Language

Chrome Extensions for Language Learners

Ivan from TandemOctober 20, 20192-min read

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As a web developer by day and a language learning enthusiast by night, let me share some of the techniques and tools I've developed to make some of the boring aspects of language learning more fun.

Personally, I think you should enjoy everything you do. If you like an activity, you will achieve success in it. Let's apply this principle to language learning.

Mining words while reading for fun

The most daunting part of language learning is, of course, cramming words. Many would agree that the most efficient way to learn vocabulary is flashcards. I subscribe to that wholeheartedly. But is there a more fun way to do flashcards?

If you enjoy reading in your target language, you are definitely looking up words from time to time. How do you make sure you remember them? Creating a flashcard right away would be distracting.

To automate this and enjoy a seamless reading experience, I've built a Chrome extension called Fluentcards. You can install it here. It combines an instant dictionary and your flashcards storage. It works like so:

  • You select a word or phrase you don't know
  • The extension automatically pulls up a dictionary definition Fluentcards dictionary
  • The word along with the context sentence is saved into your deck
  • You can edit and organise your deck on fluentcards.com vocab
  • The deck can be reviewed in Anki or Memrise

Watching Netflix with interactive subtitles

Another aspect of language learning is being able to understand what people are saying to you. There are two components of success in this area:

  • Knowing the words
  • Having the listening skill

Once I had at least 4k words under my belt (learnt using Anki and the method described above), I noticed a significant increase in listening comprehension. There's no way around vocab.

How do you train the listening skill itself, though? By listening a lot. Listening to something that you're able to understand. It's called the comprehensive input theory.

Netflix provides a good deal of native material in many languages, and usually with subtitles in many languages. A quick tip: use VPN in a country of your target language to switch the shows on Netflix to that language.

I've created a Chrome extension, Subflix, that improves upon Netflix' subtitles UI. It allows you to:

  • Skip to any scene quickly
  • Replay a phrase if you didn't quite catch it the first time
  • Look up words in a dictionary. E.g. using the Fluentcards extension 😉

Learning languages with Netflix

After many months of practice, I can now understand most shows in my target language (German) without subtitles.

If you're a beginner, children's shows like "Puffin' Rock" or "The Avengers" animated series work best. Dubbed old time classics like the "Terminator" are very good, too. Dubbed shows are in general much easier to understand than the originals, because the voice actors tend to speak clearer than the original actors. Just imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger dubbed in German…

"Ich will deine Kleider, deine Stiefel und dein Motorrad."
Clothes-Boots-Cycle

Have fun!

I guess, the main takeaway is enjoy it! Learning a foreign language is exciting and shouldn't ever be boring!

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