ReadLang Review: Six Ways to Get the Most Out of This Awesome Tool

About six months ago, I discovered ReadLang. I’ve been waiting to give it a write up because I wanted to give it the proper treatment.

Let’s put the bottom line up front: ReadLang is one of the best language learning tools I’ve ever used. It is especially good for helping you get past the beginner levels of a language and into the intermediate and advanced stages.

No, I don’t have any affiliation with the site, and I don’t have any stock in the company. I just like to give credit to stuff that helps me.

Cafe de la Paix, Alexandria, Egypt Image Source

Cafe de la Paix, Alexandria, Egypt
By Flickr user @Bastique [CC BY-SA 2.0], Image Source

How It Works

There are two pricing options: Free and Premium ($3/month, or $24/year). For most people, myself included, the free option is all you need. But I liked the site so much that I chipped in $24 to support it.

After you sign up, it’s simple:

1. Read something. You can use the browser extension to use RL on any webpage, or you can import or copy and paste text directly into the RL website. (I could never get the extension to work myself, but it wasn’t a big deal for me just going to the site.) (***Update: I got it to work now, thanks to the help of Steve, ReadLang’s developer. Check the comments section if you’re having trouble yourself.)

2. Click or swipe a word you don’t know. The translation of that word then appears, replacing the original word in the text. ReadLang then also creates a flashcard for that word for you to drill later.

3. Drill your flashcards. Every day, drill the flashcards in your deck. From what I can tell, RL uses (at least) two concepts to determine which flashcards to show you: Word frequency and spaced repetition. First, it prioritizes the more commonly used words in a language to ensure you’re spending your study time wisely. Second, it shows you the words you study again and again, based on how long it’s been since your last exposure to the word and whether you remembered it.

Does It Really Work?

In short, yes.

One of the reasons I waited to talk about RL is because I was using it to help prepare for the ACTFL German reading test. I ended up passing that test with an “Advanced Low” reading proficiency, and I really believe my daily use of ReadLang was a big reason for my success.

I’ve done this kind of studying before. Fifteen years ago while studying Arabic, I would read a text, look up a word I don’t know, and then record it in my language journal. Then I would drill the new words. So RL’s methodology isn’t new to me or to language learning in general. It just takes out a lot of tedium and streamlines the process.

Six Ways to Get the Most Out of the Tool

RL is very flexible, which means that you have a lot of different options. After a lot of trial error, I came up with the following tips. These aren’t set in stone and aren’t necessarily the way the tool was designed to be used, but they’ve worked for me.

1. Pick texts you can reasonably understand.
Theoretically, you could go through a text and click every single word. Unless you’re a rank beginner and that’s your only option, I don’t see what good that would do. If at all possible, pick texts in which you can understand at least 90% of the words. 95% would be even better.

At 90 to 95%, in a 200-word text, you’re still marking up 10 to 20 words and adding them to your flashcard text.

2. Experiment with different volumes.
I tried three different techniques:

  • High reading volume/high word volume – I would read 2000+ words a day and define 50 to 100 new words. Then I’d let ReadLang prioritize those words for me.
  • High reading volume/low word volume – I would read 2000+ words a day and define only 10 to 20 new words.
  • Low reading volume/low word volume – I would read about 400 words a day and define 10 to 20 new words.

Each had their pros and cons, but I really like the low reading volume/low word volume approach. You might prefer something else.

3. Edit your cards.
The tool uses Google Translate technology, which is very good but not perfect. So when you go through your cards, make sure that the word and definition are appropriate for the textual context. If you’re picking the right texts (see tip #1), then you should be able to figure this out with intuition and online dictionaries. Manually edit your card so that it fits the context of the text you found it in.

Also, watch out for any quirks in your language. For example, German uses separable verbs, so the beginning of a verb might end up at the end of the sentence. When I added new verb flashcard to my deck, I sometimes had to go back and edit the card to add the stem.

4. Drill your flashcards daily.
In my opinion, this is where the site shines. Go back again and again and drill your flashcards. Work through your deck whenever you get a few minutes. If you do this, you’re really going to start picking up the vocab for the long haul.

Later on, after you’ve committed a lot of these words to your long-term memory via repeated exposures, go back and review old texts. It’s an amazing feeling to read a text that you were getting 90 to 95% of and now understanding every single word.

5. Incorporate listening.
I really, really believe in the importance of hearing a language to make it stick. Whenever possible, I would use a text with an audio component. Good sources:

  • Language learning texts with a transcript
  • Podcasts with a transcript
  • Classic stories and fairy tales that have been read aloud
  • Songs with easy-to-Google lyrics
  • TV shows with easy-to-Google transcripts

I didn’t really do this for the first couple weeks, but when I started listening to texts–before, during, and/or after I read them–the studying experience became more rewarding.

6. Delete your cards periodically.
This tip is kind of weird, but after my flashcard deck gets too big, I delete all the cards.

The first time I did this, I deleted about 1000 cards, and the second time about 2000. Then I rebuilt the deck from scratch.

I know this makes some people sweat, because you’re losing all your hard work. But there’s something freeing and nice about starting over every once in a while. It keeps the site feeling fresh.

One Caveat

Do not make ReadLang the only way you read your new language. I cannot stress that enough. This style of reading is an effective tool. But you don’t use a hammer to screw in nails. Every tool has its purpose.

RL is intensive reading, because you are going line by line, translating and scrutinizing every word. This is a great way to really understand a language and learn new vocab. But I don’t think it’s great for building other skills, like intuition or thinking critically about what your text is actually saying or reading fluency.

So I always make sure to do a lot more extensive reading than I do intensive reading, and I make sure to watch TV shows and movies more “naturally” to make the communication experience more authentic.

Wrapping Up

In the end, though, I can’t argue with ReadLang’s results. In any new language and in any text or exchange, there’s a gap between “no communication” and “effective, meaningful communication.” RL helps bridge that gap. It helps you take your first, uneasy steps in more difficult linguistic territory so that you can later run and jump around in it.

  • Michael

    Totally agree Ron, Readlang really is a great tool, just a nice idea really well implemented. For me totally worth the $24 per year to support such quality development.

    It’s an interesting one on deleting your entire flashcard deck. I’ve done this with my Anki decks a couple of times when I’ve felt a deck is getting stale. This is usually because I haven’t added anything for a while, so the cards are either really well known, or annoying cards that just keep circulating. Under these conditions it’s been a great fresh start.

    • Ron G.

      “annoying cards” <— LOL, I know exactly what you're talking about. There's always *that* card in there.

    • Natalie

      Haha, I totally understand the “annoying cards” thing, too. It drives me crazy sometimes! For whatever reason, it’s never occurred to me to delete them. Perhaps I ought to. :)

      • Ron G.

        Do it! It’s freeing. hahaha

        • Michael

          I know Katz at AJATT is a huge proponent of deleting these cards individually to get the liberating feeling every day! However I’ve never had the discipline to do it, mainly because it takes 4 clicks on the mobile Anki app to delete a card. If there was a 1 click “bin” button easily available, I’d be just as ruthless on a daily basis as when I occasionally throw a deck out in entirety!

  • Steve Ridout

    Thanks for the great review, you made my day :-)

    What went wrong when using the extension? I’d really like to find out since if it’s not working for you it’s probably not working for other people too.

    • Ron G.

      It’s definitely my pleasure. Really great site you put together.

      I have no doubt it’s user error. I use Firefox usually. When I try to drag the extension link into the bookmarks bar, I get a javascript bookmark. Then when I click on it, it brings me to the “Alert” pop up.

      I had the same problem with the drag-to-bookmark-bar feature in Chrome. Just now, I installed the reader as a Chrome app, though, and it worked. (Tried it out. Really nice.)

      • Steve Ridout

        I wonder if the reason is because you are trying to use it within instead of visiting an article on another website and using it there?

        It’s been a long time since I made any screencasts so I thought I’d make a couple explaining how to install the Web Reader in Firefox, here are the 2 alternatives:

        Install firefox bookmarklet

        Install firefox extension

        • Ron G.

          Awesome, thank you! Yes, that worked for me when I clicked the bookmark when I was on another webpage. Watched the video, and I had been adding it to the toolbar-ish thing at the top instead of the Bookmarks sidebar thing. (Real technical jargon I’m using, haha.) That worked too, now that I did it correctly.

          Thanks for the video. Very clear.

  • Ruth Elisabeth

    Ron, I know you were aiming towards a reading exam and it seems this method has helped you to achieve that goal (congratulations!). But I’m curious – would you say this method has increased your active vocabulary or just your passive vocabulary?

    I’ve drilled flashcards from texts (both Readlang and Anki cards I made myself) but just this week realised that while I can understand these words when I come across them, I can only access few, if any, when speaking (ie. active vocabulary).

    • Ron G.

      Thanks, Ruth! 75% passive vocabulary, 25% active. Yes, definitely, my German speaking is lagging behind too. I don’t necessarily take it as a bad thing, though, but rather as a step in the process.

      In short, I think you recognize language before you can produce it at the same level–even in your native language. When I was 10, I could watch and understand the news, but I couldn’t speak or write like a newscaster. My son could understand “Cars” when he was 3, but couldn’t carry on a conversation like Lightning McQueen and Mater did.

      I’m guessing (honestly, it’s a guess) the process in general goes something like: meaningful exposure leads to acquisition which leads to speaking ability. I’m not sure that any kind of learning activities–ReadLang, college classes, whatever–lead to acquisition themselves. But by making the text comprehensible, they get you to a point where you can better understand more texts and make acquisition possible.

      What are your thoughts?


    The flashcard system is great! How you can just add any word or phrase from any Spanish website to your deck is really practical.

    • Ron G.

      I think so too. Really nice system at RL. I checked out your website. You’re a fan of flashcards? (I am too.)


        Yeah I am, it is a really good way to study new vocab. I use it all the time on the bus.

  • Fred Allen

    I am wondering if in the free version, if there is a way to stop the pop up ad that asks you to pay for premium. I do not use this application a lot and am just starting to explore it, but the insistent pop up makes me think I would not use it very often, as it”s so distracting I could barely read through one introductory text. Any ideas of how to block this?

    • Ron G.

      How often do you get that pop-up? Since I paid, I haven’t used the free version in a while, so I don’t know the details on this. Maybe a good question that @SteveRidout:disqus can field?

    • africajam

      Come on dude, the paid version is super cheap. If you really don’t want to support the development of a great tool, you can hardly complain about an occasional pop-up.

  • gauravagarwalr

    Hi Ron, Congrats on your results on the German language test. I have recently begun learning German. I would like to know if you have used Duolingo? Also what kind of movies/TV Shows/Podcasts were you watching/listening to get more familiar. Thanks for the great article! I will definitely try out Readlang.

    • Ron G.

      Hi, thanks! I have used Duolingo and really like it. It’s a great tool to add to the toolbox.

      For podcasts, I listened to pretty much everything at Deutsche Welle (both the language-learning podcasts and the actual news podcasts). Logo! news for kids is really good. For shows, I really liked watching sitcoms I was familiar with dubbed into German.

      Keep me posted on your progress!