Rebecca wrote:I would appreciate any tips you may have for me to get the best out of LWT.
I wanted to write a post for the forum about the details of this method after finishing with Russian, but your questions helped to write a preliminary draft, thanks for the prompt! I hope I didn't miss any of your questions along the way! So, work in progress, feel free to ask more questions if you have any!
So let's call this post:How I use LWT for learning languages
First of all this method only works for people who can have fun with a dictionary and are voracious readers. If you can spend hours with a good book and sometimes can't seem to put certain books down, this is the way to go.
I tend to start very early with intensive reading, when I can barely even decipher a sentence with a dictionary. It helps me get lots of examples of real world grammar in realistic scenarios, so it's good practice even when it's hard. In some languages that have a lot of cognates in common with a language I know and share grammar structures with one of my languages, reading early is actually easy. With French I had 60-70% known vocabulary right from the start through English and Spanish and the grammar was pretty much like Italian grammar. It was so easy that I understood about 40% of any text without ever having learned a word of French. With a difficult language containing lots of crazy grammar a simple thing like parsing a sentence can seem impossible though. If every sentence you are trying to read makes no sense whatsoever even after looking up all the words, it's too early to be reading and you should go back to studying a bit more grammar. One impossible to parse sentence per page is fine, you'll just need a translation to check what it really means. However, most of the sentences should make sense with all the words known or else you'll spend way too much time with grammar tables. Preliminary preparationPronunciation
How to get to this stage? Before you start reading you should have the sound system of the language in place or otherwise your own subvocalisation while reading will give you a horrible accent and problems understanding native speakers later on. I can't stress the importance of this enough. DO NOT SKIP THIS! You will hurt your learning process if you do. So, the first thing you need to focus on is pronunciation
. The method I use is minimal pairs listening drills in combination with daily shadowing. There are different sources for minimal pairs listening drills, like the first few lessons of FSI and for some languages FSI has specific pronunciation courses, like for example FSI French phonology. Another excellent source for such drills is Gabriel Wyner's Pronunciation trainer for anki. These drills will make sure that you can actually hear the difference between the sounds that you're supposed to produce and those that you think you are hearing / producing. For French I used first Wyner's pronunciation trainer and followed it up with a few lessons of FSI French Phonology. At the same time I already started to shadow Assimil dialogues, at one lesson a day. You can also use Glossika for shadowing, but aim for at least 15 sentences a day, doing your best to reach the speed and exact intonation of the native speaker on the recording while speaking at the same time as the recording. Using a software like Audacity helps, since you can just mark one sentence and play it over and over. With no prior knowledge shadowing is much easier with Assimil sentences - they increase in difficulty - than with Glossika, and in general this is hard, because you will stumble over your own tongue a lot. Don't get discouraged, it will get easier with time and it really works to develop a good accent.
At the same time already try to listen to at least 10 minutes of native audio from day one - audio only preferably - and make sure you listen to the melody rather than trying to understand what you hear. If you are dealing with a language where the pronunciation isn't totally obvious from the spelling, do listening-reading with an audiobook for this, otherwise listening only. Not sure? French, Italian, Spanish, German - listening; English, Russian- listening-reading! The cool thing is that if you continue with Assimil, and intensive reading you will start to understand bits and pieces without even making an effort to understand. Depending on the difficulty of the language after about 1 or 2 months you will start to pick out full sentences that you already understand and you will be able to roughly follow what's going on.Grammar
The other thing you need is grammar, otherwise you won't understand the sentences even if you look up every word. The fastest method to get a quick grammar overview is Duolingo. It's so efficient because it gives you this overview without forcing you to produce too much of the grammar actively. Grammar heavy courses normally focus on production and this involves slow painful drilling. Not what we need right now! On average half the Duolingo tree will give you enough grammar to start reading, even if you don't have prior knowledge from a closely related language. And yes, this worked also for a language as difficult as Russian for me. I tend to power through most of the tree with 100XP a day, 50XP new lessons at least, trying to keep the tree golden as I go along. This is a means to an end - if you don't enjoy Duolingo and know enough grammar of your language to decipher sentences, skip this. If you think you've got all the basic grammar covered after doing half the tree, drop it.Why I use LWT
There are other reading systems with integrated dictionaries, Readlang, Lingq, Kindle, but I prefer LWT. The reason is that LWT is free, has colour coding, I can integrate 2 different dictionaries of my choice + Google translate and I have to type in each translation into the database myself. The latter seems inefficient *but* it's actually why this method is so effective for me. I read about 2500 pages with my kindle in Spanish and can't say that my precision in understanding improved through that in any noticeable or quantifiable way. I just remember words better when I type them rather than just read the translation in the dictionary.
The only problem with LWT is that it's not easy to install. You need to have a web server running and that can also create all sorts of issues if you're in a public network - university campus networks, cafés etc. If you're in a public network and don't know what a web server is and what the heck you're doing, stop! You need to know how to make your web server only available for your own computer and that's not always trivial. If you get this wrong, people might try to hack your computer for the fun of it, and that's only fun for the hacker, not for you. However (!!!), don't be afraid of using LWT when you're not in a public network though. There is no way LWT can compromise the security of your computer when you're in your home network. Just remember to turn off your web server when you use your computer in a public wifi. If you've concluded from this that LWT is not for you, you can try one of the other options I mentioned above. Those are not quite as good and flexible as LWT, but tend to be easier to use at least.How I use LWT to read
Depending on whether this is a new language or a language where I already have plenty of experience reading extensively I will use LWT a little differently. For new languages I copy a single page from an epub of the book I'm reading and then read along paying special attention to the blue / new words, looking them up, typing in the definition. Generally I will almost never click "Well known" even if I know the word reasonably well, so that I get a maximum amount of practice out of each word form I see. If you start reading very early almost none of the words are well known from the start anyway, unless it's a very obvious cognate. Those I tend to mark as well known right away so as not to waste my time.
For each new word I write down the translation and the infinitive or nominative singular masculine form into the Romanization field, and this seems to help my memory a lot. I don't pay attention to the gender at all because lots of nouns come with articles or adjectives and after enough exposure the wrong article will sound wrong anyway. I use the colour coding like this: 1: Can't remember ever having seen this word before. 2: Damn, I have seen this word before, I should know this. Brain, do your work! 3: I can guess the meaning from context, but can't be sure I'm always exactly right. 4: Yay, I got it exactly right this time, but I think the context helped a lot. 5: Don't interrupt my flow with this easy stuff!
For languages where I'm further along and have read extensively a lot, I will read along trying to ignore the blue words and mark every word with which I have some measure of insecurity about them. I look up every word where I don't know the exact meaning, even when I can guess it in context or if I marked it as known before. When I have marked all the words that give me trouble, I will then click "I know all" for the rest.
What do I mean by "some measure of insecurity"? Let's take the word "oak" as an example: If I don't know what it is, it gets either 1 or 2 as a rating. If I can guess that it's some kind of tree it gets rating 3. if I can tell you about the shape of the leaf with more or less certainty it's going to get a 4 or 5. Some very low frequency words with very specific meanings that I don't really care about might stay at 3 forever - all sorts of "boat crap" for example
Or they might advance to 5 even though I'm not really bothered about learning them. Depends on the kind of books I'm reading. Why might I end up learning them anyway? Because I verify whether I know the word with every single word that isn't green or white! This way LWT turns into a sort of SRS on steroids with lots of context. And the longer you read, the more extensive the reading will become and you will have to type less and less. How to deal with difficult words and opaque languages
This method of course depends very much on a good dictionary that guesses the word stems mostly right even with highly inflected languages. For Spanish and French I found wordreference.com very good, for Russian Lingvolive.com. However, if your dictionary fails you and the translation it gives you makes no sense there are two different options: One is that it guessed the wrong word from an inflected form - google the word with "conjugation" or "declination" added in the search box, usually that solves the problem and you find the right infinitive quickly. The other option is that it's an invented or extremely archaic word, and then you're in big trouble. The only advice I can give you about invented and archaic language is to pick a different author. Some genres and authors just tend to do that a lot and they are better left for a time when you haven't needed to use LWT in a very long time.
Opaque languages like Russian or English also have the added difficulty that you can't guess the pronunciation from the spelling. For languages like this I actually listen to every new word either with the dictionary pronunciation e.g. for Russian on lingvolive, Forvo or Text to Speech on my mac. This will usually only give you the pronunciation of the infinitive, so you will not be able to deal with changing stresses according to word form, but those are usually easy to guess because most words that change stress do so according to a general pattern. As long as you keep up your grammar lessons, this should become easier with time.How long does this take and how much will I understand at the end?
This is generally hard to predict, because it depends on how close your target language is to a language you already know, how much experience you have with language learning in general and how difficult your target language is. For French it took me only 3 months to read 5000 pages in this fashion, but French was super easy for me, I had already 60-70% known words just through cognates, I was very familiar with the grammar and word order through Spanish and Italian, and it's an easy language in general.
Here some numbers: With French I started with about 60-70% known vs unknown ratio in the LWT database after my first Harry Potter book. It took me 55h to finish and it was about 300 pages long - that's about 11min per page. Harry Potter 7 took me 48h, but it is 800 pages long! 3.6min per page, a substantial improvement. In total it took me 320h to read 5000 pages. After 5000 pages my LWT database had about 28,000 word forms at 87% known vs unknown ratio. After this I could read with ease and precision when reading extensively, so that I can now feel perfectly comfortable reading any contemporary novel without a dictionary. To read this much in 3 months it actually took an average of 3.5h of reading a day, that's a lot of time when you consider that there was also Assimil and Duolingo involved which took up another 1.5 to 2h a day! The funny thing is that I actually wasn't planning to read this much, I was aiming for an hour a day! I just got really into the story and had nothing better to do with my time. In general I would recommend to stop reading when you get a headache. That's your brain saying that it had enough and that any more will probably be counterproductive and inefficient. At the beginning this might happen after one page, later you might be able to read 50 pages in one go and have fun while doing it.
Let's take a difficult language for comparison with hardly any cognates, hairy grammar and really confusing word order: So far for Russian I have spent 61h reading 126 pages. That's an atrocious rate of 29min per page! My database started out below 45% known words, but I can't quite quantify it yet because I haven't yet read 300 pages. Taking into account this atrocious reading speed I expect to need about double the time to read 5000 pages in Russian - that's a whopping 600h - and since I'm scraping along with barely 50% known vs unknown ratio right now I doubt very much that I'll reach 85% known even after 5000 pages. I wouldn't call this a short cut or easy "fun" in any way, at least not for the first 300 pages. Understanding longwinded Russian sentences with a gazillion of verbs is hard work! Still, it is damn good practice and exposure to a lot of real native content which normally is avoided like the plague in Russian courses, because it is just too difficult even after following a whole beginner's course. In Russian there are specific upper intermediate courses that are supposed to teach you how to deal with native content and literature, so native content in Russian is really very difficult in comparison. That I have already read 126 pages at all at this stage and barely have to confirm the translation of very long and difficult sentences is pretty amazing progress and wouldn't be possible without a tool like LWT. After all I'm only halfway through Assimil!
Why don't I just wait until later when I have more vocabulary? Well, I'd be waiting forever with Russian, since even beginner and intermediate courses taken together don't give you enough vocabulary to read - there are simply too few cognates in Russian. Not being able to understand native content is a usual complaint among intermediate Russian students who can already have every day conversations! In fact, I actually use intensive reading for vocabulary acquisition because I get relevant vocabulary repeated according to frequency in the story. I don't need to use flashcards or anything boring like that and I always have lots of context to make things easier. And additionally I get so much exposure to real world grammar that courses become a lot easier to handle in general. With French I ditched Assimil halfway through because it wasn't teaching me anything anymore!
And what if you realise that after your first 300 page book it's not really getting easier, because you actually hate reading and you're starting to hate the damn dictionary and learning languages and your questionable life choices? Well, stop! No need to torture yourself any further! This only works if you're having fun! If you have more fun with Anki, or watching target language TV, just do that! The idea is not to torture yourself, but to trick yourself into learning while you're having fun. I learned French in 3 months almost by accident because I was having fun! I was actually planning to reach my first 5000 pages after a year! Well, apparently picking a page turner tricked me into learning a lot faster than I had planned
And that's the beauty of this method! With Russian I'm reading much more slowly and less hours a day, because it's much harder work and I'm not really having much fun yet. I'm certain that the speed will pick up when I'm through my first 500 pages though. By then it should be much less of a cryptography meets black magic exercise.What do I do afterwards?!
So, you've read your 5000 pages and have 25,000 know word forms but don't feel comfortable yet and your library is at below 85% known versus unknown? Read some more! Don't obsess about know word forms, it's not a good measure for predicting proficiency - different languages might have different values - Russian will need substantially more word forms than French, because there are cases and double the amount of verbs! Aim for 85% known vs unknown ratio and then move on to something else.
So once you reached that magical 85% ratio, it's time to jump start your listening comprehension! If you continued with your 10min of audio every day, you're probably already understanding a lot. With French I didn't keep it up, so I just started listening to all the Harry Potter audiobooks without the text, then watched all the movies. After reading the book with LWT I knew that all the words would be familiar to me, so I just concentrated on recognising the words. After listening to the audiobooks - not all books are available in French - I watched all the Harry Potter movies in the space of a few days. By the end I was already feeling pretty solid with my understanding. Then I started watching dubbed series again. I had already watched a season of the Simpsons with TL subtitles before, so I jumped into Buffy without subtitles. I was getting maybe 80-85% at the beginning. After 2 seasons I was up to 95%, by the end of the series I understood virtually everything with some words here and there missing. From there I continued with another couple of seasons of Angel before moving on to France culture documentaries, which I understand without problems. I can now even listen to audiobooks, which always gave me trouble with Spanish.
Of course you can also read more: Read another 5000 pages extensively, preferably away from the dictionary! Take a good old-fashioned paper book to the beach or the park and leave your smartphone at home (always a good idea by the way!). And then just continue to have fun with the language! Read, listen, watch! You have a whole culture to explore!
If you want to speak, the best time would be after improving your listening comprehension, since people will have much more fun speaking to you when they don't have to dumb down what they're saying. Even though you might struggle a little, you can probably already make sentences in your TL after reading so much and the Duolingo at the beginning. Try doing the Duolingo reverse tree and always throw in a few runs of timed practice to get practice with producing sentences on a deadline. Once you feel comfortable with that, go look for an italki teacher. If your grammar feels wobbly and you get most of your TL sentences marked wrong in Duolingo, do some FSI or progressive grammar courses to get better at it before looking for a tutor. Bad habits from early speaking with bad grammar are more painful to correct than drilling good grammar habits in the first place. I'm still kicking myself over starting to speak Spanish too early.