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Learning with Texts pt1


What is Learning With Texts?

Learning With Texts, or LWT is a free customizable tool for learning new vocabulary in a foreign language using texts of your choosing. It was created by a single, anonymous author for their own language learning journey, and then shared with the community. It can be run either on your own computer, or accessed from anywhere with hosted versions such as the one graciously run by Fluent In 3 Months. If you're an input-focused learner like me who wants to be able to understand native media, then LWT is definitely for you.

In the first part of this guide, I'll show you how to set up LWT for Japanese, create vocabulary cards, and export them to Anki for further study. For the purpose of the guide, I'll be this hosted version.

Preparing Yourself for Using LWT

Although you can certainly feel free to jump into LWT at any point in your studies, I would recommend having a bit of base knowledge first. I would probably suggest having gone through a textbook series such as Genki so that you have some base vocabulary and a good idea of how the language itself works. This is especially true for being able to pick apart words, as you'll see later on in this guide.

There is a misconception that LWT is not very well suited for non-European languages, such as Japanese. I want to show you how not only is this not true, but in fact the author has implemented features in LWT specifically for these kinds of languages. The first thing we'll need to do is the initial setup...

Setting up LWT for Japanese

I would highly recommend using a hosted LWT server, such as the one provided by Fluent In 3 Months, as some of this may already be done for you. It also has the added advantage of being accessible from any computer with Internet access.

Once you're logged into LWT, go to "My Languages." If there is already one called Japanese click the edit button, which looks like a piece of paper and a pencil. If there is no language called Japanese, then create one now by clicking the "+New Language" button. In either case, you'll come to a screen that looks like this:

Description: E:\Dropbox\Notes\LWT guide materials\LWT - My Languages.png

The next important part is setting up your dictionaries. You can use any dictionary where the term appears in the URL and can be replaced by ###, as you'll see in the examples below. You can set up a total of 3 dictionaries, since the one labeled "GoogleTranslate" can be used in the exact same way as the ones labeled "Dictionary." Here are the ones I like to use, plus a brief explanation of why:


URL for LWT: http://tangorin.com/general/###

Quick and fast for English translations of words, often has things like set phrases that monolingual dictionaries don't have, and can sometimes deinflect verbs to their dictionary form (ex: It knows that 行った is 行く.) Another great bonus is it has kanji dictionary where I often add unknown or rusty kanji to an online list, which I can export to Anki separately later on, all built in within Tangorin.


URL for LWT: http://www.sanseido.net/User/Dic/Index.aspx?TWords=### &st=0&DORDER=&DailyJJ=checkbox&DailyEJ=checkbox&DailyJE=checkbox)

delete space

I use this primarily a monolingual dictionary, but they have bilingual definitions at time too. I've found their monolingual definitions to be the least convoluted and easiest to follow as a Japanese learner.


URL for LWT: http://eow.alc.co.jp/search?q=###&ref=sa

I have this one defined in the "GoogleTranslate" field, but really I just use it as a third dictionary. Where this one is unique though, is that it's a database of bilingual sentences, professionally translated (some of which are even linked to full on dialogues.) This is the place to look for further examples when you want to get a better feeling of how terms are used.

The next two important parts are the "RegExp Split Sentences" and "RegExp Word Characters" fields. These are the elements that tell LWT which parts of your text are Japanese and where sentences end. Having these missing or incorrect is one of the big reasons people end up not getting the chance to try LWT for Japanese. To get it working properly, they should be as follows:

RegExp Split Sentences: .!?:;。!?:;

RegExp Word Characters: 一-龥ぁ-ヾ

Last but not least, we have "Make each character a word," and "Remove spaces." These are also two elements that have led to some frustration for users wanting to use LWT. As mentioned earlier, despite some claims that LWT is not suited to Japanese, as you can see here it's quite the opposite, as the author has actually included features specific to Japanese! 

Some learners have had limited success with use sites that parse Japanese text and try and separate words and add spaces and so on, but you can instead set these two options to "Yes," as the system was designed for, and save yourself a lot of headaches. As we'll see in a moment, what you'll end up doing is clicking on the first character of a word or expression, and then telling LWT where that term ends.

If you use the language setup wizard that the Fluent in 3 Months LWT server has, it should fill many these in for you, although I would still highly recommend changing the dictionaries to ones that are the most useful to you.

Using LWT

Now that we have the language setup, we're ready to see how it all works. I would suggest starting off with only a small amount of text, so you can get a feel for LWT and the whole process. First, click on "My Texts" on the Home screen, and then "New Text..."

Description: E:\Dropbox\Notes\LWT guide materials\LWT - Entering Text.png

Here you can paste in your text and give it a title. The rest of the fields are optional, but sometimes handy. Once you've entered your text, click "Save & Open" and behold!.

Description: E:\Dropbox\Notes\LWT guide materials\LWT - Starting Interface.png

When you first open the interface, it will be mostly blank except for your text. Before creating any new terms, be sure the "Show All" button in the top-left frame is checked OFF, or else strange things will happen :)

The main difference between using LWT for Japanese vs a European language for example, is the fact that you have to tell it where a word begins and ends. In the example photo, we'll make a term out of the word 日本語, which means the Japanese language. We'll click the first character, 日 and see what happens.

Description: E:\Dropbox\Notes\LWT guide materials\LWT - Term Creation.png

Now that you've told LWT where the word begins, you'll be presented with various options that basically ask you where the word ends. In this case, the word ends at 語, so we'll click that. The 3. in front of it simply represents the fact that it's 3 characters total (technically LWT thinks it's 3 words, but that's just because of how the system works.) When you click on the end of the term, the two frames on the right side will populate...

Description: E:\Dropbox\Notes\LWT guide materials\LWT - Card Creation.png

The first frame you'll likely want to feast your eyes on is the dictionary results in the bottom right frame. These are the results for your term in the first dictionary that is defined in your language settings.  To see the results from the others, click Dict2 and GTr in the top right frame. (On a smaller display such as a laptop, you may have to scroll down the frame to see this.)

Speaking of the top right frame... This is where you can create what will eventually become your vocabulary cards in Anki. You'll notice the "New term" field, as well as the "Sentence term in {...}" field both fill in automatically. You can already see how LWT automates a lot of card creation tasks for you, as well as makes other parts of it much easier and more comfortable. By having the dictionary results directly in the frame below, LWT saves you a lot of switching between applications to create flashcards.

Description: E:\Dropbox\Notes\LWT guide materials\LWT - Card Filled In.png

The main parts that you'll be filling in yourself are the "Translation" and "Romaniz" fields. What you choose to enter in these fields is up to you. For "Translation" certainly a bilingual or monolingual definition would be the main items, but you may also choose to add things like example sentences. (I like to add extra example sentences as additional cards personally.) "Romaniz" is short for Romanization of course, but in this case you'll likely be adding the reading for kanji, written in kana. 

When it comes to kana-only words, they sometimes have corresponding kanji, even if said kanji is never used in modern writing. In these cases, I like to add those kanji in the "Romaniz" field as a sort of extra information that may help me understand the deeper meaning of the word. (Unless of course they're ateji, words with characters chosen soley for their sound and not for their meaning!)

There are a few reasons why some familiarity with how Japanese works is important when using LWT for your studies. One is of course to be able to recognize where words begin and end. Another reason has to do with how most Japanese dictionaries work. In my experience, most dictionaries, even native ones, are pretty bad at changing verbs to what's known as their dictionary form. That is to say, if you look up a word like 読んだ, it will usually give you no results, rather than recognize it as a form of the word 読む. In these cases, all you have to do is backspace a few characters and change the ending, then voila! This is why I say being aware of how the language works (but without worrying about memorizing each and every grammatical rule) can go a long way for your learning experience.

Once you've entered the information for your new term, simply click on "Save" and you're ready to move on to the new unknown word!

Exporting & Importing Data

After you've gone through your text, you'll likely want to export the cards into a flashcard program such as Anki! I admit this can be a technical nightmare without any guidance, but I want to give you a few options to make this a painless task. As for the exporting side of things, LWT has an easy option to output the necessary file. Simply navigate to the "Terms" option in any LWT menu (main page, drop-down box, etc.) and you'll see your list of terms.

Description: E:\Dropbox\Notes\LWT guide materials\LWT - Terms Screen.png

First, note that you have a few options here as to what appears in your list, via a few drop-down boxes. "Text:" can be used to only display terms from a particular text you've been working on. "Filter Off" will display everything. Unless you'll looking to print an accompanying list, you'll probably want to display all terms from all texts. "Status" is fairly important, as I'll demonstrate shortly. 

For now, you can select "Learning [1]." This will only display terms that are in the initial learning stage, which is the default for all newly created cards.

Description: E:\Dropbox\Notes\LWT guide materials\LWT - Learning Status.png

Under the next section, labelled "Multi Actions," you'll see a line that says "ALL ## terms:" (## of course being the number of terms you have filtered.) Towards the bottom of that drop-down box, you'll see an option that says "Export ALL terms (Anki)." Choose this option, and a text file will begin to download. (Another nice option here in LWT is that the filename will include the date and time to avoid any mixups at import time.)

Description: E:\Dropbox\Notes\LWT guide materials\LWT - Export To Anki.png

Now that the file is exported, what I like to do now before I forget is to somehow mark these words as handled as far as LWT is concerned. At this point, the "All ## terms:" part should still have all these terms selected, so what I do is click on that drop-down box again, and click on "Set status to Learned [5]." This will cause those words to be highlighted in a different color when you see them again in LWT. 

Since from this point on, Anki will be handling the learning process for those words, I'm basically just marking them as complete in LWT. However you go about marking them, this step is really important for future exports, since you need a way of distinguishing newly created terms and ones that you've already imported into Anki, which is our next step!

This can be the tricky part, because while LWT is made to be ready for Anki, Anki is not made to be ready for LWT! It all just comes down to a matter of having the correct format in place. To make things much easier for you, I'm going to provide you with a template that you can add to Anki, which you can get below.

To use this template, simply download it and double click it. If you have Anki installed, it will add this package to your collection. It's a premade deck containing only a single card, which you can delete after, but by adding it you'll have the LWT format added to Anki! There is a simple card format already set up for you, but please feel free to change and add things to suit your needs and level.

Now that we have that set up, your Anki is ready to accept files imported from LWT. At this point, navigate to File-->Import in Anki, and select the text file you exported from LWT. There are some important options to select here, if they aren't selected already.

Description: E:\Dropbox\Notes\LWT guide materials\LWT - Import Window.png

The first is "Type." You have to be sure to have the LWT format selected, or it will not be usable when it's imported. For "Deck" it's just a matter of selecting which one of your decks you want the cards to be in. Of course if you only have 1 deck, then it will be your only option. 

Below those two boxes, ensure that for "Fields separated by," you have the "Tab" option selected. 

The next option in the dropdown box is up to you. This will be how Anki handles duplicate cards on import, should that happen. You can either have it override the old card, ignore the new card, or create two cards, depending on your preference. 

In this section, be very sure to have "Allow HTML in fields" to be checked on, or else the function where Anki highlights the term in your sentence, among other features, will not work when you're reviewing.

Once you're all set here, click on "Import" and you should get the confirmation dialogue of a successful import.


That's it! Well... sort of! Now you're ready to study flashcards in Anki that you've exported from LWT, which is the core of the combination of these two tools. In the future I want to cover some other related topics, such as including kanji study at the same time, adding sentences, making the most of your learning experience, the pros & cons of different sources of material for LWT use, and even tweaking card formats for Anki.

If you have any questions about this guide, by all means please feel free to contact me or leave a comment below. This is a guide that I want to continue to update and improve, and the best way to do that is by responding to reader feedback. I sincerely hope this guide was useful to you, and best of luck in your language learning adventures!


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