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November 2017

A Technology Update for Language Learners

Using modern technology to speed up language learning

Much is said about apps and software dedicated to helping language learners achieve their goals, but we need to constantly revisit advancements to remember just how much we can achieve with the devices we already own. Most of the time, these services are already included or are free for download. It’s only a matter of knowing what to look for. Others are newer technologies that may be commonplace soon. Today we’ll take a look at updates to language learning technology that can aid learners greatly.

Real-time audio translation


Google's Pixel Buds are new headphones that can translate languages in real time, much like having a personal translator. For example, if you're ordering at a restaurant in France, the headphones can utilise your phone's speaker to pick up the waiter's speech, translating from French to your native language in real time, playing the translation in your ear. You can then speak into your phone in your native language and play the French translation for the waiter.

While this is designed for communicative purposes, the headphones can serve language learners by acting as quick translators for unknown words and phrases. Imagine having trouble reading a particular text in a book. You could read it out loud and hear the translation in your native language instantaneously. It’s much faster and less tiring than using a dictionary. The Pixel Buds currently support as many as 40 languages.

A dictionary for everything

Most users are familiar with dictionaries in their mobile phones. For example, iOS users can highlight a word and select “Look Up” to see a definition of the word. This is a feature that can be used in many apps, within emails, and while browsing webpages. For language learners, what’s especially useful is the ability to add foreign language dictionaries to your smartphone’s utilities. Continuing with iOS as the example, including a foreign language dictionary will give you definitions for searched words not only in your smartphone’s native language, but also in your target language. Working the other way, you are able to also look up definitions for words in your target language when reading foreign text.

A particularly useful practice for intermediate students is to use a monolingual dictionary that only utilises the target language. For example, an intermediate student in Russian who speaks English should use a Russian-Russian dictionary, rather than a Russian-English dictionary. Getting the definitions in Russian will further aid language learning.

A picture says a thousand words


We often forget how powerful Google Translate can be as a free service. While mostly used for translating simple text, newer features allow users to draw characters (useful for languages like Mandarin and Japanese), audio translation, and even image translation. Users can take photos of lines of text and have the app translate for them. With the multiple input formats, you can translate virtually anything, especially since it supports over 100 languages. Offline translation file downloads also allow users to utilize the app without an Internet connection.

Becoming an e-book worm

Many readers prefer physical books to e-books; it’s generally more satisfying holding a book and flipping its pages. But reading e-books isn’t just good for the environment, it’s also a great way to learn a language. Reading foreign text can be difficult because, for many language learners, it requires the reader to constantly look up definitions for unknown words. This is where e-books shine. With digital text, readers can highlight words and translate them immediately, utilising downloaded foreign language dictionaries. This is possible, for example, on e-book readers like the Kindle Paperwhite, where just a touch of the screen can yield a translation. Check to see if your preferred e-book reader can support foreign language dictionaries and give it a shot. It might make reading more fun, which will, in turn, help you read and learn more.

What are your favorite technology hacks for learning a new language? Let us know on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on language learning tips.

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