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Language Immersion for Chrome - learn a new language while you browse (chrome.google.com)
135 points by alexholehouse on May 2, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments

Nice idea, but I don't like that's it's not written by a native speaker. You're bound to learn bad habits. Just spend less time on English sites and more time on sites in your target language wherever possible.

Two easy ways to immerse yourself with content created by native speakers in your target language:

1) Listen in your target language whenever possible (via audio books, movies, tv shows, and podcasts). I like podcasts best.

2) Read in your target language. Major news sites and blogs will most likely exist in your target language for free. And you maybe be able to buy books (fiction or non) written by native speakers as well.

You can supplement those two with working through exercises in a grammar book of your target language.

Obviously, if you have a native speaker to practice speaking with, do so, but the listening and reading suggestions alone will get you very far. I'm immersing in Spanish right now, and this is working well for me.

It's not about gaining perfection. It's about gaining vocabulary which is the single most important factor in language aquisition. If you pair it with a conversation group you should learn very rapidly indeed.

It certainly beats reading flash cards on my iPhone whilst sitting on the toilet, which was the previous cutting edge.

I'm liking http://memrise.com/ for vocab acquisition --- I've got the first 200 or so words of French in my long term memory and it seems to be working well. I've always found vocab learning to be the hardest part of learning a language, so we'll see I guess..

I'm learning A1 level French now and thought I would give this one a try. Put it on "novice" mode hoping to improve my vocabulary. The problem with it is that rather than translating nouns it ends up translating verbs. This is not really a good practice. For eg. "we will" gets translated to "nous allons". However, it's more important in this case to understand the verb conjugations of "aller"(to go) and how it is used in the future tense. Knowing that "we will" can be translated as "nous allons" is not useful - without the context.

One thing my French teacher keeps telling us is to not use a dictionary. Why is that? Because then everytime I try to speak/write in French I end up constructing the sentence in English and then translating it. This is a bad way of using a language. If I were to learn a language from scratch and independently, I can use it much better. Even though I'm not a native English speaker I'm able to think, write and speak in English without too much effort because inside my head I don't translate it from my mother tongue.

Putting the level of the extension on "fluent" seems to be useful. This translates entire sentences and thus gives me context. Even for an A1 level guy like me (novice) it's only useful on the "fluent" mode.

I'm a native french speaker and I tried the "intermediate" setting on a couple of english websites and was pleasantly surprised. I agree that most of the mistakes come from verbs, the times or person/gender are often wrong and sometimes the translation just doesn't make sense.

For instance I saw "tomber en amour" for "to fall in love", which is a literal translation but somewhat awkward. Even worse was "était due à arriver" for "was due to arrive"; once a gain a literal translation but this time the french version doesn't make any kind of sense.

So, definitely something to take with a grain of salt but still pretty useful IMO.

Maybe a more fool-proof approach would be to do it the other way around: have an extension that would translate most of a foreign website except for some words/expressions. This way the foreign language would always be correct (given the source is reliable enough, of course) and having mistakes in the automatically translated native language wouldn't be a problem.

You're assuming the average person using this is going to be as committed to learning a language as you. Maybe this isn't the tool that you go to when you decide to learn a language but it's an easy way to better yourself.

It's awesome that you're immersing yourself but I'm never going to do that unless my priorities change significantly. I installed this extension and now I'm going to learn some spanish words.

Would you mind sharing some of your resources?

I'm also looking for Spanish TV shows (on the Internet, since I don't own a TV), that have subtitles in Spanish as well. So far I only found them with English subtitles, but I guess they must exist in Spanish, too, for example for hearing impaired people.

If you haven't seen it already, check out Destinos. It's a soap opera written for Spanish language immersion for English speakers--the difficulty level goes up as the series goes along. (The first few episodes actually explain key plot points in English.)

As icing on the cake, the story is so engaging that I've seen native speakers watch it. :-)

If you live in the US, Hulu has added a crap ton of programs from Gala/Uni-vision and most of them seem to have spanish closed captioning. I don't know whats good but there's a lot to choose from.

I think this breaks down somewhat for languages that don't use phonetic characters, such as Mandarin and Japanese. It would take a long period of dedicated study before the average person could read media in these languages.

For Mandarin (not sure about Japanese), the plugin would definitely benefit from pin yin supplementation at the 'novice' level. Non-latin characters are difficult for people whose primary language is a language of Latin derivatives. But implement this, they would have to take Google's pre-existing translation tools and translate the translated text into pinyin using something like the Ruby on Chinese Pinyin tool (http://www.kawa.net/works/cantonese/canton.html).

But at the moment, the plugin seems to expect people to have prior knowledge of the language and its so-called immersion revolves around reading and literacy uptake. Pin yin is more for speaking/oral purposes so translating articles into phonetic characters is unconventional for languages that are not meant to be read in such a way.

Try Zhongwen Chinese-English Popup dictionary chrome extension. Simliar to Raikaikun for Japanese (above post). I've always found it really helpful :)


I'm pretty sure that Google Translate already supports Pinyin since it shows the pinyin on the dedicated translate.google.com page (click the pronunciation guide button after you translate something to Mandarin - it's the capital A with an umlaut).

I am just beginning to learn Japanese, and someone passed along a great site that takes a link to a kanji page and it adds kana to it. There's also a Firefox extension (Rikaichan) that provides kana in a tooltip when you mouse over kanji. Needless to say, this makes it easier.

links please?


I use it too.

I will mention that a long time ago, I had trouble with the dictionary file extensions being "incompatible" with new Firefox releases. They're just dictionaries, though, so I hacked them to make them stop. They might have fixed that by now.

The web site that adds hiragana to the kanji of a link you give: http://www.hiragana.jp/

I don't think so. You just may get used to read without repeating each word to yourself. It's actually even useful, skipping the phase when you internally match the word with its pronunciation, and directly understanding meaning from the written form. (AFAIR this technique is also used for speed reading.)

Although while this extension is a neat idea, it the word “Immersion” in its title is probably misleading. It only automatically translates select words and phrases from web page—while immersion, I believe, means not using any other language except the one you're learning.

Still, the extension might be useful to acquire some initial knowledge of the language prior to actual immersion.

Yeah, the fact that they named it 'immersion' makes it pretty misleading. My idea of immersion has always been using that language and only that language. The official definition of immersion is 'a method of teaching in a foreign language that involves exclusive use of the language'. The plugin's implementation is more like the opposite of immersion.

I'm still skeptical of people without prior knowledge of the language using this plugin because learning via computational translations is unnatural and detrimental to beginners who don't know any better. Beginners don't know when something has been translated wrongly or if that phrase is how a native would express it. This makes the plugin a little redundant, since their market would have to be people who are neither beginners nor completely fluent (since someone that is fluent can engage in actual immersion). The only instance where the plugin would be useful is for people with prior knowledge of the language (can read and write it to a certain extent) but would like to expand their vocabulary bank.

Do you have any recommendatinos for podcasts in spanish?

Anything by Radio Nacional de España, please take a look: http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/rne/

Also, there are two great shows aired by the same basque guy, "Ciudad K" and "Escepticos". Both of them are available for free viewing anywhere in the world (I am located in Brazil)

I love the idea - I've been looking for ways to try and "immerse" people in a new language without actually travelling for a while now.

I do have two worries about it, though. The first is that they seem to be using translations which aren't particularly accurate, which means its possible that if it works, you'll still end up sounding like a beginner.

The other worry is that the language you are learning is still embedded in your native language. I'm pretty sure this will not help with learning the grammar of words, and when you are constantly switching between your language and another language, it won't be very conducive to memorisation of the new language (from my own experience learning Japanese).

Its still a really neat idea though, and I wish the best to the creators.

I'm not sure si está working pero it's really entertaining to leer todo sus comments en espanglés.

This looks remarkably similar to Polyglot, which was released over a year ago: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1669162

It's interesting how many of the comments here are similar to the ones there.

Regarding the comments, as a fluent but somewhat lapsed Norwegian speaker I don't think this is necessarily a great way to learn sentence structure or grammar, HOWEVER, it's an amazing way to buff up on vocab.

Maybe "brush up" would be more appropriate than "learn". The main advantages I see are that;

a) It's pretty passive

b) You're likely to learn vocabulary related to areas of interest, or at least areas you read about (work related perhaps).

It might benefit from some gameification or stats perhaps (e.g. number of pages, number of words, range of words)...

This is beyond awesome for a few reasons. Historically, learning a new language was hard because it generally wasn't interesting.

This extensions allows you to browse the internet and specifically your interests while immersing you to a language...uh whoa. Half the reason I didn't like my language courses was the content and classroom was hardly stimulating or relevant to my interests; this changes that entirely.

A great model if we could apply it to education more broadly.

Back when I was an undergrad we used to play MUDs, which were a player-extendable cross between a MMORPG and a text adventure. It was a terrible time sink, but I'd always wondered if it would be a good tool for making foreign language learning more fun.

The technique I like to do is read the foreign language Wikipedia. I try to pick articles that exist in both languages. It helps to know the subject a bit so you aren't constantly flipping back and forth.

Sorry, your operating system is not supported just yet. The Chrome Web Store is available on Windows, Mac and Linux. Why don't you send yourself a reminder to try it out later?

Silly me for using Chrome on ICS.

This is amazing. Perfect way to practice a language and pick one up. Only problem I can see with it is that it wont have pronunciation. This is a problem for character languages like Mandarin. I'll be using it regardless though.

edit: Never mind, you can hear pronunciation as described by the post replying to me.

I wonder how they will manage to increase the reliability of the translations. It would also be interesting to be able to practice multiple languages at the same time.

- Roll-over a translated word to hear it pronounced.

I put it on intermediate spanish, it's interesting but it feels like it's doing literal, disjointed word translations which gets messed up with the different sentence structure.

The giant translating box is really annoying, it needs to be something much more discrete I think.

Thanks. Just found that feature. It was off by default for me.

This is an interesting idea but awkward to use. I am semi-literate in Chinese so I selected intermediate Chinese immersion. I like that the words can be reverted to the original language, but having these Chinese words littered amongst a sea of English words is odd and difficult to process. If you go through an article and you're met with a Chinese word, your brain can't immediately process the new language. The constant switching between languages when it comes to reading is quite cumbersome, even if it is for the sake of learning. This is particularly so for languages of different forms like English and Chinese. Words/phrases that are slang cannot be directly translatable, which is detrimental to beginners who do not know that it has been incorrectly translated. I think it is mildly useful for intermediate leaners trying to increase their vocabulary set but not for language immersion or introduction to a new language.

Turn it up to "fluent" and you'll get entire passages translated, which is more interesting I think.

But would you need to use the tool if you could read an entire passage in that language? If you were literate in that language, you could just go to a native newspaper website and read those articles (something which I cannot do). And I think a mildly fluent person would find translated passages hard to read, which is why I don't translate Chinese websites into English (aka Engrish). The only advantage the language immersion plugin has is the ability to hover over the passage if you don't understand what it means, but it's annoying to do if you just don't understand an individual word/phrase and the whole passage gets reverted to the original language.

I am a little annoyed, Esperanto is supported by the google translate API they cite (and say they support all languages on) yet it is not an option. I would love an immersion tool to help lean Esperanto (immersion is especially hard for Esperanto because of the small speaking population) I think I need to write my own version to spite them.

I'm working on this as a side project right now. I'm actually bypassing Google Translate and just doing it myself in the hopes of getting better quality output. Expect a release in a month or so. Ping me at colanderman@gmail.com if you're interested and I'll keep you in the loop.

I used to speak French. Since I still know the grammatical rules of the language, but have largely lost any vocabulary I once had, this is perfect. I've been using it for the last hour or so and words long-since forgotten are slowly coming back to me. I'll leave it enabled and see how things go.

Awesome idea, but it doesn't have Japanese. Got me excited for nothing. :/

English-Japanese machine translation is still very bad. I think a lot of people have worked on it, but the problem is inherently tough. Also, there is nothing like the hundreds of millions of words of corpora of example translations for machine learning that exist for European languages

I think the main problem is that Japanese requires a lot more context to make meaning clear than most languages. A translation of an English sentence can be pretty good just based on the context of the sentence itself. Japanese doesn't even indicate in any way who the subject of a sentence is. Lots of sentences don't even require a verb.

And it doesn't help that Japanese has a quirky preposition system that doesn't line up with other languages.

If it was limited to adjectives or nouns in Japanese it would still be incredibly useful (personally that's all I really wanted out of the extension). As you say, lots of sentences don't even require a verb, a well placed piece of vocabulary is everything (from my experience living here anyway).

This is a great solution to unobtrusively learn vocabulary while reading the things we're interested in. As others pointed it's weakness is clearly in how it handles sentence structure, but it seems reasonable to accept that it's just going to do one thing really well.

There's only one problem I see with learning vocabulary this way, you need a way to store what you've learned. I thought of one solution, you could drag and drop words into a box linked to your Quizlet (or a similar service) account.

Great Extension. Thanks!

I've seen similar extensions for Firefox for years - one or two that replace words on webpages with Mandarin/Japanese translations (and I think even allows you to replace only the ones you have on a wordlist - meaning that you can choose to revise words via browsing). I've always meant to use those extensions but never got around to.

Guess I won't be using this one since I don't use Chrome (I still find it a surprise to discover that most web developers actually use Chrome and not Firefox).

I think it's better to read a broken translation than a broken original source. That is: go to a foreign language site of your choice, then translate it into broken english.

I moved to Spain a couple of months ago and currently work for my company in London from a shared office in Granada. I may well be the perfect user of this plugin. I've already studied Michelle Thomas' course so I understand grammar etc. My problem now is purely vocab. I spend my working day on the web, reading page after page of english. This plugin is perfect! It means I can now be learning vocab while I'm working.

I totally had this idea 1 month ago. I was trying to get myself excited enough to go through with the implementation. And here it is...! A bittersweet moment indeed. :)

I'm going to keep this on for a while. My inlaws are visiting from abroad, so I need all the help I can get.

Very nice idea, I'm trying it at the moment but it seems not to speak the translation. English > Danish, anyone has the same problem and how to fix ?

I thought Google did away with the Translate API. Are you sneaking around this by loading it in a background page and simulating user interaction?

Seriously? Learning a language translated by Google Translate websites to watch? With ideas like this to run we are all dumber, not smarter.

This is very cool. Definitely giving it a shot.

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