The best method for improving your foreign language skills is constant exposure. If you are lucky enough to live in a country where your target foreign language is spoken, you can easily improve your foreign language skills.
But if you don’t live in a country where your target language is spoken, getting enough exposure to a language to get over the dreaded intermediate plateau is difficult. The difficulty increases when you are an adult with a full-time job and family commitments.
So how do you manage constant exposure when you don’t live in a foreign country and you work a full-time job? The best way is to divide your time with small amounts of focused active foreign language learning and large amounts of passive learning.
Active learning means focused study to improve a desired skill. For example, taking 30 minutes and writing an entry to post on Lang-8 is active learning. Passive learning means building language exposure into your normal daily routine. Passive learning includes listening to foreign music on your way to work or watching a favorite movie in your target language.
FlipWord is a Chrome browser extension which converts a set percentage of words in any webpage that you are browsing to your target language. Currently the extension supports Spanish, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean.
Since I am focusing on improving my German and Japanese, I tested the extension in both languages.
Features and Benefits
After you install the extension in your browser, FlipWord works in the background as you browse webpages. As the webpage loads, FlipWord converts words in the text to your target language. You can click on a word and FlipWord will display a translation of the word as well as a recording of the word.
The extension also converts words in the text into multiple choice quizzes or fill-in-the-blanks which allows for more interactive learning.
Currently, FlipWord is available as a browser extension. Apps for iOS and Android are coming soon.
FlipWord makes it easy to add constant exposure to your new language into your daily life. You learn new vocabulary while reading blog entries or reading the news. Since the extension is designed to work during your normal internet browsing, you learn vocabulary based on your interests.
Since FlipWord is a new extension, it does have a few shortcomings. When using the Japanese version, I found it frustrating that there was no way to toggle between kana,kanji, and romaji. While this is ideal for beginners, I prefer to read the Japanese characters without the aid of English text.
Sometimes definitions aren’t quite accurate. FlipWord has difficulty understanding context. For example, I found that FlipWord would translate the English word “well” meaning “healthy” to the interjection “well” which we typically use to start a sentence. In Japanese, these are two different words, げんき(genki) and えと(eto).
If you do spot a wrong translation, the extension has a place for you to report bad replacements. Because the extension is new, I imagine that the replacements will improve with time and added input from users.
How to Integrate FlipWord Into Your Learning Routine
I have FlipWord turned on by default. If I have a situation where I’m not comfortable with the replacements, I pause the extension and do my work. FlipWord allows for varying pauses in duration from a few minutes to a full day. With FlipWord turned on, I automatically have added exposure to my target languages without even trying!
If you are a beginner, I would use caution and run the definition through another dictionary to learn the proper context(s) for using the suggested word. For more advanced learners, FlipWord is good for training your brain and refreshing your vocabulary. Overall, I find that it’s a great extension and one that I will enjoy using often.
Have you used FlipWord? What are your favorite tricks for adding language practice to your free time?
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