Lexicum is an app designed to help “the 1.5 billion learners around the world with mastering foreign language vocabulary”. It sets itself apart from repeating a word (“boring and ineffective”), personal vocabulary books (restrictive in terms of the order in which the words can be reviewed) and other flashcard apps (they don’t help you learn how to use words in a sentence) and says that lexicum offers a new way.
The app allows learners to search for words, either in their own language or the one they are learning, and then decide whether they want to save them. The search results show a list of possible definitions of the word, and in some cases an audio play button. Learns are able to edit the translations and save their edits. When you have saved enough words you are able to take a quiz. Here you are shown a flash card and asked how well you know the word (easy, fair, hard, didn’t know). Clicking on the flashcard reveals the list of all the possible definitions of the word, as seen when looking it up. Once you’ve been through all the words in your list you get a doughnut graph showing you the breakdown of how well you said you knew the words. You get points for adding words, and points for doing quizzes.
The press release states that you are able to add words to custom lists and as a teacher you are able to create lists and send them to your learners but these features, along with the social share functions are not ready in the app or web version I am using today.
Lexicum is free and available on web and as an iOS app.
The app looks quite nice and I can only assume that the spaced repetition algorithm works well. The idea of being able to look up words in either your own language or the language you are learning is good. If you got into the habit of doing this all the time through the app and saving the words of interest you would be able to build up a good bank of vocabulary that was useful to you. The fact that the app supports 18 languages is impressive (although trying Arabic wasn’t a success at this stage). It’s also good that definitions and translations can be edited, and therefore personalised in some way, but maybe hard for a learner to know what to do in this situation.
The app is free.
A disclaimer on the site mentions that this is a beta version, so we should expect some issues and get in touch if you see anything wrong. For the purposes of this review, I’ll not mention things which appear to be bugs and focus on analysis of features.
To say that they are aiming to help learners ‘master’ foreign vocabulary (whatever that may mean) is completely incongruous with the features of the application. The only information the app tells us about a word is a list of the possible translations. There are no example sentences, no information about part of speech, nothing at all about context or collocation. Learners only engage with words they themselves look up, and even in terms of the spaced repetition algorithms, learners are able to passively click through words, only interacting by saying how well they know them (rather than demonstrating how well they know them).
The user interface looks slick but the usability is confusing (unless this is just bugs). You can’t change between languages so have to set up a new account with a different email to use the app to learn more than one language. There was no onboarding process and the help section just lists a load of keyboard shortcuts. The profile section ‘Your progress in words’ tells me how many words I just added, how many I’m learning and how many I’ve learned, complete with coloured progress bars for each. But there is no information about what I need to have done to ‘learn’ a word, or what it means to be learning them. I can edit meanings, but I wasn’t sure if that was just to personalise, or if I thought the definition was wrong. No information told me how to use the product or what to expect from it.
The benefits of the product are were not immediately clear and upon closer inspection it seemed that necessary features for language learning were lacking from the product.