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January 2015

Turn Your Smartphone Into a Language Partner

Turn your smartphone into a language partner with these tips and tricks!

Finding a language partner can be difficult, and without the consistent vocalization of the target language, muscle memory related to the quick delivery of words starts to slip. But did you know that you can turn your smartphone into a language learning resource that responds to your voice? It only takes a few setting changes to make this happen, and when you’re done, that tile that’s forever in your pocket can become your new best friend. Today we’ll take a look at some ways to turn your mobile into a valuable language resource.

Apps that translate words by vocal command

While WordReference is still king when it comes to translation and diving deep into the meanings of words, sometimes you need to input commands verbally (when driving or walking, perhaps). The first option is the most obvious: Google Translate. The app is powerful in that text can be inputted via one’s voice or by handwriting (extremely useful for languages like Mandarin and Russian). Simply click on the microphone icon and begin speaking. The translation appears soon after, and one can select the speaker icon to hear it aloud.

Another option is Speak & Translate, an app that translates whatever you say into your target language. It’s very intuitive to use, and translating back and forth between languages is really simple. Just tap the flag of the language’s country and say the word. While the app is free, it has a time limit and is loaded with ads. A premium version without ads or limitations exists for a fee.

Both of these apps are useful for inputting terms for translation without the need of typing them yourself. Unfortunately, you’ll still need to look at your phone screen to read the definition or to have the term repeated back to you aloud (no translating while driving). The ultimate solution follows below, but it’ll require some tweaking of your phone.

Change your Siri/Ok Google language

We’ve all dreamed at some point of having a robotic butler akin to J.A.R.V.I.S. in the Iron Man films (just shy of HAL from 2001) where our vocal commands are met with subservience. With Siri on iOS and Ok Google on Android phones, that reality is all the more closer. These tools provide users with an assistant that reacts to vocal commands at (literally) your beck and call.

Changing the language in which your virtual assistant interacts with you quickly turns your smartphone into a language partner. Speak to your phone in your target language and it will respond to you. Experiment with different commands and make note of the responses. Try having some fun and asking a few silly questions to see how your mobile reacts.

Note, however, that all contacts and apps will need to be vocalized as if they too were in your target language, making some actions more difficult. Additionally, sending messages in your native language will be near impossible, as your virtual assistant now specifically operates in your target language. In other words, if you actively use Siri/Ok Google for day-to-day purposes, this change may not be for you. However, if you’re like many who rarely activate these tools, this is a fun tweak that can help you better practice your target language.

Next step: install Lingual

For those of you who are also unafraid of jailbreaking your phone (hacking it, essentially, to access features normally not accessible), there is an application known as Lingual. The app accesses Microsoft Bing’s Translate API to translate whatever word you say into a chosen target language. This is immensely useful if you’re on the move.

How do you use your smartphone to better learn a new language? Let us know on Facebook and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on language learning tips and tricks.