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Exam-focused Apps vs Lockcard

Lockcard Team
December 18, 2020
Illustrations by Yuxuan Wu

Starting with English, then Japanese and finally for French, I have been using vocabulary apps for almost 8 years. Here's a review of three of the most popular apps I have used. I write about why some work for me, and why others don't. When they don't, I interview fellow users.

Exam-Focused Apps

Who is it for?  👤
• You're looking to pass a language test or get a certification soon
• You are highly academic-focused
• You can dedicate time to learn vocabulary intensively

Price  💸
Depends on the app.

These are exam or standard level oriented applications; a good one is Magoosh. They usually provide vocabulary lists matching the requirements of certain tests and certifications, like 'TOEFL Vocabulary List' or 'JLPT N2 Japanese Vocabulary List'. Typically, they do flashcards and sometimes they provide more comprehensive quizzes to help reinforce learning. They are designed for learners who can dedicate a significant amount of time everyday to memorizing vocabulary.

Given the nature of these apps, it is safe to say that users have a deadline in mind. They have a clear objective, and it is often a numbers one (e.g. 'remember 1000 words'). The problem is that they hardly see past the test and will most often forget many of the words they just learnt. The rush, the stress, the changes in life from passing or failing that exam... all contribute to this problem. We are so focused on that one goal, we prioritize quantity over quality. We lose meaningful comprehension, and we lack in our ability to produce effectively in a real language environment (book-smart vs street-smart).

Another frustration is that exam-oriented vocabulary could be too formal or academic focused. Learners usually find out these do not help much in their daily use of the language.

That's not for me either. My goal is to learn the language that is informally used in everyday life, as well as to make real progress over time. 

Lockcard

Who is it for?  👤
• You like to look up new words in a dictionary
• You often forget words after you search them
• You're a lazy learner who spends too much time on your phone

Price  💸
Free

Lockcard is an improved version of Vocabulary.com with additional features that make it a great app for lazy people. It's an improved English dictionary that uses 'spaced repetition' via notifications to make you remember words forever. It doesn't teach you new words (yet), but it's a great tool to assist you with the rest of your learning process.

It's worth noting that Lockcard is a young app built by two language enthusiasts who happen to work as product designers by day. Therefore, there is a strong focus on smart interactions and minimalist visual design to give you a comforting experience every time you open the app. However, they currently lack in some resources; their dictionary is not as complete as Vocabulary.com

I use Lockcard to search new words I encounter in life and when reading everyday. Before, I used to search new words in a traditional dictionary but forget them the next week. Lockcard comes into play as a vocabulary partner in that situation. It helps me understand a word at that moment, but also reminds me about it by sending notifications to my phone throughout the day that act as flashcards for my brain. I feel such a relief knowing I will not forget the word I have searched. In fact, it makes me more confident in searching words up.

That's the one. Try it yourself for free on the AppStore. Plus, you'll be supporting two awesome language enthusiasts.

Charlotte Chen, Designer @Duolingo

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