now available for iPhone

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(Bala Cynwyd, PA– July 22, 2014), a cross-platform solution that draws on a user’s environment and interests to create a personalized language learning experience, announced today the launch of the app on iOS. The launch demonstrates the company’s commitment to digital language learning and education and enforces the importance of fostering communication and learning within today’s global community.  Since launching the Android app earlier this year, the company has further evolved with the release of a WebApp and through expanded academic partnerships.’s language learning technology provides learners with a free dictionary and learning platform to discover vocabulary in over 18 languages. The platform goes beyond traditional translation and flashcard services and assesses skill level behind the scenes, recommending fresh content in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Hebrew as well as practice exercises personalized for the individual. To enhance user engagement, the new iOS app includes a number of gamification features, where words collected are counted via a leaderboard and a practice session tracker that rewards power-users, effectively encouraging additional vocabulary searches.

“The availability of on iOS confirms our commitment to provide an open and free language learning solution for users around the globe,” said CEO and Co-Founder Dr. Jan Ihmels.  “The market is growing at a tremendous rate and will be at the forefront, leading the way in language edtech with a sophisticated technology unlike any other available today. brings systematic learning to the worldwide web, providing an engaging digital immersion tool for learners from beginner to advanced levels.” has witnessed widespread adoption, with over 100k+ Android downloads in the first month of its Android release. It anticipates the same or greater on iOS. The company will expand support for additional languages by Fall 2014 and is poised to make a lasting entrance into the digital language learning and edtech channels.

The app is now available as a free download in the iTunes App Store.

What kind of language learner are you?

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There’s one thing most researchers agree on: no person or language learner is alike. And when it comes to applied linguists, they even have a whole subject called “Individual Differences.” So what sets some learners apart and what kind of language learner are you? Read on to find out!

Cognitive Factors
Language Aptitude- Are languages easy for you to pick up? If so, then you’d probably score high on a language aptitude battery test. Some people find it easier to remember new language thanks to certain cognitive mechanisms that trap vocabulary from the input so words can be held in the mind long-enough to be transferred to long-term memory. A crucial takeaway though is that aptitude can be improved, so whether you were born with it or not, there are activities you can do to enhance your skills.

Strategy Use- Some language learners are more strategic than others. It’s no secret that creating a flashcard with an image and example sentence makes it easier to learn a word than just staring long and hard at the dictionary entry and hoping for the best. But with an abundance of strategies to choose from  (e.g. glossing, memory, vocabulary, skimming & scanning) there are always ways to be more strategic. You can also choose to learn with a platform like where strategy use is encouraged via built in features that make learning more effective and fun.

Affective Factors
Motivation- Do you really want to learn a second language or is it just something you have to do for school or work? Chances are if you’re reading this you are a motivated learner, which is a good think because motivation correlates highly with success in language learning. Maybe it’s an upcoming vacation, a crush on a native speaker or just a really good book you’d like to read without translation, whatever your motivation you can always find more ways to enhance it via peaking your curiosity about the local culture and maybe offering yourself the occasional ice-cream sundae for milestones achieved.

Anxiety- Are you often worried about making mistakes?  Do you get nervous when you have to speak in a second language? Emotional responses can make a big difference in your ability to learn a language because affective barriers prevent you from learning and receiving new words from the input. Think of it this way, if you are so busy worrying about what you will say when the teacher calls on you, how can you hear what the other students are saying? Language isn’t about being exact and mistakes are inevitable so learn to relax and try your best to stay calm when anxiety rears its ugly head.

Of course there are plenty of other individual differences we could discuss, age being one of them, but Aptitude, Strategy Use, Motivation and Anxiety are particularly relevant because they are subject to change. And the best way to make sure you take advantage of your strengths and customize your learning program to account for your weaknesses is to know what kind of learner you are –and then decide what kind of learner you want to be.


Want to know more? Check out a language blog like the Mezzofanti Guild which has a forum for language learners to share tips on how to stay motivated, strategic and relaxed and head back here for more on how you can improve your aptitude for language learning in next week’s post.

Choosing the right test to measure your vocabulary


Vocabulary in a second language seems like a relatively straightforward entity to assess. You either know a word or you don’t, right? Wrong. There are many ways to know a word and not all language assessments measure the same kind of knowledge. So, have a read through this post to ensure you get the right test to help you meet your language learning goals.

Receptive Vocabulary Knowledge
Tests that measure receptive vocabulary knowledge often ask you to identify a word in a reading or listening passage. Receptive knowledge is passive in the sense that you do not need to produce the word from scratch, only understand it when it is presented to you. Often receptive knowledge is the first thing we acquire and therefore, for most second language learners, the size of their receptive vocabulary is greater than that of their productive vocabulary (note, this tends to be true in your native language as well). That is to say, you understand more words than you can produce. Thus, if a vocabulary test provides you with pictures and asks you to label them you may appear to know less words than you actually do because it is testing your productive knowledge!

Productive Vocabulary Knowledge
If you can say or write a word then you have productive knowledge of it. However, with this category there are some added bells & whistles. In its most basic form, demonstrating productive knowledge does not entail perfect spelling or native-like pronunciation. Rather, it is about producing a word that is recognizable as the target term. A spelling test measures spelling and a pronunciation test measures pronunciation. But here is where test makers differ in their approach. Many vocabulary tests do require you to have 100% accurate spelling or pronunciation to get full credit for a word. So, if you happen to be a particularly bad speller and score poorly on an assessment measure as a consequence, fear not! You still have productive knowledge of the words you were tested on.

Vocabulary in Use
Just because you can recognize, write and say a word it doesn’t mean you know all there is to know. It is also possible to measure your understanding of how a word functions in a sentence and the many ways in which it can be used. Therefore, tests that measure this nuanced understanding tell you even more about the quality of your vocabulary, which can sometimes be just as important as size when it comes to certain tasks (e.g. writing essays and business emails). is a great free tool to help you build out both the breadth (size) and depth (receptive/productive/use knowledge) of your vocabulary as it provides a dictionary and flashcard maker for storing images, example sentences and audio, a smart spaced repetition review platform and article suggestions so you can re-visit your words in context.

The next time you take a test, make sure you know exactly what it is measuring so you can better interpret the results. To that end, the Applied Linguistics department at the University of Ghent has created a fun receptive vocabulary test to tell you how many words you know in English in under 5 minutes. Give it a try and help them collect some data at the same time!

New Context-Based Approach to Russian Language Learning


russian_monster Adaptive platform facilitates study of Russian language from everyday content and online sources announced today that it will now be supporting the Russian language with a free vocabulary and reading solution for education programs and self-study learners. The platform takes a novel context-based approach to language learning, providing users with real-world materials as an alternative to grammar drills and literature-focused lessons.’s cloud-synced technology exists as a free mobile app for Android, a Web App, and a browser extension for Google Chrome, all of which will now support Russian language. It works by suggesting authentic content from the web with a 90:10 ratio of known to unknown words in order to create optimized conditions for learning. The apps include built-in Russian-to-English and English-to-Russian dictionaries so users can look up words in articles on topics of interest to them. Learners then create flashcards with audio, images, and example sentences that are fed into a gamified learning platform.

“We’re proud to announce a new approach to Russian language study,” explains Dr. Jan Ihmels, Co-founder and CEO of and former editor of the Russian language newspaper at Cambridge University. “We set out to build a practical tool for the dedicated community of learners out there. Russian is a hard language to learn, and we are pleased to be able to contribute an engaging solution at no cost to the user.”

Flashcard_RussianArticles_RussianWordLookUp_Russian embodies the philosophy that language is best learned through immersion rather than solely through traditional textbooks and lesson plans. Therefore, using, Russian language enthusiasts can now learn by reading sports articles on football and the World Cup or recipes for Borscht and other traditional dishes. can be used on its own or as a complement to existing language programs.

“Seeing verb cases and vocabulary in action via content that is both relevant and interesting to the individual has been shown to positively influence productive language ability far beyond the drills and rote memorization techniques of yesteryear,” says Ihmels.

The technology behind the system was originally developed to catalogue proteins in the human genome; however, now it can be used to learn English, French, Spanish, Hebrew, and Arabic.


Learn about the challenges of studying a more “difficult” language and then try to learn Russian!

What makes some languages more difficult to learn?

As most learners eventually discover, not all languages are created equal. The US government, along with other nations, has developed scales to rate language learning difficulty via the time it takes to reach proficiency, leading to lists like the following: Hardest: Arabic, Cantonese, Japanese, … Medium: Greek, Russian, Hebrew,… Easiest: Spanish, French, Dutch …

But is difficulty related to actual complexity or just a language’s dissimilarity to English? How can we identify what makes a language difficult to learn and then use this knowledge to our advantage when taking on the challenge of studying one of the harder ones? Read on to find out! 

First, peruse some background on Contrastive Analysis
In the 1960s and 70s everyone in the field of Second Language Acquisition was talking about Contrastive Analysis, a new movement which entailed the side-by-side comparison of two languages to see where and how they differed. It was proposed that languages which were more different would be harder to learn for speakers of either tongue and languages which were more similar would be easier. Researchers also hoped that differences between languages could be used to predict learner errors which would then lead to more effective lesson design.

You might not have heard of Contrastive Analysis because results did not work out the way researchers had hoped and the movement was somewhat discredited along with its posits about language dissimilarity and learning difficulty. Nonetheless, there were some important takeaways, mainly that first language interference can and does occur when a learner studies a second language, and second, that Contrastive Analysis charts can sometimes be used to explain the resulting errors.

Next, consider how first language acquisition factors in
In order to learn a second language we first have to be able to recognize words encountered in the input, either visually or aurally. And this is easier said than done when faced with a sound or letter that simply doesn’t exist in your native tongue. This is because from the moment we are born, our brains are tuned to the language around us. When babies are as young as six months old they begin to focus in on the sounds of their first language and gradually lose the ability to decipher what they have not been exposed to.

The same goes for letters that have not been encountered; they are often interpreted as pictures until we learn they come from an alphabet and represent sounds. So, it follows that languages which contain hard to hear sounds and are written in vastly different alphabets and writing systems prove challenging to learn. Those languages written in cursive letters which change shape depending on where they fall in a word (e.g. Arabic, Dari, Pashto, Urdu) can be even more of a headache!

Now, what can you do to overcome the “difficult language” challenge?
Dive straight in and get as much sound and letter practice with your new language as possible. This can be accomplished through phonics exercises and extra time spent with the sounds and letters that prove troublesome for you. You may find you have no difficulty with the “sh” sound from the letter ش in Arabic but that the difference between a د “d” and ض “D” is simply impossible for you to hear.

Pay attention to the words you are learning successfully and those you struggle to recognize, hear, say and spell. The learning burden in words can be related to novel sounds and letters, so find your weak spots and then drill yourself until you’re well prepared for any phoneme or grapheme that comes your way.

One thing to keep in mind is that receptive skills usually come before productive ones, so even if you can’t say the “ع” in Arabic, you’ll still benefit from trying to identify it in spoken words and familiarizing yourself with vocabulary and phrases in which it appears.

Finding Resources & Realia for Less Commonly Taught Languages
The more people you have looking into a problem, the more likely you’ll have a solution. Therefore when you consider that languages that are difficult to learn also tend to be less commonly taught, you realize part of the problem is a dearth of quality materials, a scarcity of teachers and a lack of research on effective learning strategies.

But thanks to free digital learning platforms like, help is on the way!  As of July 1, 2014 supports Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, English, Spanish and French via free dictionaries, flashcard makers and most importantly, article suggestions that present quality realia content for you to read and practice your language direct from native speaker authors on the worldwide web.

Try the latest addition to’s supported languages- Russian!


3 Simple Memory Strategies for Language Learners

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It’s hard enough remembering user names and online passwords, let alone committing vocabulary words to memory. But basically, the amount of words you master is directly related to the quality of mental processing you engage in. So, next time you sit down for a study session, try a few of these basic strategies to give your vocabulary a boost into long-term storage and productive use!

1. Consider your words carefully The brain stores language in many ways, by sound, meaning(s), function, connection to other subjects and terms, etc., so don’t expect to get all you need from a quick glance at a dictionary entry. To establish a solid memory, you have to spend a minute or two reflecting on the word itself. Think about how it relates to words you already know, in addition to its different forms, the mechanics of its definition, part of speech and common co-locations. After all, if you familiarize yourself with multiple versions of a word early on, you’ll have less language to learn in the long run!

2. Create fun, dynamic and “emotional” memories  Learning the word “gâteau” in French? You may want to put an image of Mary Antoinette on your flashcard. Content that is stored along with emotion has a much better chance of being retained. The same is true for language learned from context because the guessing process can enhance the depth at which your brain processes it. So, the next time you look-up a word, think of a fun image or example sentence to help you deck out your memory and express your creative side at the same time!

3. Learn in small batches and revisit words at strategic intervals
Learning a pile of words at once may work okay for short-term memory but it drastically decreases the chances that your words will make it into long-term memory. Keep your practice sessions small and space them out at optimal intervals for re-enforcing memory, or just use, which figures out session size and a schedule for you. Remember that items reviewed in the first 72 hours after they are learned have a much better chance of surviving the short-term memory wipe and embedding into long-term memory.

If the idea of purposefully studying vocabulary overwhelms you, don’t worry! Not all language is learned consciously (see our post on acquisition vs. learning). Create opportunities for regular engagement with meaningful language and it’s likely the above strategies will happen naturally. Try article suggestions or find a language exchange partner with free services like Polyglot Club and Linqapp. No matter what you do, is there to help you look-up words, create flashcards and play fun practice games that keep your words fresh and accessible- for free!

Reading in a second language: What’s glossing and how does it work?

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“Glossing” is a less than common term in language learning today due to educator efforts to keep a learner’s first language out of the classroom. But research in the field of applied linguistics has shown computer glossing can enrich reading comprehension.

So, if you are studying a language at home or just learning how to use your dictionary more strategically, glossing doesn’t have to be a bad word. Have a read through to understand how it works and then open’s Web App and give it a try!

What is glossing?
There exists some debate among language researchers as to the exact definition of glossing but the general idea is providing the definitions, whether brief or long, of key vocabulary terms alongside the text in which they appear. A gloss is a key or annotation that allows a more precise interpretation of the text. While it can be cognitively demanding to process both a text and individual terms, technology today has significantly enhanced a user’s control over the glossing process, transforming its impact on reading comprehension at the same time.

How does it work?
A learner is either provided with definitions beforehand so as to familiarize themselves with keywords or looks up words as they are encountered in order to undertake a closer reading of the text. The word list is often relegated to the right-hand column of the screen with definitions not actually displayed, but rather hidden until a learner’s mouse hovers over them. Learners toggle between reading the whole and examining individual pieces (i.e. definitions) in order to make greater meaning of a given text.

Why should you try it?
Glossing helps learners confirm their guesses about the meaning of unknown words and can be particularly useful in higher order texts where definitions are often nuanced and difficult to determine. Glossing is a strategy that’s equally useful for beginner learners as  it can be used to facilitate skimming or quickly arriving at the gist and main ideas of a text. To sum it up, glossing can completely change the way a reader experiences a text in a second language. With a more exact interpretation, inferencing skills are often strengthened and more new words are learned, resulting in an enhanced learning experience.

CoffeeArticle_LingualyUse’s new Web App has made healthy glossing a breeze. That’s because article suggestions contain only a handful of new terms at a a time (as they are generated based on an individual’s working vocabulary) so they allow you to try your hand (or mouse) at glossing without going overboard. Read an article or two and see how this strategy can help you further your language learning goals!

How to build a language learning plan

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Among other things, learning a language necessitates what us linguists like to call a little “self-efficacy” or the ability to take a larger task and break it down into manageable pieces. Sure, motivation alone has been known to work for a lucky few, but following a comprehensive, well-rounded and step-by step plan of action helps you build momentum and take ownership of your learning.

So weigh all of your options and get to work designing a program that suits your lifestyle and linguistic aspirations– you’ll be on the path to fluency in no time!

Identify your goals.

Sounding native and speaking with the locals are two different things. So are writing academic essays, business emails and grocery lists (three different things actually). Consider your goals and all of the things you would like to be able to do with your language (e.g. understand songs, order a meal at a restaurant, draft emails to academic researchers) then use them as a guide for choosing the methods and materials that are right for you.

Investigate the learning tools.

Learning a language outside of the place where it is spoken is all about getting a healthy mix of varied input, a little of this and a little of that. The same goes for your learning program: the more dynamic the better! Scope out the apps, get yourself a dictionary (or just use try one or two reference books and investigate a few e-courses. Don’t forget to keep things light and fun (Check out our 7 Creative Tips for Learning a Language) with some local music and films for a dose of culture. No matter what you do, you can use’s free platform to collect new words and keep track of the vocabulary you are learning.

Decide how much practice you can commit to.

Recognize that the progress you make in a second language will be directly linked to the amount of effort you put in. Set yourself a timeline, create opportunities for language use and practice accordingly. Don’t be afraid to try new things and never worry about making mistakes. Language is about connections so trace those neural pathways in new and creative ways and immerse yourself in authentic text, not just grammar points and dictionaries. (Bonus Tip: Give’s free reading suggestions a try– sort real and current content from the web by interest category.)

Language is social, so don’t go it alone! Enlist a study partner to practice with, join as many language groups as you can find, and follow Facebook pages like and Languages Around the Globe for learning tips to help you stay motivated!

Acquisition vs Learning: What’s the difference?

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When in 1982 Stephen Krashen famously claimed that the written and spoken language students produce is a result of acquisition not learning, he caused mass uproar in the applied linguistics community. If input was all you needed then what were teachers and structured language programs providing? Much of his theory has since been discredited but the debate over best practices is ongoing.

So when it comes to language, what is the difference between acquiring new words and learning them? More importantly, how can you use this knowledge to further your own language goals? Have a read to find out!

Acquiring Language is said to be a subconscious process. It’s the act of internalizing language to which you have been exposed without the deliberate memorization of a word and its definition. You don’t need to be aware of the learning process, but it helps to be able to notice the unknown word in the first place. Therefore, a learners needs to parse speech to hear where a word starts and stops and decode the alphabet to see words on a page. Language ‘input’ can then be turned into language ‘intake’ which is acquired and transferred from short to long term memory.

Learning Language is a conscious activity. It’s what we do when we look a word up in the dictionary. It’s also what happens when we learn rules about how language works or purposefully study lists of vocabulary and grammar forms. There are certain intervals which make learning new material more efficient and first meeting a word in context can provide higher retention rates for learned material over time.

Acquiring & Learning Language is the best approach because it is balanced. Pick up new words from comprehensible input and then use deliberate learning to reinforce your vocabulary and put yourself squarely on the path to fluency. Read whatever you can get your hands on, watch as many foreign films as Nextflix provides, or just hop on a plane to a place where they speak the language you’re learning then use to practice and review your words. You’ll have your vocabulary fast-tracked in no time.

Did you know that sources of language that are at i+1 or one step above your level give you the most “bang for your buck” in terms of building out vocabulary because they facilitate guessing from context and review of known words? Using to read articles in a second language will give you an advantage in acquisition thanks to our algorithm which ensures every article suggested contains a 90:10 ratio of known to unknown words based on your personal vocabulary. In other words, creates the perfect storm for acquiring vocabulary and then lets you learn the rest through spaced repetition practice games so you can acquire and learn at the same time!

Practice speaking skills in a second language

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Adding a few strategic exercises to your daily language routine can make a big difference when it comes to off the cuff speaking ability. So get reading, and then get speaking!

Work your words A large vocabulary is the secret to fueling any language learner’s quest for fluency. But keeping words active enough for you to access them without hesitation and in real-time is the “secret sauce” of speaking. Even native speakers have trouble sounding elegant and well-spoken if they haven’t primed the terms they end up using in conversation. So every now and then make sure you get around to verbalizing the words you know.  A great way to give your vocabulary some creative and contextualized spoken exercise is by inventing a new phrase for flashcards when you sit down to review. Say the phrases out loud and see if you can link one card to the next.

Tell yourself stories Much of human interaction revolves around story-telling and mastering the art of narratives in a foreign language can go a long way in making a good first impression. No matter how small e.g. I walked to the store this morning to buy milk and eggs or big e.g. I met my sister’s husband for a drink and he told me about how he had accidentally lost his wedding ring down the drain the tale, getting used to explaining things is a very handy skill to have. So go on, talk to yourself and tell some stories. If you have a pet, talk to them if it makes you feel more comfortable. As a language learner, you need to practice putting the pieces of an utterance together and what better way than with pretend one-sided conversations (you can even imagine a potential response to your story and hold a dialogue if you wish).

Say what you see If you want to be able to speak about your life/home/work/environment when the time comes, then you need to know how to describe the things you encounter on a daily basis. Beginners can name objects in a room e.g. a piano, a chair, a book, intermediate learners should take the opportunity to practice adjectives e.g. an elegant piano, an antique chair, an excellent book and advanced speakers might go one step further e.g. an elegant piano I never play, an antique chair I bought on sale and restored, an excellent book that I read last year. Everyone will have a different list of objects and no textbook or course can prepare you. So whether you’re sitting in traffic, walking to work or relaxing in the bath, take the initiative and engage in 2 to 3 descriptive sessions a day! PS. Keep a dictionary like’s handy so you can fill in gaps for any words you don’t already know.

Remember, spoken fluency is the jackpot of language learning but it can be difficult to achieve without ample interaction with native speakers. Lucky for learners today, native speakers aren’t so hard to find thanks to platforms like italki which provide a marketplace of international tutors. So, put the above tips into practice, keep collecting words with and find yourself a speaking partner and you’ll be conversing like a native before you know it!