I’ve been using LingQ to learn Japanese for over a year now and I wanted to talk about how LingQ works and what my experience using it has been like. I haven’t used it for any other language, so this will strictly be a LingQ Japanese review.
First let me talk about the philosophy behind the system and then I’ll explain how to use LingQ. Once I’ve explained that, I’ll talk about its importing feature, which (in my opinion) is revolutionary.
The Philosophy Of LingQ
LingQ (pronounced “link”) was created by Steve Kaufmann and his son Mark Kaufmann as a way to help people learn languages the way that Steve had learned so many.
For the record, Steve knows 17 languages (including Japanese) and with the exception of his native language English, he learned them all using one simple method:
By listening to and reading a lot of native materials!
The way Steve explains it, when you read and listen to native materials you naturally begin to notice the patterns in the language, the way certain words are used, and if you choose the right materials you enjoy the process as well.
In addition to that, by using material that is created “by Japanese people, for Japanese people” you ensure that what you’re learning are actually the words and phrases that people in Japan use in real life.
I found this to be especially true when learning Japanese. For whatever reason, a lot of Japanese books and courses teach words and phrases to new students that are rarely used by natives when they talk to one another in the real world.
So the advantage of learning Japanese from the books and shows that Japanese people use themselves for entertainment or information is that you learn a lot of natural Japanese.
How To Use The System
The main problem that I always had with reading or listening to native materials is that there are a lot of unknown words.
I mean, A LOT OF THEM!
This is especially true for Japanese since words can be written in hiragana, katakana, or kanji.
But when I really sat down and thought about it, the problem wasn’t that there were a lot of words. The problem is that it always took so long to look unknown words up in a dictionary in order to understand them.
Well as it turns out, LingQ has a system that actually solves this problem.
What LingQ does is break words apart so that you can click on each individual one and look up the word’s meaning instantly.
In addition to that, LingQ uses a highlighting system so that you can see at a glance if a word is new or if you’ve encountered it before.
This color system is a way of reminding you which words you already know, which words you are learning, and which ones you’ve never seen before.
- Blue = Totally new
- Yellow = You’re learning it
- White = You know it
Here’s an example of it now:
There are varying shades of yellow as you move each word or phrase from a low level of understanding to a higher level.
Eventually it turns white when you know it and no longer have to look it up.
When you click on a blue word to learn what it means, some of the definitions that other students are using appear and you can choose to select one of them or create your own with the electronic dictionaries available (like Jisho.org).
Here’s a picture of what you see when you click on the blue word from the above picture:
In this example, the number in parentheses in how many other people are using that translation. Personally, I would go with the bottom one since it has the most information.
At any rate, the reason why I love this system is because it saves a lot of time.
When I used to try to read a physical Japanese book, I would have to spend a lot of time putting the book down and looking up the new word in either a paper dictionary or one online.
Even when I tried reading Japanese eBooks on readers like Kindle, I still had trouble since their built in dictionaries are slow to load and have difficultly identifying words.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had to search for the meaning of a new kanji when you don’t know how to spell it, but it’s a real pain in the butt.
I used to spend more time looking up words than actually reading Japanese, but that’s no longer a problem.
LingQ’s system is set up so that I only have to spend a few seconds per new word and all it takes is a click of the mouse.
It is by far the easiest way that I’ve found to look up and learn new Japanese words.
How To Import Anything
In my opinion, LingQ is incredible powerful for two reasons. The first one is their system of looking up new words and saving their meanings in a quick and easy fashion.
The second reason why I love LingQ is because they allow you to import any Japanese materials that you want to.
They say that you learn better when you find the material interesting and engaging, and this has been my experience as well.
I used to use a lot of flash cards (with Anki) to learn Japanese, but I started to hate using them because they felt like such a chore and they were just random sentences.
Keep in mind I had a little over 6,000 flash cards at the time, so I had been using them for a while and was ready to move on.
LingQ on the other hand has allowed me to import my own books and audio files. For me, this was a big deal as it allowed my to finally read Harry Potter in Japanese! Something I had always wanted to do.
In addition to the manual importing of books and audio files, they also have a free extension that you can install on your web browser and it lets you click a button to automatically load the material you’re looking at into a lesson on LingQ.
This is pretty cool for reading news articles and blogs in Japanese, but there’s actually an even more impressive way to import stuff.
They’ve recently added the ability to import the subtitles from YouTube videos, Netflix videos, and anime from sites like Animelon.
For some sites like Animelon, it will also load in the audio file!
I’ve also found ways to get the audio from Netflix and YouTube, so now I can load those in myself and then use it all on LingQ.
From my experience, learning Japanese takes a long time and a lot of effort. So being able to learn the language from the shows and books that I love has made a huge difference.
It no longer feels like “study time” and instead just feels like I’m having fun doing something in Japanese and as a side bonus my language skills improve.
The team at LingQ is always working on new ways to improve the platform, so I’m pretty excited to see what else they will come up with in the future.
My Experience Using LingQ
Using LingQ is pretty simple, you look in the library for something that looks interesting (or import it) and then you read and listen to it while looking up any new words that you encounter.
Before I started using LingQ, I was all over the place with materials. I was using different online courses that I had found, some of the popular apps for learning Japanese, a few grammar books, and of course flash cards.
Now I just use LingQ and I have everything in one consolidated place.
Back before I started learning from things I love, I wasn’t really enjoying Japanese anymore. It had turned into a never-ending loop of reviewing old flash cards and studying new grammar.
Now I don’t do any of that. I just find a new anime or book that I want to watch (or read) for fun!
As I encounter new words or phases I look them up and save their meanings in a few seconds.
In order to see how much my Japanese has improved, I think about at first when I couldn’t really read a lot. I could only do about 500 words per day as a goal. I did this by reading through some simple news articles.
After a couple of weeks I noticed that I was actually getting through the news pretty easily and could read about 1,000 words per day without too much trouble.
I then started getting into Japanese children stories which were actually pretty interesting since they’re used to teach Japanese children values like honoring one’s parents and such.
I felt like, I’m actually using my Japanese instead of just learning about it!
It’s a pretty amazing feeling when you’re not trying to learn, you’re just trying to understand a story or something in Japanese and you’re actually able to do it.
I least for me, I felt that it was a breakthrough moment.
Then I started moving on to bigger things like episodes of anime and full-length Japanese novels.
While they were tough at first due to all of the new words, I stuck with it and after about a year I finally got to the point where I was enjoying them with very little problem.
For comparison, my vocabulary was somewhere in the 5,000 word range when I started using LingQ in mid-2018. Now I’m at little over 30,000 words after using it for 18 months.
Also, I’m now able to read and listen to 5,000 words per day without breaking a sweat.
I still try to do more than that though, since I want to improve my abilities to the point where I can read Japanese as quickly and easily as I do English.
There’s still lots of new words and phrases I run into depending on the material I’m going through, but it’s usually only 1-2% of the total volume of the work.
Something else I’ve noticed is that learning new words by reading and listening a lot each day has a snowball-like effect.
At first I only saw a small improvement in my abilities, but as time went on it gained momentum and now I feel like I can easily learn new words and phrases without even really trying to.
Where To Try Out LingQ
In my experience, LingQ is by far the best way to learn Japanese.
Everyone can sign up for a free account to see if they like it, but unfortunately the free accounts are only allowed to create 20 definitions for new words.
I think that most people will probably tap this out in about an hour of reading or so, and then they can’t really use this feature anymore which the whole system is based around.
So if you want to get a good feel for how the program really works, then I would encourage you to try out the premium version for one month and then make a final decision.
When I first used it, I was only planning on giving it a shot for one month and then leave if it didn’t work out, but here I am over a year and a half later still using it!
Using LingQ saved me tons of time and frustration learning new Japanese words. It also allowed me to enjoy the journey by learning from the things that I love.
It’s the most effective and enjoyable way to learn Japanese that I’ve ever found.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments. Thanks!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: