How to set up your own LanguageLab

I’ve got great news! I have now released LanguageLab, my free, open-source software for learning languages and music, to the public on GitHub.

I wish I could tell you I’ve got a public site up that you can all use for free. Unfortunately, the features that would make LanguageLab easy for multiple users to share one server are later in the roadmap. There are a few other issues that also stand in the way of a massive public service. But you can set up your own server!

I’ve documented the steps in the README file, but here’s an overview. You don’t need to know how to program, but you will need to know how to set up web services, retrieve files from GitHub, edit configuration files, and run a few commands at a Linux/MacOS/DOS prompt.

LanguageLab uses Django, one of the most popular web frameworks for Python, and React, one of the most popular frameworks for Javascript. All you need is a server that can run Django and host some Javascript files! I’ve been doing my development and testing on Pythonanywhere, but I’ve also set it up on Amazon Web Services, and you should be able to run it on Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, a University web server or even your personal computer.

There are guides online for setting up Django in all those environments. Once you’ve got a basic Django setup installed, you’ll need to clone the LanguageLab repo from GitHub to a place where it can be read by your web server. Then you’ll configure it to access the database, and configure the web server to load it. You’ll use Pip and NPM to download the Python and Javascript libraries you need, like the Django REST Framework, React and the Open Iconic font. Finally, you’ll copy all the files into the right places for the web server to read them and restart the server.

Once you’ve got everything in place, you should be able to log in! You can make multiple accounts, but keep in mind that at this point we do not have account-level access, so all accounts have full access to all the data. You can then start building your library of languages, media, exercises and lessons. LanguageLab comes with the most widely used languages, but it’s easy to set up new ones if yours are not on the list.

Media can be a bit tricky, because LanguageLab is not a media server. You can upload your media to another place on your server, or any other server – as long as it’s got an HTTPS URL you should be able to use it. If the media you’re using is copyrighted you may want to set up some basic password protection to avoid any accusations of piracy. I use a simple .htaccess password. I have to log in every time, but it works.

With the URL of your media file, you can create a media entry. Just paste that URL into the form and add metadata to keep track of the file and what it can be used for. You can then set up one or more exercises based on particular segments of that media file. It may take a little trial and error to get the exercises right.

You can then create one or more lessons to organize your exercises. You can choose to have a lesson for all the exercises in a particular media file, or you can combine exercises from multiple media files in a lesson. It’s up to you how to organize the lessons. You can edit the queues for each lesson to reorder or remove exercises.

Once you’ve got exercises, you can start practicing! The principle is simple: listen to the model, repeat into the microphone, then listen to the model again, followed by your recording. Set yourself a goal of a.certain number of repetitions per session.

After you’ve created your language and media entries, exercises and lessons, you can export the data. Importing the data is not yet implemented, but the data is exported to a human-readable JSON format that you can then recreate if necessary.

In the near future I will go on Twitch to demonstrate how to set up exercises and lessons, and how to practice with them. I will also try to find time to demonstrate the installation process. I will record each demonstration and put it on YouTube for your future reference. You can follow me on Twitter to find out when I’m doing the demos and posting the videos.

If you try setting up a LanguageLab, please let me know how it goes! You can report bugs by creating incidents on GitHub, or you can send me an email. I’m happy to hear about problems, but I’d also like to hear success stories! And if you know some Python or Javascript, please consider writing a little code to help me add one of the features in the roadmap!

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