 or so hours, I have learned 2710 words and counting. I am eagerly awaiting the completion of the Spanish course. Currently, it has 3875* words instead of 5000 and we are expecting updates to the course soon, as they announced on the Lingvist community forum.

(*I am not a hundred percent certain whether this is the latest number of words, but in either case, the course is not yet completed and they will release new words in small increments in the next few months.

Below you can see what this data looks like (and also the days when I am tired but refusing to miss my daily goal.)

What could be improved 

When I tried using the voice input feature, I noticed that the app accepted incorrect pronunciations as correct answers. For example, I was playing with the pronunciation of verb endings and the app allowed incorrect or ambiguous pronunciation. The app also accepts answers without strictly enforcing the accents and I think these should be mandatory. Initially, I liked using it on those days when I was too lazy to type, but because it accepted incorrect responses, I stopped using it and I don't miss it in the Free version. It would also be great to give more variety in sentences instead of recalling the word in the same sentence as when it was introduced. This way we can be exposed to more vocabulary and also compel the learner to read the sentence for understanding and context, rather than seeing the English translation and then typing the response. (This happens, too). I think the grammar section regarding verb tenses should also feature the verb tense/mood names in Spanish.

I think that Lingvist Unlimited was released too soon. The Spanish course is not yet completed so this gives no incentive for the learners of Spanish to subscribe when the features are incomplete. Some users have complained about bugs during the payment process and requested more payment options. Admittedly, I am not sure how far they are regarding any updates because I am not a paid user yet. I am eagerly awaiting the rest of the course as well as the specialized modules they have talked about before I buy the app. I think they need provide a lot more content before asking users to get the premium option. The challenges so far are not particularly useful for anyone above the intermediate level and they are too short to offer a more intensive experience. For users living in some developing countries and want to learn a language, the monthly price can be rather steep. Perhaps there could be a way for users to win or earn Lingvist Unlimited by either consistently using it for a period of time, or helping spread the news, or by winning a contest. I found this discussion on the Lingvist forum to be interesting and a lot of the users make some very good points.

Some things I'd love to see (A girl can dream, right?)

I'd love to see more courses for advanced users such as more academic, low(er) frequency words. I'd also love to see field-specific vocabularies (legal, media, political, medical, artists) and other subject-specific themes. Furthermore, I would love to see reading exercises that are longer than what is currently available. The Spanish and the French-speaking world have beautiful literature (other countries obviously do as well, but I am focusing on the languages that are relevant to this blog), and I think some sort of graded readers of the major works of literature would really be amazing. I would also love to see a verb testing feature to help with memorizing conjugations. Additionally, a tool for better using and understanding the subjunctive would be very useful, something like Laura Lawless' Subjunctivisor, where we can look up which expressions trigger the subjunctive. Also, special grammar files should focus more attention on the potentially frustrating language particularities which I mentioned earlier in the text such as ser vs estar, por vs. para, the subjunctive, saber vs. conocer, which prepositions go with which verbs, and so on. In terms of drills, it would be cool to have some cloze exercises to help with vocabulary retention. Lastly, I'd love to see some more community involvement such as official language challenges that we can do as a global language learning community and have some fun together.

I would absolutely love to see a course for Arabic for English speakers. I think Lingvist could score big with this one. Arabic is the 5th most spoken language in the world and generally, the resources available are (to put it mildly) terrible. They are either barely accessible in terms of content and visually unappealing and uninviting. A lot of those resources are also geared towards non-Arabic speaking Muslims for obvious reasons: most of the world's Muslims live outside of the Arab world and do not speak Arabic. However, resources for a secular approach to learning Arabic are less common and finding level-appropriate resources is a dream that many of us are still hoping for. The folks over at Duolingo have been talking about an Arabic course for years now, and until now nothing has happened. There are a lot of people who are interested in learning Arabic because they love it (like me) or people interested in diplomatic or other careers in the Middle East and North Africa region and Lingvist could really fill the need by creating a course.

If you were too lazy to read this whole thing, just go and get the app. It's great. Join the Lingvistocracy.

Many thanks and much love from Canada!



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