Tag Archives: vocabulary

Best Chrome Extensions for Learning Languages

Best Chrome Extensions for Learning Languages

What are the Best Chrome Extensions for Learning Languages?

Extensive reading in a foreign language is an extremely effective way to increase your vocabulary, but without the use of graded readers or interlinear translations, it can be frustrating and tedious using a dictionary to look up words that you don’t know. Luckily there are some Chrome extensions that you can use when reading webpages to instantly translate words and even save them to flashcard decks to review later. These Chrome extensions for learning languages all use Google Translate to produce the translations, but let’s take a look at their different options and features.

 

Readlang Web Reader

My favorite Chrome extension for learning vocabulary through translation is Readlang because it saves every word you click on as flashcards so you can review them later. The entire sentence is also saved so you have the context, which is very important in learning vocabulary. You can also change the settings so that you hear the pronunciation after you click the word, and import the entire webpage to your Readlang account. The free account gives you unlimited single word translations and 10 phrase translations per day, while the premium account is only $5 a month or $48 a year. You can also install the Readlang bookmarklet on mobile or tablet (Safari or Chrome on iOS and Chrome on Android).

Readlang Web Reader Chrome Extension for Learning Vocabulary through Translation

Readlang Web Reader

Readlang Flashcards created from words you clicked on

The words you clicked on and the entire sentence are imported into your flashcards

 

Mango Reader Beta

The Mango Reader extension was just released in April and it is still in Beta mode, but it looks promising. After installing the extension, choose the language that you’re learning in the settings, and then just double click on a word. The translation will appear, along with a speaker icon to listen to the pronunciation, plus links to WordReference and conjugation websites. If you have a Mango account, you can sign in and have the option to save the word to your Vocab List to study later. You may have access to Mango Languages for free through your local American or Canadian library, but if not, unfortunately there isn’t a free option to create an account just for Mango Reader. However, for $20 a month or $175 a year, you will have unlimited access to all of their language courses (71 languages and counting.)

One small bug I noticed was that the pronunciation is sometimes an American accent pronouncing the word as if it were English, but the second click produced the correct pronunciation in the correct language. Currently, the supported languages for Mango Reader include: Modern Standard Arabic, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, and Latin American Spanish.

Mango Reader Beta Chrome ExtensionMango Reader Beta 

 

Rememberry

Translate words on webpages and save them to your own customizable flashcard decks with Rememberry. Translations  and pronunciations are via Google Translate. This is a relatively new extension, and mobile apps and offline use are in the works.

Google Translate

Of course, Google Translate has their own Chrome extension that makes it easy to quickly look up a translation. With the Google Translate extension, you highlight a word to get the translation (and pronunciation, if available). Clicking on More will take you directly to the translate.google.com page.

Google Translate Chrome Extension

Google Translate Chrome Extension

 

Overall, I prefer to use Readlang because of the minimalist interface and the fact that the entire sentence is automatically saved. Sometimes I just use Google Translate if I’m not interested in saving words to flashcard decks. If you already use Mango Languages often, then their web reader might be a better option so you can save your word lists to your existing account.

Any others?

Are there other Chrome extensions for learning languages that you recommend? Let me know!

[Post updated in April 2017 replacing Rememberry with the now-defunct lingua.ly extension.]

Topic vs. Frequency in Vocabulary Learning

Teachers and learners of languages, I am looking for your input in the topic vs. frequency debate. Almost all textbooks and coursebooks introduce vocabulary in chapter topics or themes such as food, clothing, transportation, etc.  These related words are often used to fill in the slots of functional phrases, which a lot of current books are based on thanks to the  popularity of the communicative approach. For example, one of the chapters in the French textbook that I use in my class combines the functions of offering, accepting and refusing with the topic of drinks. So students are expected to memorize the question Voulez-vous boire un/e ____ ? and the vocabulary list is full of nouns such as un verre de lait, une tasse de thé, un coca, un chocolat chaud, etc. (The conjugation of vouloir is not actually taught in this or any preceding chapters.)

The problems with presenting vocabulary like this, however, is that it goes against vocabulary acquisition research. Many researchers have argued that grouping vocabulary into topics (and therefore semantic sets) actually hinders acquisition and confuses the students more. The topics tend to represent concrete concepts as well and can easily be illustrated in the chapters with pictures or photographs – which consequently leaves out abstract ideas. Plus words grouped according to topic mean that the words are not grouped according to frequency, which is the most important criterion for selecting vocabulary to teach/learn first.  Of course, frequency is not the only criterion, but it should be the starting point for vocabulary selection.

Learn opposites together = forever confused

If frequency is supported by research and topic is not, then why do all textbooks teach vocabulary based on topic? Is it because it easier to write textbooks in this way? Is it easier for the instructor to teach in this way? Is it considered less boring and more engaging for students to learn in this manner even if it goes against vocabulary acquisition research?

I’ve heard arguments that students should learn vocabulary in topics so they can talk about them right away, but that doesn’t make sense if the students don’t even have the basic vocabulary needed to construct sentences. Even if you learn all the articles of clothing, what exactly can you say about them? How can you have conversations about clothes if all you know if a list of nouns? In my class’s textbook, students learn to say Je porte un/e ___ and then some adjectives to describe the clothes. I really don’t see how that is going to help them communicate in the real world.

It seems to me that it’s more of a classroom vs. real world debate. We want students to be able to use the language as soon as possible, even if that means teaching things that will only ever be used inside the classroom. But isn’t it our job as educators to prepare students as much as possible for the future when they will leave our classrooms? Or are we simply just trying to make sure they don’t fall asleep in class?

I’ m not saying that students should just learn the 2,000 most frequent words of a language in sequential order. That would be rather boring and frustrating. But there is a much better way of presenting vocabulary – the most frequent words among a few topics presented in story format, for example – that textbook authors keep resisting. And I want to know why! Is it because the textbook publishing industry does not want to change and try something new (for fear of losing money)? Is it because too many people think it’s more logical to learn vocabulary in semantic sets regardless of what research says? Personally I feel it is much more logical to learn the words that you are most likely to encounter, i.e. the most frequent words. Even if there are problems with frequency – such as, what texts were used in the corpus to generate the frequency data? – it is actually supported by research, and that is what is most important to me.

How many first year French students do you think really need to learn the words arc-boutant (flying buttress) or fluocompacte (energy-saving) but not tel (such), également (also), soit (either…or), mener (to lead), appartenir (to belong to), atteindre (to reach), entier (whole), moindre (least), or intérêt (interest)? These are all words that are not taught in the active vocabulary lists of ANY of the 12 first year textbooks that I am analyzing and they are all ranked among the top 500 most frequent words in French.

So what do you think?

English and “Correct” Words in French

L’Académie française has once again called for more “defense” of the French language against incorrect use of the language, especially with regards to Anglicisms. I do not agree with l’Académie’s prescriptivist ideas on vocabulary use and trying to force the formal (often written) language onto the spoken form. It is one thing to determine if a sentence is grammatically correct concerning function words, verb conjugations, word order, etc. but it is completely different to proclaim that certain content words are incorrect since vocabulary choice is highly dependent on the topic, context, medium (speech/writing) and audience. As long as the meaning of the words are similar (such as formal vs. informal variants), there is no correct or incorrect use of a word over another. It is merely what is appropriate or not to that particular situation. Saying “Hey, what’s up?” to the president is not incorrect – because that would imply that it would never be used at all by native speakers, when in fact it is used quite often – but it is inappropriate to use an informal variant in a formal situation.

Telegraph has a recent article on L’Académie’s fight against English words in French. Their website includes a new page called “Dire, Ne pas dire” which includes les fautes, les tics de langage et les ridicules qui s’observent le plus fréquemment dans le français contemporain. Jean-Matthieu Pasqualini of the Académie said “We want to restore courage to all those in France and outside France who endeavour to defend and enrich the language. Let French remain a great language of communication and culture.” But what does he mean by enrich? Claiming that some words in contemporary French (that aren’t even Anglicisms) are absurd or wrong doesn’t exactly seem like a good start.

France’s culture ministry also has a new website for people to propose French words in place of the borrowed English words at wikilf.culture.fr which states “il ne s’agit nullement de déclarer la guerre aux mots étrangers, anglais en particulier, qui sont passés dans la langue courante – pas question de toucher au week-end et au sandwich – mais d’anticiper l’utilité d’un terme étranger qui pourrait s’installer en français.” (Telegraph’s translation: “This is in no way about declaring war on foreign terms, English in particular, that have entered into common usage like sandwich or weekend. It is about anticipating the usefulness of a foreign term that could be settling into the French language.”) While I’m happy to see that they acknowledge the natural state of constant evolution and change that occurs in all human languages, the fact that they are trying to propose French translations for Anglicisms that have yet to become so entrenched in the language seems a bit suspect. There is nothing wrong with wanting to use the French translations, of course, but why is it considered ok to use sandwich and week-end but not casting or email? Just because sandwich and week-end have been used in French for longer, that somehow makes them more acceptable?

I know I have expressed my annoyance at the use of English words in French in the past, but I am not frustrated because of the existence of the borrowings, which are natural and normal in any language. I am frustrated that language learning materials do not include the borrowings or other aspects of contemporary French vocabulary. They only tend to include the standardized form of the language, or what people should say (dictated by l’Académie) instead of what people actually say, which is not useful for students who need to comprehend the various dialects and styles and which leaves them with an inaccurate and stereotypical portrayal of the French language.

Another reason that resistance to borrowings is a bit unreasonable is that certain words in English are actually borrowings from old French, which then have later been re-borrowed back into French in the newer Anglicized form. Toast in English comes from old French toster, whereas modern French stopped using toster in favor of pain grillé, but has also borrowed toast from modern English. So is le toast really an Anglicism if it was originally French?

Are you French or English, Mr. Toast?

When it comes to Anglicisms, many people like to point out that Quebecois French has more English borrowings than French in France (which isn’t true) to justify their prejudiced view that Quebecois French isn’t “real” French. That’s just as ridiculous as saying American English isn’t real English or Mexican Spanish isn’t real Spanish simply because it is not spoken in the “mother country” where the language originated. I do not understand the colonialistic attitudes about language use, just as I do not understand why some people make a connection between the older form of a language and a supposed superiority of the variety that is closest to the old form. A dialect that is more conservative with change is somehow more desirable than the others, yet many people believe that the mother country dialect is also the most conservative which is not true. Quebecois French contains many aspects of Old French that speakers in France no longer use, which some wrongly assume are Anglicisms when in fact they are Old French.

In Quebecois, Belgian and Swiss French the three meals of the day are le déjeuner, le dîner, and le souper whereas most areas of France nowadays use le petit déjeuner, le déjeuner and le dîner.* Quebec French did not borrow le souper from English supper; English borrowed it from Old French soper which turned into souper in modern French. In France, le souper is another meal even later than dinner and is usually associated with rural areas or an older generation. The words dinner and supper in English have also changed meaning somewhat over time. In my dialect of English, dinner and supper are synonyms for the evening meal, but in other forms of English, dinner is the midday meal (instead of lunch) and supper is the evening meal (instead of dinner) so the older French, current Quebec and English meals were parallels at one time: déjeuner = breakfast (dé + jeûne: undo or break fast), dîner = dinner and souper = supper.

Wordreference.com has a thread on the names of the meals where native speakers contribute what they say in their region. Looking at posts #2 and #6, you can see how far the idea of bon usage and correct French (i.e. what l’Académie says is correct) has spread. I quote from the forum:

De manière correcte et quelles que soient les régions de France :
on déjeune à midi
on dîne ou on soupe le soir (plus utilisé en milieu rural)

and the post that made me nearly cry, which refers to the above post:

Tout-à-fait d’accord. Mais chez nous (sud-est), on continue à parler de “dîner” à midi. Chez moi, quand j’étais petite, on se simplifiait encore plus la vie : dîner, midi et soir . Le “déjeuner” c’était le petit déj’. Quand je suis sortie dans le monde, j’ai été très étonnée qu’on l’appelle “petit” !

Maintenant, grâce aux médias, la langue s’uniformise et on respecte de plus en plus le bon usage français.

I wonder if the millions of people in France who don’t use déjeuner and dîner in the same manner as the first poster know that they do not speak “correct” French. As for the second poster, I feel sorry that she thinks that her native dialect is not correct while at the same time praising the effects of standardization, which lead to her dialect being considered incorrect in the first place.

These are issues of geographic variation, but using one word instead of the other is not incorrect. Compare the use of pop vs. soda vs. coke in the US. I’m from Michigan so I say pop, but I don’t consider the use of soda or coke to be wrong or incorrect. They are simply different ways of saying the same thing depending on where you are from or where you are currently located. All dialects of a language should be seen as equals but the standardized form used in most writing, and which is generally based on the upper classes, is often considered the only correct variety. There is a place for the standardized form, especially for communication purposes and even teaching students how to produce language, but the other varieties are also just as valid as human languages and should not be reduced to incorrect deviations of the prestige form.

* Even more confusing is the spoken/informal use of déjeuner to mean “to eat breakfast” even in areas where the three meals are le petit déjeuner, le déjeuner and le dîner!