Monday, November 4, 2013

Tools to facilitate language learning while reading foreign texts

Those who learn foreign languages sooner or later reach a point in the target language at which they aim mostly to expand their vocabulary. This is a never ending process, but sometimes we want do this intensively. So what are the best ways for this? I think they are communicating with native speakers and reading.
People often don't have enough time or possibilities to communicate with native speakers, so reading is the best option.
And here appears a question: how should I read materials in the target language? Should I look up every new word in a dictionary? Should I look up only the necessary words? How should I do this?
The problem is that even the most interesting texts can become boring if you stop every several words to use the dictionary or if you understand only a fraction of the texts.
One of the answers to this is pop-up dictionaries: you just hover over the word and see the translation. This is wonderful (well, if you don't overuse it)! But how do I remember these words? Copying them in a separate file is a pain in the ass! And reading this list of words again and again? Tedious! More than that: if you just read a word and it's translation, you won't learn how it is really used. And copying the whole sentences in this list is too monotonous.

But there are amazing people who develop various tools to help language learners. And these tools are completely free. This just can't stop amazing me. So I'll present several of those.

1. This is just a simple pop-up dictionary for Google Chrome:

You double click (or use another hot key) and see the translation. I suppose similar addons exist for all browsers.

2. Learning with texts.
This is an ultimate tool for learning any language.
Installing it is a bit puzzling, but you need to do it just once :) And the instructions are very detailed.
So what is it about? Here is the gist of it:

You choose the target language (the number of them is unlimited), set the preferences (such as a dictionary to be used) and add texts of your choice. You can the translation for each separate words or for phrases. You choose the translation you like (from the default dictionary of from the one you prefer) and then in this texts and in all new texts you will see the translation which you set. So the word is saved with the term, translation and an example sentence. You can mark the word as known or ignore the word - then it will be displayed with a white font. You can also mark a word on the grade from 1 to 5 (how good do you know it) and it will be displayed with the appropriate color.
If you know some/many/most of the words in a text you don't need to set translations for them: just translate the new words and in the end just press "I know all" - the remaining words will be marked as "Well known".
There is a downside though: the tool doesn't recognize forms of words. So, for example "run" and "ran" are different words. But is this really a downside? You can use this to improve grammar: you can write how and why this form of word is created. And there is still the button "I know all".
And there are much more features. For example you can create a version of the text with translations above words:

Here I display the translation of the words which I'm learning. Pretty useful!
Also you can import the words, for example in an appropriate format to use in Anki!

There are other features, but I think even the mentioned ones are worth trying. For me this is a great tool to study any non-hieroglyphic language. Sadly this tool isn't too good with Japanese. There are two reasons:

  • There are no spaces between the words in Japanese, so I have to manually choose the beginning and ending of the each word; this takes too much time;
  • Words in Japanese language have too many conjugations, so this creates additional problems.

Nevertheless this tool is great for other languages. For now it's my main appliance in learning German.

And now a pair of tools for the Japanese language.

3. Rikaisama (an addon for Firefox; works for Windows and Linux)
You read a Japanese text online and want to know the translation of a word? Rikaisama is here for you:
You just move the mouse to the word and the pop-up translation appears!
Great, but this isn't the best feature. While the pop-up is active you can press a button to save the word+reading+meaning+sentence to a file on you PC! And there is more: you can press another button and immediately create a new card in Anki! This is wonderful - I see the translation, I save the word and I can review it later.

But what if you want to do the similar thing offline?
There is another tool.

4. Yomichan
It has almost the same functionality as Rikaisama:
You open a file, hover over the words and create new cards in Anki for them. It is also of great use for me.

So these are the main tools I use now. Hope they could help many more people.

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