Extensions, plug-ins and apps have become a standard feature when it comes to internet browsers. And they have become valuable features, too, with the added functionalities extending the browser’s usefulness well past just being a tool to monitor your favorite blog, read Facebook updates or watch YouTube videos.
If you’re trying to learn a second language, you should absolutely take advantage of the large selection of language-based plugins and extensions. While most of them are designed to facilitate easier browsing of international content, the tools can just as easily be useful for your language learning efforts.
Kinds of Browser-Based Language Tools
Almost any kind of language learning tool (especially software variants) can be converted into a browser plug-in or extension. As a result, there’s a wealth of them available for the most popular browsers. While I don’t have much experience using IE or Opera, I do know there’s a lot of these tools available for both Firefox and Chrome. I’ve also seen a few for mobile browsers like Dolphin although it’s probably best to focus your efforts in the meantime to standard desktop browsers for Macs and PCs.
There are dozens of dictionaries that can be integrated into the browser: some will show a pop-up of the definition when you double-click on any word in a page; some can be accessed from a window that pops up from the toolbar; and so on. In particular, you will want to install a dictionary of your target language and a dual-dictionary (e.g. English-to-French), so you can quickly look up any new word you discover and find the equivalent of an English word in your target language.
2. Image Pairs.
One of the most helpful toolbar extensions I’ve seen is an image pairing tool. What it does is when you double click on a word in the target language, it brings up an image of the item in question, instead of a translation or a definition. A picture, after all, is worth a thousand words, so it’s extremely helpful to your language learning efforts. And while you can do this in Google Images, too, the convenience of never having to leave whichever page (and tab) you’re currently on is enough to warrant an install.
3. Script translators.
This is a tool for helping you train in reading and writing in the target language. What it does is convert the Roman words on a page to the corresponding phonetic words in the language, making it especially useful for extended training on a language with an unfamiliar script like Korean or Urdu.
Browser translators generally do one thing: convert the text on an entire webpage into the target language. Some of the more advanced ones allow you to highlight sections of text and pop that up into its translated version. Granted, automated translators will often expose you to horrible grammar and nonsensical phrases, so always keep in mind that you’ll need to use better judgment when using these types of
5. Language flash cards.
While you can always create your own
6. Alphabet training.
For beginners to a target language, learning the alphabet can be a good idea and I’ve seen several browser tools that do just that. Implementations vary from toolbar popups to full page instructions, so you can choose which ones you like best.
7. Vocabulary builders.
One of my favorite extensions is a toolbar popup which shows a random word in my target language (currently German)every time I click on the icon. While this isn’t quite as organized as taking a structured vocabulary lesson, it’s a nice way to pick up new words throughout the day, even while you work on a spreadsheet, check email or catch updates on Facebook.
8. Website shortcuts.
Some plug-ins are marketed as “apps,” although they really are just website shortcuts. When you click on them, the browser opens a new tab and takes you to the corresponding website. While you can always bookmark your favorite language learning sites, having these “apps” available make new sites easier to find compared to searching for language resources on Google or Bing.
When I open the Chrome Web Store and go to the Language Education category, I’m always amazed at how much available plug-ins and extensions there are. Chances are, there are a lot more types of tools I haven’t tried out, so make sure to take a spin for yourself. You never know — you just might find something amazing that way.
Can you use these plug-ins and extensions as your primary language learning tools? For the most part, I doubt it, since most of them are focused on singular tasks. They’re a good way to supplement your primary resources, though, giving you an outlet to brush up on the language even while at work. If you’re still on the fence about learning a new language, they can also offer a nice first step to try it out. Do note that you’ll likely have to invest in a full course (whether in school or via language training software) to really get a proper language education.
Additionally, these resources will only be useful if you spend a good amount of your day in front of a computer. People who work with a computer in their jobs, for instance, will get a lot out of these; those, on the other hand, who use their computers two hours a day to check Facebook and email (yes, these people do exist) probably won’t find them of much value.