Learn a language with this Chrome extension: Polyglot

If you’ve been working seriously on learning a new language for more than a few months, you’ve likely found that a multi-pronged approach yields faster absorption and better retention than a closed approach. It also alleviates the monotony and boredom of hammering away at a single book/tape system. I like to toss as many media types and methods as possible into my own program, and whether you prefer the mother’s tongue tchnique or like to study translations and memorize transliterations word-by-word, there’s something to be said for commingling languages; especially when the transitions are seamless.

The Google Chrome extension Polyglot from the Chrome Web Store helps you learn a foreign language while engaged in other activities. But instead of requiring some brain resource hungry multitasking, the extension makes studying almost imperceptible. Polyglot translates web pages a handful of words at a time, mixing in your language of interest with your natural tongue. Using Polyglot, there have been times when I read and fully understood a foreign word without realizing it until I was several sentences beyond. Wait, how does this work?

Polyglot randomly selects words in the websites you load and translates them to a target language of your choosing. The source material doesn’t need to be English, either. The “translate to” and “translate from” language lists are pretty hefty, so chances are that your native tongue and language of choice are represented. You can change the level of randomness in translation by deciding the odds of word selection, telling the app to skip words with fewer than X number of characters, or to bypass phrases with more than X letters. There are other options as well, such as changing the color of translated text.

Here’s a screenshot of Polyglot’s translations of a Wikipedia entry. Translated words and phrases show in my selected color, burgundy. You can see where I’ve hovered my cursor to reveal original text (yellow rectangle). Notice that in this case, even an ad banner features a translation:

That might look like a bunch of gibberish if you dont know any German, but if you were to fire up Polyglot, choose a language that you have been working at and tweak the extensions settings to match your level, you would find that this free software is an extremely useful tool for building your vocabulary in another language. And that’s something you’ll need to keep in mind: Polyglot is not designed to improve your grammar or assist you in mastering slang. It is a vocabulary tool, and a very effective and ingenius one at that. I find audio files are better for grammar anyway; vocabulary usually comes down to boring memorization using flash cards. This method is far more entertaining and won’t put you to sleep.

Polyglot can be enabled and disabled via a button in the Chrome toolbar. Here it is in the “off” position:

Here are some of the settings accessed through the Chrome tools menu:

If you’ve been working seriously on learning a new language for more than a few months, you know what a cash and time suck the endeavor can be. Polyglot is free and integrates language learning with your daily surf. So stick with your New Year’s education resolution: crack open your Chrome browser (Chrome OS or otherwise) and install Polyglot! A browser restart is a good idea after install.

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