Google Translation: (one of) the best language learning tools

They say there is no shortcut in learning a foreign language. I agree, after having bought 50+ "secret/dummies/24 hours" books and DVDs on this subject. After all, I learned a simple truth. The skills you acquire are directly proportional to the time you spend, which wasn't clearly mentioned in those learning materials.

We all equally have 24 hours a day, so the real strategy is to blend as much foreign language time as possible into our life. Doing what we do every day using a foreign language is one example. Doing our work and building our personal relationships in a foreign language are the two holy grails, but they belong to another topic. Here I talk about web surfing.

No matter how much we get addicted to visuals and audios, the bulk of internet interface is comprised of texts. Let's read them in a foreign language. News on on your favorite topics works best, because you already have the framework to understand the context. You can safely focus on the devils, the details. The following lists show various tricks (ha ha) I use for studying Spanish. For me, learning Mandarin Chinese is handled by working in a Taiwanese company with Taiwanese colleagues.

1. Change menu language in your computer

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This works in Mac but not in Windows. Set Spanish as the primary system language, and if the applications is compatible with Spanish, all menus will be displayed in Spanish. This technique is not for in-depth learning but works as a nice reminder and warm-ups if you are already in intermediate level. No computer restart or software installment is required: it just works on the spot.

2. Read exactly the same content in both English and Spanish

This technique yields the most grammatically accurate language comparison, but the scope is limited and is not applicable to dynamic contents such as newsfeeds (or more precisely, I haven't found one).

Take Nintendo's Iwata Asks (English) and Iwata Pregunta (Spanish) for example. This series of article tracks the in-depth interview conducted by the CEO of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, with key members of hardware/software development teams. They reveal a surprising amount of inside information, which is both entertaining and insightful and should be read by anybody who aspires to be a creator of any sort.

(Iwata asks in English)

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(Iwata Pregunta en español)

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3. Use Google translation (one word at a time)

The Google translation is a Godsend for lazy pals language learners. As an online dictionary, it has a great edge over other established, "standard" set of printed dictionaries. Google translation simply translates any word as what it means, especially verbs. The snapshots below show the obvious difference. Sure, there is no conjugation information nor example sentences. But it gives me exactly what I need: the meaning. I don't need a small reminder on the entry not being accurate (n or ñ) or a whole topic about the richness of verbs. I just need one or two of the most likely meanings, and Google translation does that job brilliantly.

(Google Translation)

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Yes, I meant one of the 500 variations of the verb anadir (yes, sorry, añadir) but I don't want to read through the entire conjugation list until I hit añadire.

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4. Use Google translation (side by side)

Copy a block of text into Google translation and compare it with the translated words side by side. This technique works best if the original text is in Spanish, but the opposite works quite well too, since Google's translation algorithm is fairly accurate and let's admit, we are here to catch a series of quick answers, not a precise lesson.

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5. Use Google translation (whole page translation)

When reading a long series of text, this technique works best. What we do here is to (1) copy the URL of the page which includes Spanish text, (2) Copy it into Google translation, and (3) Read the result in (60%) accurate English but with a captioned (100%) accurate Spanish (which appears when you hover your mouse over the translation). Get an overall meaning by reading the translated English text, and then read the original Spanish text to understand the real deal. The original images are mostly kept intact in the translation, so it won't be like reading an endless blocks of text, which is boring.

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These are focused on improving reading capabilities: for listening comprehension, I will write a separate entry.