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Learning with Texts: a free, open-source alternative to LingQ (for any language)
August 3, 2011
21:43
edoreld

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Learning With Texts logo

 

For the last 136 days I have been learning German. For 114 of those days, I did a German lesson on LingQ. On the 115th day, I discovered Learning with Texts. I have been using this program for the last three weeks (even reviewed it), and I want to share why I find it to not only be a valid alternative to LingQ, but also a great language learning application on its own merits. I mentioned the application to Benny and he suggested I do a forum post about it. Feedback is appreciated!

 

The review is also available on my blog (images being shown in full size)

 

Overview

Learning with Texts (LWT) is a reading application geared toward the language learner. The program is open-source and free and it supports all languages. One of the main aspects of LWT is speed. From the addition of new terms to the navigation between different screens, everything feels fast and seamless. The interface is user-friendly and easy to find what you're looking for.

 

[Good Stuff]

 

Reading

 

Upon opening a text, you will be presented with a reading interface. All the words you've never seen before will be highlighted in blue, while words that you have dealt with in the past will have a different color depending on how well you know them (red being you barely know them and green meaning you most likely know them). There's also the "Well known" status, identified by the grey background and green underline on words. I like the different color system for its ability to provide an overview of how well you know a text.

 

Clicking on a word causes three things to happen:

 

1. The first user-defined dictionary opens.

A dictionary defined by you will open showing the definition of the highlighted term.

 

2. The "Add term" interface opens

You can copy the definition from the dictionary or type it right away. You can also specify how well you know this word and look-up the term on different sites.

 

3. You get a popup

There are several actions that you can take here. The popups are mostly self-explanatory, although I want to comment on a few of things:

"St: [1] [2]…]" lets you set how well you know the word, in a scale from 1 to 5. In addition you can say that you know the word well "Wkn" or that you want to ignore it "Ign".

"Expr: 2..am 3..ch …" lets you add multiword expressions (e.g: "Ich esse Eichhörnchen"). The number determines how many words you want to include (up to a maximum of 9).

Dict1 and Dict2 look up the term on an user-defined dictionary. GTr looks up the term (or the expression it's in) on Google Translate.

 

I can't get enough of these popups. Not only do they give me all the options I need to learn a term (or expression), but it also does it fast and efficiently. Being accustomed to LingQ's "Creating LingQ" loading wheel, I can't express enough how much LWT's fastness improves my reading.

 

Testing

Testing options are aplenty. You can choose to translate to and from your target language, and do it in context or just one word at a time. When you get a word right, its status is increased by one, and the opposite if you get it wrong. It's simple, yet effective. I find the testing feature to be an entertaining addition, good for when you're tired of reading. 

When testing, clicking on the word will switch the word language. In the screenshot below, "schaute" switched to its meaning, "looked".

 

Export & Import

You can export words and expressions for use in other applications (e.g: Anki, Flashcards Deluxe, etc), which is great if you want to study new terms from the texts you just studied.

 

You can import all of your terms from LingQ or from any other source, as importing in LWT offers plenty of options. The transfer of my terms from LingQ to LWT was smooth.

 

[Okay stuff]

 

Statistics

 

The first screenshot shows you the number of words in the different levels of knowledge.

The second screenshot shows you the number of words / expressions created (C), modified (A = activity), and set to known (K).

 

It's definitely not a priority, but I would like to see these statistics in different ways (e.g: graphics), and also see different statistics for testing.

 

Adding a new language

While being able to use any language on LWT is a great asset, the way to add languages might appear menacing. There are default settings for a few languages, but for others you'll have to input the fields on the screenshot manually. Fortunately LWT's documentation explains how to fill the form up. However, a better solution would be to have a central repository where users can share their templates for different languages (Now there's an idea).

 

 

Installation & Adding Media

 

LWT doesn't come in a installer package. It requires you to manually move files and install other programs (e.g: MAMP for mac, XAMPP for Windows). While it's not the most comfortable thing to do, the way LWT is built makes it so that it can work on any operating system as long as they have a web browser and are capable of running Apache and a MySQL server (Mac, Windows, and most if not all Linux distributions are able to).

 

Adding media (audio files) has to be done by putting files in a folder in your operating system or in Dropbox. At the moment there's no support for uploading files directly from the program.

 

Final thoughts

 

In my three weeks of use I've come to get to know LWT many features, and I've gotten accustomed to its speed and ease of use. I feel strongly that this application is the next big thing in language learning, and as a passionate user, I just wanted to share with others what has been so useful to me.

 

Let me know if you have some feedback or questions!

 


Language blog: The Fine Apps Knows:       Learning:  
August 4, 2011
03:08
Benny
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Thanks for this! I look forward to people's opinion. If there is a LingQ alternative that allows for reading more languages and other advantages I'd use it myself and be happy to promote it on the blog. Hopefully Fi3M readers will give it a whirl and let us know their thoughts!

Speaks: English Spanish Italian Portuguese German Irish French Esperanto Mandarin (Taiwan) Nederlands American Sign Language
August 4, 2011
09:28
pixel
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I'd love to give it a whirl......but whilst it sounds like it could be useful the computer side of it seems far to whizzy for me - is it something you use online or something you can download and use offline? I don't  evenunderstand the install instructions and they have like a million steps!!! (well, 15, but that's 14 more than I can cope with. I don't know what a 'local' web server is?) Maybe if it becomes popular someone can make it easy to use for non-technical people.

Native:  British English                Speaks/always learning!:  Spanish  French Current mission: Greek               Previously spent time learning:  Russian  Welsh
August 4, 2011
14:03
edoreld

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I know, there are so many steps!

 

I've taken the time to make a tutorial on Youtube. It shows you how to install LWT with EasyPHP on Windows. Please give the tutorial a try!. Despite the unintuitive installation process, the features and easy-of-use of LWT are definitely worth it!

Language blog: The Fine Apps Knows:       Learning:  
August 5, 2011
18:00
libresco
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I was so interested but then I discovered there is no simple way to install it. Only console-based programming which I do not know how to use :(

Native: russian (russian) 

Speak: english (english: upper intermediate) 

Learn: spanish (spanish: B2)

Dream about: french (french: elementary),  (hebrew: zero) and  (polish: zero).

My language mission

August 5, 2011
18:01
libresco
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Can anyone just make self-unpacking file?

Native: russian (russian) 

Speak: english (english: upper intermediate) 

Learn: spanish (spanish: B2)

Dream about: french (french: elementary),  (hebrew: zero) and  (polish: zero).

My language mission

August 5, 2011
18:16
Benny
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@Libresco - I had a look at the video installation explanation and I didn't see any console-based programming. It's more complicated than most installation procedures, but will only take 5 minutes and could be worth it since from then on it's much easier

 

@edoreld - Is there any way you can reduce the number of steps for less technically savvy users? For example, providing the zip file with the filename already changed, or creating a package that combines installation of EasyPHP with the directory in Program Files being created already?

I hope a few people will go through this process and start giving feedback on the system itself. At the moment the main criticism it would get compared to LingQ is that LingQ works immediately after signing up. For the benefits you list, I'd go through the couple of minutes installation, but to make something that a large number of people will want to use, it's better that the whole process is as easy as possible.

Speaks: English Spanish Italian Portuguese German Irish French Esperanto Mandarin (Taiwan) Nederlands American Sign Language
August 5, 2011
18:52
duckshirt
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@edoreld - I want to check this out when I get home, but can this software be used by more than one user at once?  If so someone should just be able to host it on a website; making people set up their own local webservers and install it kinda defeats the purpose of web-based software.laugh

Native: English Conversational: Spanish Dutch Basic (on hold): French

Currently learning: German (mission thread) My German Video Blog!

August 5, 2011
20:51
LWT_Project

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Hi, I am the developer of "Learning with texts".

I understand that some people who would like to try the software  are put off by the many steps of the installation.

Why so many steps? Well, the description has to be so detailed, so that everybody understands it. 

In the moment, it is not possible to make it easier. I am not allowed to bundle the two packages (webserver software + LWT).

It would be also a lot of work – if allowed – to create all these "1-step"-installation packages for different operating systems.

To answer some questions:

What is a local webserver (XAMPP, easyPHP, MAMP, …)?

It is a collection of programs, that run a database (mySQL), interpret a programming language (PHP) and create webpages from requests (queries, clicking on links, submitting forms) in your browser – all on your local machine. The same type of software runs on all web servers that serve the Internet. So you can also run LWT in the WWW (on an external server), but LWT is primarily designed to run on a local machine because there are no security features that secure your data.

The LWT application is written in PHP and uses a mySQL database to save your texts, vocabulary etc.

My recommendation:

If you use Windows: install easyPHP, copy LWT into the www directory of easyPHP, rename the correct connect file, start easyPHP, install a database via importing a script, and off you go. — (watch the video!)

If you use a Mac install MAMP, copy LWT into the htdocs directory of MAMP, rename the correct connect file, start MAMP, install a database via importing a script, and off you go.

Give it a try. wink

I DON'T POST HERE ANYMORE. -- If you have problems with Benny's version of LWT: Search or ask here. -- If you have problems with the Original version of LWT: Go to the LWT help forum. -- Thank you.
August 5, 2011
23:50
edoreld

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duckshirt said:

@edoreld - I want to check this out when I get home, but can this software be used by more than one user at once?  If so someone should just be able to host it on a website; making people set up their own local webservers and install it kinda defeats the purpose of web-based software.laugh

Hey, if you find someone willing to donate the bandwidth to host a LWT server (which would have to be updated to support multiple users), let the developer know ^_^.

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August 6, 2011
00:12
LWT_Project

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edoreld said:

duckshirt said:

@edoreld – I want to check this out when I get home, but can this software be used by more than one user at once?  If so someone should just be able to host it on a website; making people set up their own local webservers and install it kinda defeats the purpose of web-based software.laugh

Hey, if you find someone willing to donate the bandwidth to host a LWT server (which would have to be updated to support multiple users), let the developer know ^_^.

@duckshirt –  "defeats the purpose of web-based software" – Sorry, cannot agree. LWT is a personal software, created with web technologies. Advantage: runs in a browser, and runs on all OS. Try to write such a thing the traditional way and for multiple platforms……

Just use LWT locally on your PC/Mac/Linux box/notebook. (It can even be run from a USB stick --> PortableApps/Portable Webserver)

If you need two users – make two databases and two directories lwt1 and lwt2 with both LWT and different connect.inc.php.

Then you start the first with http://localhost/lwt1 and the second with http://localhost/lwt2

Or upload it to an external webserver if you have such a contract/possibility. But then you should secure the LWT part via .htaccess and .htpasswd,  see "How to Password Protect a Directory on Your Website" (thesitewizard.com) — http://bit.ly/pVV1q8

I will not implement  a multi user possibility.

You have to do it yourself, or wait for it, or use LingQ or other possibilities.

 

LWT cool

I DON'T POST HERE ANYMORE. -- If you have problems with Benny's version of LWT: Search or ask here. -- If you have problems with the Original version of LWT: Go to the LWT help forum. -- Thank you.
August 6, 2011
07:49
duckshirt
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LWT_Project said:

I will not implement  a multi user possibility.

You have to do it yourself, or wait for it, or use LingQ or other possibilities.

LWT cool

I may actually attempt to; I have plenty of webspace - it seems your software is 99% of the way to being a good multi-user public website like LingQ, if not for that one feature...  And I agree I often write software for myself with PHP and just run it with XAMPP because it's easy, but I've never really seen anyone release it to the public that way.laugh

Native: English Conversational: Spanish Dutch Basic (on hold): French

Currently learning: German (mission thread) My German Video Blog!

August 6, 2011
09:23
edoreld

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I forgot to mention it, but there's a screencast showing the process of reading and testing texts and terms on LWT.

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August 6, 2011
12:20
LWT_Project

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duckshirt said:

... I have plenty of webspace - it seems your software is 99% of the way to being a good multi-user public website like LingQ, if not for that one feature...  And I agree I often write software for myself with PHP and just run it with XAMPP because it's easy, but I've never really seen anyone release it to the public that way.laugh

So what's your problem? You have XAMPP, just install LWT and run it.

LWT was not created to copy a website like LingQ, no, it's a personal app where YOU have control about everything, the behaviour, the data, .... I was a LingQ member, and I found it annoying to see that the things that did not work (e.g. import) were not fixed, or some ideas were not implemented. 

And: it's not a question of webspace, I have plenty. It's about time and interest.  I want to use LWT and learn languages. I don't want to run an LWT multi user website. That is not something I am interested in. 

One final word: The system must be designed completely different if it should be run with multiple users. (problems of caching, performance, etc.). A user table and a login screen is not enough.....  ^_^

 

LWT cool

I DON'T POST HERE ANYMORE. -- If you have problems with Benny's version of LWT: Search or ask here. -- If you have problems with the Original version of LWT: Go to the LWT help forum. -- Thank you.
August 6, 2011
19:36
Benny
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Thanks for your input Mr. LWT. As I said, I'd happily promote this on the blog (edoreld has offered to guest post) – I just want to make sure it's as user friendly as possible as the vast majority of my blog's audience would not be used to many steps in this process. 

I like the video tutorial edoreld made – I'd refer to it myself if I was discussing this. I think it's straightforwardly explained enough that a lower-level user could follow the steps and be ready to go! Can someone make a similar one for Mac users? Don't worry about us Linux folk – we'll figure it out!

And the videocast is a great how-to!

I think this has great potential, and I'll very likely start using it myself in a few weeks (finished learning Turkish this week). I'd love to hear input from other forum users who are actually using it in the mean time, to give feedback (that may be simple enough to implement) and their own comparisons of advantages over LingQ.

I really dislike certain people running LingQ and commenting in its dreary forum, but I link to it many times myself and even in my Language Hacking Guide because the idea of a reading interface with the simple idea LWT seems to implement just as well is a great advantage for any language learner. If Fi3M readers really like it and I enjoy it myself, I'll start referring people there myself enthusiastically and replace all my old links ;)

My only question is this: is there any way this could be set up on mobile OSes? I would use it very actively if I could use it on my Android or iPad. My knowledge of XAMPP and PHP interfaces is very limited.

Speaks: English Spanish Italian Portuguese German Irish French Esperanto Mandarin (Taiwan) Nederlands American Sign Language
August 6, 2011
21:47
duckshirt
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Benny said:

My only question is this: is there any way this could be set up on mobile OSes? I would use it very actively if I could use it on my Android or iPad. My knowledge of XAMPP and PHP interfaces is very limited.

I'd be shocked if there's a version of either PHP or MySQL that ran on a mobile OS.  The best thing to do then would be to just host it on public website that you could get to from anywhere, which would actually be a little easier to set up but most people don't have their own sites to do this. Also I do use Mac, but does anyone know a good program to make those videos?

Native: English Conversational: Spanish Dutch Basic (on hold): French

Currently learning: German (mission thread) My German Video Blog!

August 6, 2011
23:07
edoreld

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I recommend Screenflow, but Camtasia is also an option. Both of them are shareware, though. I don't know any program of the sort that's freeware, but you might be lucky on Google :).

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August 6, 2011
23:25
LWT_Project

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Benny said:

My only question is this: is there any way this could be set up on mobile OSes? 

Hi Benny, LWT does indeed run quite nicely on an iPad — and if you are often on-the-go, it's a good idea then to put LWT on an external web server, so it's available everywhere you are –, the only problem is that on Mobile Safari, framesets are not implemented by Apple according the standards. I'm still thinking how to overcome this. If the text is short (and I recommend this), the user experience on an iPad is acceptable.

- Jean Pierre cool

I DON'T POST HERE ANYMORE. -- If you have problems with Benny's version of LWT: Search or ask here. -- If you have problems with the Original version of LWT: Go to the LWT help forum. -- Thank you.
August 7, 2011
23:16
LWT_Project

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Two videos are now available:

 

1) Installation of LWT on Windows with EasyPHP (from User edoreld):

 

-- and --

 

2) Starting French with LWT (Topics: finding learning material, importing a text with audio, saving words and expressions, changing the status, printing)

I DON'T POST HERE ANYMORE. -- If you have problems with Benny's version of LWT: Search or ask here. -- If you have problems with the Original version of LWT: Go to the LWT help forum. -- Thank you.
August 8, 2011
20:13
Benny
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@lwt If running a website with all the users is the problem, I could possibly take that on myself and run it as a subset to fluentin3months, as this forum currently is. This is something I'd be very interested in doing - especially now that my recent upgrade to dedicated host can handle more strenuous tasks. I'd of course make it a completely free process, but hosting it here would work to my benefit by having people hang around my site more and use it for directly learning their languages.

If you could work with me on this, let me know! I'd happily manage users or outsource to have others help me manage them, as long as the basic technical interface is operational. The community here would have the technical know-how to help people get used to the system.

This could remove the complicated installation step and have it work on mobile interfaces for everyone, if you think adding in a password protected sign-up form per user could be a simple step.

Let me know if this is technically feasible.

Otherwise I'll set it up on the server myself in a few weeks to try out reading short texts on my iPad or Samsung Galaxy S II. Thanks for the further technical explanations!

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