Join_list

 

Technology for Learning Spanish

The Internet celebrated its 25th birthday in 2014. Today's computers and mobile devices offer abundant tools for learning Spanish, so much so that it is challenging to find the gems in a sea of options. And, things are changing so fast that it's hard to keep up! On this page you'll find write-ups about some great tools for learning Spanish, as well as new technologies with broader application. We've done the research so you don't have to.


Learning Spanish with Netflix

Things have changed a lot at Spanish in Waterbury Center since we began in 2007, the same year that the iPhone came out. Advances in technology have allowed us to do things that just weren't possible a few years ago. One example is the use of Netflix streaming content as a language learning tool. We're not talking about how-to language videos, but great movie and series content with Spanish dialogue.

Before we explain further, let's be clear about three over-arching facts:

  1. The best way to learn a new language is by interacting with a real, live teacher;
  2. Use of a computer program alone is not an effective way to acquire a language; and
  3. A good teacher will use a variety of teaching approaches, enhanced by technology.

Netflix

The computerized devices we have today and often carry around in our pockets provide some excellent tools for learning and practice, both in and outside the classroom. One of the tools we use upper level classes involves Spanish language content streamed on Netflix. In general, students watch at home and then we follow up in the classroom with conversation and related lessons.

Not too many years ago, online content audio/video content that could be used for learning Spanish was quite limited. Then came streaming Netflix with an ever-growing amount of very good Spanish language content. What makes this so useful as part of a language learning program?

Netflix is a great language learning tool that our students really enjoy.

You may also be interested in these SWC articles:
Can Siri Teach Spanish?  and  Have Fun Learning Spanish with Movies

▲ Back to top

Spanish Accents on Your Computer or Mobile Device

Whether you're typing on your es keyboardcomputer or sending an email on your mobile device, you need accents and the letter ñ to write in Spanish. And if you're a student of Spanish, you really should use the accents so that you'll learn the words correctly. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to add Spanish keyboards to whatever device you have. Haven't done it yet? No problem, check out our free how-to guide for Windows, Apple OS X, iOS and Android.

▲ Back to top

Is the Gboard Keyboard Bilingual?

In 2016, Google released "Gboard" which is more than just a rebranding of its Google mobile keyboard application. Gboard has a lot of nice features, such as "Glide Typing" (like Swype or Swiftkey) and built-in search, that are worth checking out. But what makes Gboard interesting to language learners is Gboard's "bilingual" ability. SWC has tested this on both Android and iOS. The question is, "can you freely switch between English and Spanish without changing the keyboard? Well, almost. Let's assume that you've already gone to the Gboard settings and added languages so that you have both English and Spanish. On Android, you'll then have the EN•ES and ES•EN keyboards, as shown on the spacebar. The first language is the default. You can switch languages without changing the keyboard, but not without some glitches. Gboard will recognize your change but it'll take it a word or two. If you switch, don't use glide typing until Gboard can see you've changed languages. Aside from that, it works.

On iOS, you will also have both keyboards; the spacebar in English will say "space" whereas the Spanish keyboard will say "espacio" and you'll also see the ñ key. It kinda works the same as with Android but seems more confused by language switches when you stay with the same keyboard.

So what's the bottom line? Gboard on Android is nearly "bilingual" and between this and its other features, it's an improvement. It's also a very good iOS keyboard but if you're using two languages together, it might just be better to just change keyboards rather than deal with the language swap errors. In any case, you should have a Spanish keyboard on your mobile device and you should be writing in Spanish as much as you can! gboard

▲ Back to top

Can Siri Teach Spanish?

It’s easy to find Internet ads promising you can learn Spanish in 10 days or for that matter in 10 minutes with the latest CD or online video. While misleading, these claims are probably just products of an overzealous marketing. The fact is that computer programs and online tools cannot do what a real teacher does. Not by a long shot.

We met Siri in 2011, when Apple introduced her as the amiable, multi-lingual digital assistant that you can talk with on the iPhone 4S. Apple tells us “Siri not only understands what you say, it’s smart enough to know what you mean.” Well, can Siri teaching a language class?

Digital technology is advancing at an exponential rate. It’s not too far fetched to imagine a reasonably interactive digital teacher in a tablet or smartphone not too many years from now. After all, Siri can engage in some fairly complex communication. Google is experimenting with self-driving cars. The power of today’s smartphone exceeds that of the best computers in existence around the time when some of us were born. What’s next? Can you imagine saying, “Siri, please teach me about the past tenses”? siriVoice recognition software is now pretty good. Computer voice generators can now sound like your own voice. Google Translator can translate what you say but is still simplistic and inaccurate. Languages have a lot of expressions and structural differences that make machine translation difficult. Computers are very good at keeping track of lots of information and following patterns, but they have a tough time dealing with unpredictable situations. And their intuition and creativity are just more pattern-based analyses. They can’t tell jokes nor understand them. They can’t read a student’s facial expression. They can't adjust on the fly in a teaching situation.

We can expect a very clever Siri in another 10 years. She may be ok with translations, but she won't be able to teach you Spanish worth a damn. Why not? What do real, live teachers have that computers can’t match? They can exude an appealing, humorous, empathetic personality. They can sense if students are “getting it” or not and adjust on the fly. They can be creative. They can communicate with body language. They can nurture and transmit passion. They can connect personally with students. If you are making mistakes, they can help you understand the error and teach you how to get on the right track.

Today’s technology provides some great support tools for teachers and students, but perhaps there’s a good reason why schools still use real teachers. Just ask someone who’s tried those expensive CD sets, “how’s that working for you?”

▲ Back to top

Translation Apps – Quick & Simple

Smartphones and tablets can provide a host of tools to help you learn Spanish. Now that the Apple and Google app stores have more than a million apps each, it’s not easy to find the best ones. iTranslateThere are a lot of apps that are essentially Spanish<>English dictionaries; some are quite good and list multiple meanings of a word along with usage examples. However, dictionary apps generally can’t translate a phrase. Here are two free apps that are simple, uncluttered and can translate both words and phrases: iTranslate and Google Translate for mobile. These apps are similar; both are pretty fast and good for a quick look-up in class. Here’s the scoop on each. However, keep in mind that computer translators can be helpful but are not completely reliable. The translations range from correct to unintelligibly incorrect. They do best with words and simple phrases.

iTranslate (iOS, Android)
http://www.itranslateapp.com/

Google Translate for mobile (iOS, Android) http://www.google.com/intl/tr_ALL/mobile/translate/

▲ Back to top

Google Translate Gets an Update

On July 29, 2015 Google announced content and performance improvements in Google Translate (GT). Computer translation programs have not been particularly good but are slowly improving. So, we were curious to give GT another test. Before we share the results, here’s some background on the update. It included improvements not only in basic translation, but in conversational translation, instant reading and translation of signs and written documents, and app updates have already been pushed out to both Android and iOS. You can read Google’s announcement [link above] and check out the fun video called Google Translate vs. “La Bamba” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06olHmcJjS0
Para bailar La Bamba se necesita el Traductor de Google… jaja.

Part of the reason for the improvement is the Translate Community that Google launched a year ago, where multilingual people can provide and correct translations (somewhat like Duolingo, which also invites members of the public to help with translations).

We tested the live conversation mode for Spanish<>English. So, how did Google Translate do? The conversation mode worked OK most of the time for basic conversation. It’s useful with basic construction and tenses, but be prepared for some laughable mistakes. And if you don't speak clearly, it will misunderstand what you said and things go downhill from there. Go beyond the simple stuff and the translation will be messed up and be understandable only some of the time. And the subjunctive? Google Translate flunks on that; it just hasn’t learned much of it yet. We don't want to be too critical of Google's efforts at a formidable task. They've got a long ways to go but it's still pretty impressive.

Despite its limitations, the conversation mode has the potential to be quite helpful to travelers, especially if it will work without an Internet connection. As mentioned in the article above, the iPhone app won’t work without Internet. The Android version will now, but it’s noticeably worse. Unfortunately, we're afraid that you'll be disappointed in its offline performance.

A tip to students: do not use computer translation to do your homework, other than to look up words you may not know. Sentences created by such programs are quite recognizable, and it’s not because they are so well done!

▲ Back to top

Google Translate Disclaimer

Today a number of websites include a Google Translate button for quick access to page translation. While this is a useful tool, the fact is that online translation programs are often inaccurate. As a result, many websites that include the Google Translate button are also including a “Google Translate Disclaimer” that states things like "not all text may be translated correctly" and "you assume the risk of any inaccuracies, errors, or other problems encountered." But what is the real take-home message for language students? It's to recognize the limitations of these programs. They're better with vocabulary than sentences. And remember that teachers can generally tell when you use one of these programs for a writing assignment. Google Translate is not a substitute for language learning.

▲ Back to top

tDCS: 9-Volt Electric Learning

(updated 7/25/2016)

So you use a 9-volt battery to give your brain a twinge of electricity -- and learn better? Is this for real? Is it dangerous? I was really intrigued when I first heard about this topic on RadioLab. And the more I read online or saw in YouTube, the more fascinating it became. After all, a device that helps you learn more effectively sounds mighty tempting, right? Or is this just the latest whacko thing to show up on the Internet? No, there’s actually something to it.

What we’re talking about is transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcranial_direct-current_stimulation). Basically, it’s the application of a low level electrical current to two electrodes placed on specific areas of your head to stimulate nerve cell activity in your brain. You can buy a tDCS device online (for example: http://www.superspecificdevices.com/) tdcsor even make one yourself. They run off a regular 9-volt battery. While the medical use of tDCS is still largely in the research phase, there are quite a few do-it-yourselfers (DIY) experimenting with it. The website http://www.diytdcs.com/ contains impressive lists of articles, posts and peer reviewed research paper summaries.

Is experimenting with tDCS risky? While I’m inclined to think that applying electricity to affect your brain might not be a good idea, it seems that quite a few doctors and scientists say that its proper use is safe. Some neurologists warn that trying brain simulation at home is not the same as a research lab study and is not safe. There is also disagreement over are its benefits.

Can it improve learning? It sometimes seems to help; it’s currently hard to say more than that. A lot of the testimonials really do not prove anything as they are not controlled scientific tests and may be nothing more than placebo effects. There have been some scientific studies and more are underway. However, at this time it seems that the jury is still out as to the value of tDCS.

No, we don’t have a tDCS device you can try at SWC. Whether we’re talking about tDCS or the latest ‘miracle’ language learning product, is there really any quick shortcut for learning a new language? Or do you still have to put in your time? We think you know the answer.

▲ Back to top

A Wearable for Brain Stimulation

You can now buy a wearable device which uses neurosignaling to shift your mood from calm to energy on demand. Attach it to your head, control it with an app and send signals to your brain. Wow, does it really work?

thyncOn June 2, 2015 a startup called Thync announced a limited public release of its mood-changing wearable device. Developed by a team of neuroscientists and engineers, it attaches to your head and sends electrical impulses to your brain. This is like having control knobs to adjust your brain energy settings – but using an iPhone app instead of knobs. Nice!

Early in 2015 we wrote about transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) devices that some people are using to stimulate brain nerve cell activity (see article above). While supported by some medical research, the major use of tDCS thus far has been by do-it-yourselfers. In contrast, Thync’s device is the kind of polished product we see from Apple; it’s attractive (at least if you’re a Borg drone) 7of9and is controlled via a smartphone app (iOS, Android). One of the website models even resembles the Star Trek Borg character Seven of Nine, who also sports a wearable on her temple.

Why are we writing about brain gadgets? As with tDCS, our question is, “can this device help you learn Spanish more effectively?” Thync indicates that their device's Energy Vibe makes users feel mentally alert, focused, energized and motivated to be active and accomplish something. The website is impressive and explains that the device is the result of extensive scientific research. It appears to be safe, but does it work? Some people who have tried it report that it does, but it's so new that test reviews are few. If you'd like to find out for yourself, the device is available for $199 (7/2016), which is $100 less than the original release price.

▲ Back to top

tDCS for the Masses?

(updated 7/28/2016)

Reading about tDCS is enough to pique one's curiosity. The state of the knowledge about these devices can be summarized as "It may or may not "work" and possible harmful effects are not known." Seems safe, so is it worth a try? What if the price is low enough?

Well, the recently-released (March 2016) "Foc.us Go Flow tDCS Brain Stimulator" costs $60 go flow for the tDCS device kit (the pre-order price was $20). They've done a nice job of packaging the electronics into a a simple, affordable device. Would you like to try out the Go Flow at SWC? Sorry, we do not have one, but let us know how you make out if you get one! We're still watching from the sidelines. Price isn't the only consideration.

▲ Back to top

Cautions from Scientists about tDCS Brain Stimulation

(7/28/2016)

Perhaps you've read our other write-ups about the use of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to improve brain function. The technology is showing brain_regionsup more in the news, and two new devices have been released for sale since June, 2015. We've written about this because tDCS has the potential to help you learn Spanish. But, the fundamental questions remain. Does it work? Is it safe?

A group of doctors and scientists expressed concerns about the do-it-yourself use of tDCS, via an open letter published in the July, 2016 Annals of Neurology. They state that there is still a lot about tDCS that isn't known and stop just short of saying that its use falls into the "Don't try this at home" category. Here is a summary of their concerns.

▲ Back to top

Kindle for Your Spanish?

If you are learning Spanish, reading is one of the best ways to improve language proficiency (see Make Reading Part of Your Learning Strategy). Today more and more people are using e-readers, which offer some extra advantages over paper books if you are reading in Spanish as part of your learning program (see E-readers that Translate Spanish on the Page). kindle_appThe #1 advantage is that you can easily lookup a word and quickly get the definition in English or Spanish. One of the top e-readers is Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite ($119). You may be interested in reading Why Kindle Paperwhite is Perfect for Travelers, which appeared recently on the Airfarewatchdog.com blog. Of course, everybody has their own preferences when it comes to electronic devices. Tablets with 7-8 inch displays also make good e-readers and if you are going this route then you may want to check out our article Where should I buy my e-books? Or if you prefer the trustworthy paper book, that's fine; the important thing is that you read in Spanish.

▲ Back to top

E-readers that Translate Spanish on the Page

(Updated 08/24/2016)

If you’re learning Spanish, reading in Spanish is a great way to practice. (see "Make Reading Part of Your Learning Strategy"). Today, e-books can put quick translation at your fingertips. But how do you pick an e-reader that will give you quick and easy on-page translation of a word or phrase?

In the past, reading a book in Spanish was hindered by the need to dig around in a dictionary every time you needed to find the meaning of a word you didn’t recognize. The problem is that this really disrupts the flow of your reading, whereas not doing so means that you might not understand what you just read. Que pena (what a pain)!

Now there’s a better way and that’s using an e-book reader like the Amazon Kindle that enables quick and easy access to translation without exiting from what you’re reading. And, the Holy Grail is an e-book reader that allows you to touch a word or phrase and get rapid access to a translation in your native language…without exiting from what you’re reading. For this article, we’ll assume that’s English. There are options that require a quick exit to the Internet but when you’re reading, you want to minimize the interruption. You want the option to get the translation without leaving the page you’re reading (on-page translation). Not only that, you want to be able to translate a word or an entire phrase.

At this time, there are four choices for on-page translation:

1-Kindle e-reader. You can get a high resolution Amazon Kindle Paperwhite for $120 and easily set it up to do on-page translation from Spanish to English. It is basically only an e-reader, but it does this very well. It’s got a great screen you can read in sunlight or in a dark room, although there’s no color. You do need an Internet connection for the on-page translation to work. The current Paperwhite with high resolution (300 ppi) was released in 2015.

2-Kindle App for Apple iOS. When you buy e-books from Amazon, you can read them on any of your devices using the Kindle app. However, on-page translation was not available until the September, 2014 Kindle app 4.5 update for iOS. Read the details below.

3-Kindle App for Android. Almost the same as #2 above, it became available sometime during the past year. The current version of the Kindle App for Android works much like that for Apple iOS but still has a few drawbacks. Read the details below.

4-Google Play Books. If you get an e-book from the Google Play store, you can read it with the Google Play Books app that comes included on Android devices. It’s a nice e-reader and it supports on-page translation (Internet connection required). There is also a Google Play Books app available for iOS which means that you can use it on your iPhone or iPad. The on-page translation feature also works with the app.  A 7-inch tablet is lightweight and can function nicely as an e-reader and more.

That’s it. In all cases, the accuracy of the translation will vary but is usually decent.

This article is about on-page translation, but choosing the option that's right for you depends on other factors as well, such as:
What devices do you already own?
Do you already have a library of e-books and from which vendor?
Does your vendor have apps that will allow you to read your e-books on different kinds of devices (cross-platform capability)?
Which vendor has the best selection and best prices?
We will address these topics in upcoming articles.

▲ Back to top

Kindle App for Apple iOS Does On-Page Translation

(08/24/2016)kindle app

Kindle for iOS Version 4.5 became available in the Apple App Store in September, 2014. This is a key update if you are reading in more than one language because it offers on-page translation. Let’s say you are reading a book in Spanish on your Apple mobile device and would like to see the English definition for a word you don’t recognize. You want to be able to touch a word or phrase and get rapid access to the translation without exiting from what you’re reading. Leaving the page is just too disruptive to your reading flow.

Before this update, on-page translation was only available with the Kindle e-reader or e-books purchased from the Google Play store. If you purchased your e-book from Amazon and wanted to read it on your iPad, you could not get on-page translation. Now you can (you'll need to have iOS 7 or greater installed). As with the other on-page translators, an Internet connection is required. Amazon calls this feature the Smart Lookup Translation Card. Translations are provided by Bing.

How to get the translation:

  1. Open the Kindle App version 4.5 (or newer) on your Apple Mobile device running iOS 7 or newer.
  2. Open your e-book with text in Spanish.
  3. Touch and hold to select the word you want to look up. You can also select a phrase by moving the blue ‘grab points’. You will see a ‘card’ appear on the screen with the same-language Dictionary definition of your word. You need to select the starting language in the box on the card if it does not already match.
  4. Swipe this card to the left and a Wikipedia card will appear. This card will be your starting card if you selected a phrase instead of just a word.
  5. Swipe that to the left and the Translate card will appear. It should have the translation of your word or phrase, although you may need to select the target languages (Spanish > English) shown on the card.

Keep in mind that the translations are generally good but sometimes off the mark. That’s the nature of languages and computer translation. And they are generally not as good as what you'll get on a Kindle e-reader with a good Spanish or Spanish-English dictionary installed.

More about the Dictionary card: This card has a box in the lower left where you can select a dictionary. Let's assume you are reading a book written in Spanish. This card says "No definition found" if you've selected a phrase rather than just a word. But if you select a word, you've got several dictionary options. If English is selected, you'll get an all-English dictionary response. Select Español and it'll all be in Spanish, which is a good thing if your skill level is high enough. No mental language switching or botched translations. There is also an option to there is an option to download a Spanish-English dictionary, which then adds the dictionary choice Spanish-English. This will provide you with an entry that looks much like what you'd find in a regular Spanish-English dictionary. And, all three all you to select "Full Definition" for an amplified dictionary-style entry.

▲ Back to top

Kindle App for Android Adds On-Page Translation

(08/24/2016)

Amazon added on-page translation to its Apple iOS Kindle App in 2014 but only recently provided a similar enhancement to its Android Kindle App.*  It works basically the same as described above for the Apple iOS App; the bottom line is that you can do on-page translation using the Translation Card.

There are however some shortcomings with the Dictionary card. If you're reading in Spanish, the Dictionary card will say "No definition found." You'll need to touch the "Change Dictionary" box on the card lower left and then select Español from the choices that appear. You'll then get a message about downloading this dictionary; go ahead and do so by pressing the round button with the circular arrow in it. In a few seconds the download will complete and you'll get a definition in Spanish along with the "Full Definition" option. Unfortunately, in our testing we found that we had to change the dictionary back from English to Spanish each time we looked up a word. And, turning off the device or closing the App required the Spanish dictionary to be downloaded all over again. These things lessen the usefulness of the Dictionary card, but the Translation card is the main thing.

*Tested with Kindle App 7.1.0 and Android version 6.01.

▲ Back to top

How can I add an e-book to my Kindle library?

Did you know that you can add e-books to your Kindle library even if you didn't buy them from Amazon? Perhaps you've downloaded e-books to your computer or mobile device, it's just that putting them in your Kindle library is a little tricky. Don't worry, it can be done relatively easily as long as the e-book or article is in either the native Kindle format (.mobi) or PDF format. The easiest way to do this is to email the book to your Kindle. You can find instructions for how to do this at either of the following websites:
https://askleo.com/how-do-i-get-a-mobi-ebook-onto-my-kindle/

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2484180,00.asp

And...

  • You don't need to have content a Kindle e-reader; you can use the free Kindle app to read e-books on your Apple or Android mobile device, or Windows PC.

  • PDF e-books can be automatically converted to the Kindle format, as described in the references above, for use with your Kindle or Kindle app. Or you can read them as-is with some other e-book readers such as Aldiko or various free PDF document readers.

  • Amazon allows you to set up a Family Library and share your e-books with others in your household. Read About Family Library to find out more.

  • There are a number of places you can get free e-books; some are mentioned in the references. For our students and friends that enjoy reading books in the Spanish language, the following website includes 80 ebooks that you can legally download without charge. The website also has other content of interest. http://www.oyejuanjo.com/2016/03/libros-gratis-pdf-mujeres-escritoras.html

▲ Back to top

Where should I buy my e-books?

More and more people today are going digital and reading books on their e-reader (such as Kindle) or tablet (such as iPad). Maybe you've already purchased such a device or are thinking about it. That's one choice, but another is "where should I buy my e-books?" Our last article talked about your options for e-readers that can translate Spanish without leaving the page you're reading. That's a great thing to have, but it's only one consideration in choosing where to buy your e-books. Most of you will be choosing among the major players and they are Amazon, Apple and Google. These guys not only sell the hardware devices, they sell the e-books too. Choosing your vendor depends in part whether you can read e-books from that vendor on the different kinds of mobile devices that you might own or use.

When you buy an e-book from them, it will probably be protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology. You do not "own" it, you have only purchased permission to use the e-book according to the seller's conditions. Among other things, this means that you cannot move you e-books between vendor libraries. They don't share, so you need to think about which source will work with which devices.

For example, you cannot buy an e-book from iTunes and then read it on your Amazon Kindle or Android tablet. You need to use your iDevice, such as your iPad. Similarly, the Kindle e-reader is just for books purchased at Amazon. You can however read your Amazon e-book on your iPad (or other iOS device) but you must use the Kindle app. The same goes for e-books you purchased from Google Play Books; you need to use the Google Play Books iOS app. If you have an Android device, your e-book choices are 1) Google Play Books, using the Android e-reader, or 2) Amazon using the Kindle Android app. There are places you can get DRM-free books (see http://www.defectivebydesign.org/guide/ebooks), some of them free (see http://www.gutenberg.org/) but these are not mainstream sources and have limited selections. Generally speaking, DRM-free books can be imported into other libraries and read on the many available third party e-reader apps. There are also ways to remove DRM from many formats so you can move your books, but this requires a lot of effort and may also be illegal. Amazon does a good job of making it easy to buy e-books from them. Amazon of course has the Kindle e-reader, and the Kindle app makes it possible to read their e-books on Apple, Android or Windows mobile devices as well. The only negative is that the Kindle app does not have on-page translation. If you buy your e-books from the Google Play store, you can read them on Apple and Android devices with on-page translation in both cases. We don't know if the same is true for Windows mobile devices. If you want to read using a Kindle, then go with Amazon as your e-book vendor. You'll also be able to read your books on any other device (cross-platform). If you love Apple and don't plan to step outside of that ecosystem, you can get your books at iTunes. Maybe they'll add on-page translation some day. If you're a fan of Android then you might want to get your books from the Google Play store and take advantage of the on-page translation. There's nothing wrong with buying from more than one vendor, just keep in mind that each has its own separate library and capabilities.

▲ Back to top

Memrise Wins 2017 Google Play Best App Award

(6/5/2017)

A while ago we did a write-up about the language learning app called Duolingo. Now it's time to mention Memrise, which won Google Play's best app award for 2017. Google did not provide the reasoning for their award picks, although a high star rating by users was one factor.

Memrise is a language learning platform that uses an advanced flashcard-like system with mnemonics and spaced repetition to help you memorize words and Memrise phrases. Mnemonics are techniques that help "stick" something in your brain for better recall, such as the use of images associated with words. Spaced repetition is a learning technique that involves the review of material at gradually increasing intervals spaced for better long-term retention. These techniques are not new nor unique to Memrise but they do help your brain to recognize something as important and remember it.

Available via its website and as apps for both iOS and Android, Memrise is free (in-app products are offered for purchase).

The "courses" available in Memrise, and there are many, are compiled by users from Memrise's flashcards and quizes. Some are very good while others could be better organized.

Many people find Memrise to be a fun and an effective way to learn vocabulary. However, there are no grammar explanations. This type of program can be a useful supplement to a more complete learning program with a teacher. For example, you can work on memorizing vocabulary outside of class, and focus in class on how the Spanish language works and how to use it.

Colombia Immersion wrote an article comparing and contrasting Duolingo and Memrise and concluded with the following advice: "If you’re looking for a companion to help you on your trip abroad, start with Duolingo to get a general feeling for the language and structure, but utilize Memrise’s proven methods for the real learning and memorization."

Will it work for you? You certainly can try it out and see.

▲ Back to top

Give Duolingo a Try

To make good progress learning Spanish, you need to practice between classes. Today there are many online tools that can supplement teacher instruction and provide fun practice opportunities. We suggest that you try the free language learning program Duolingo http://www.duolingo.com/duolingoYou can use it on your computer but we think it's even handier on your mobile device. Apps are available for Android and iOS (Apple). Named by Apple as a top free App of 2013 and by Google Play as one of the "Best of the Best" 2013.

Duolingo can even send you optional daily study reminders; you can turn them off although it's probably better to see that reminder: "Learning a language requires practice every day."  Try sneaking in 10-15 minutes with this App daily and see what you think!  It won't replace teachers but can be a fun addition to your learning program.

Read Wikipedia's article about Duolingo  or listen to the TED talk by the man who came up with the concept, Luis von Ahn.

The Duolingo website has a lot of discussion comments about Rosetta Stone, for those interested in that program.

▲ Back to top

Try FluentU Too?

(9/8/2015)

The best way to successfully learn Spanish is to supplement your SWC classes with extra learning activities outside of the classroom. We’ve suggested a range of ways you can do this, such as watching movies with Spanish subtitles, reading in Spanish, and practicing with mobile apps. (see our library of short articles, especially Immerse Yourself in Spanish the Easy Way.

One of our studentsfluentu told us about the FluentU app, which uses video to help you learn. It’s pretty cool and engaging. First, select your level (6 choices from newbie to advanced). You’ll then view a video and at your option, also simultaneous bilingual subtitles. There’s also a hover-over dictionary for works you don’t know. And the video library isn’t a bunch of boring educational clips, but real world content from all over the place that fits and is fun. This is the main value of FluentU – a library of videos that have been transcribed, translated and subtitled. Some suggest listening to a video a number of times with any subtitles. Then, add them just in your target language. Finally, also add the English. You’ll pick up more and more with each repetition. Also included is a flashcard center that uses the vocabulary from the videos you’re working with. The vocabulary is kept with the full sentences so you’ll have the context. Nice.

You must register to use FluentU. The app/program is free, along with limited content of about 100 video clips. Paid subscriptions give you access to more content. Available for iOS, Mac and PC. Android app still in development. The iPad version came out on August 18, 2015.

This app provides a practice supplement to your classwork. No tests or exercises are included. You may also want to try Duolingo (read our article about it). SWC has no financial or business connection with any of these products.

▲ Back to top

Read Your E-books at Super-Speed

A new technology will soon be available that claims to vastly increase your reading speed. Called Spritz (see http://www.spritzinc.com/), this technology works by focusing your eyes on one word at a time in an optimal location. The company states that 80% of the time spent in traditional reading is for eye movement, with only 20% for processing Spritzcontent. Spritz works by removing this eye movement so that your brain can focus and you can read much more rapidly. Spritz will enable reading speeds setting ranging from 250 to 1,000 word per minute. The company indicates that it takes only 5 minutes to learn to "spritz." Spritz plans to launch in April on the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone and the Gear 2 smartwatch. While it will work for emails, Spritz will not be available for e-books until the company can work out agreements with the likes of Amazon and other vendors. So if you want to try "spritzing" to read your e-books, you'll have to wait. If you want to try the demo, go to http://www.spritzinc.com/about/ and click the round button in the upper right that says "click to spritz." It's impressive. "Our testing shows that the retention levels when spritzing are at least as good as with traditional reading" according to the company. If Spritz works as claimed, it could be an amazing advance. But, can you really read for an extended period of time at a rapid, set pace? Commenters likened Spritz to reading with a gun to your head or staring at a strobe light, while others said "I can't wait to try spritzing!" It probably won't be long before we can try this out with some real reading.

▲ Back to top

Tech Brings New Verbs to Spanish

There are a lot of words that you will want to learn in Spanish around the subject area of technology, for example:

file - el archivo
folder - la carpeta
browser - el navegador
computer - la computadora, el ordenador (Spain)
screen - la pantalla
keyboard - el teclado
download - descargar
password - la contraseña
printer - impresora
broadband - la banda ancha
Internet - la red
web page - la pagina web

However, a number of tech words of English origin have also been morphed into Spanish verbs, for the most part with the endings -ear and -uear. Some retain most of their English spelling while others have consonant changes that are more consistent with Spanish. Spanglish or not, these are now part of the Spanish language in use today by native speakers and illustrate the plasticity of language.

Learning these can be fun and easy and also help you practice you conjugations. Maybe you can think of some new ones yourself! Here is a list of some common examples:

bloguear
brickear
chatear
draguear
escanear
googlear-guglear
hackear
photoshopear
skypear
taguear
traquear
whatsappear

Can you understand the sentences below?
   -Ella está skypeando con su novio.
   -Alguien hackeó los datos de clientes de Target.

   -Una persona que escribe en un blog es un bloguero.

Want to see which words have been officially accepted as part of the Spanish language by the Real Academia Española? You can look up your word of choice at http://www.rae.es/recursos/diccionarios/drae

▲ Back to top

Real-time Language Translation with Skype

Update: On 12/15/2014, Microsoft released a preview version of Skype Translator for English and Spanish audiences. You can sign up at http://www.skype.com/en/translator-preview/ and give it a try.
Reminiscent of the Star Trek Universal Translator, this is a still-in-development roll-out that Microsoft calls "an exciting journey to a new chapter in communication." translatorIt's fast, rough and far from perfect. It uses machine learning that should enable it to improve with time. And it's a new technology that we will be watching advance. Let's see how it goes.

Writing for matadornetwork.com, Katka Lapelosa states, "What I’d rather see is a greater emphasis on Americans to learn a second language. The cognitive benefits of learning a second language go beyond just communication skills; the Skype Translator takes much of that development away. It might make it easier to communicate around the world, but what happens when an English speaker travels to a Spanish-speaking country?"

-------------------------------

On May 27, 2014 at the Code Conference in California, Microsoft announced and demonstrated Skype Translator, a new feature that will add real-time audio translation to its Skype video chatting service. Gurdeep Pall, Microsoft's corporate VP of Skype stated, "We’ve invested in speech recognition, automatic translation and machine learning technologies for more than a decade, and now they’re emerging as important components in this more personal computing era.” The program combines Skype voice and instant messaging technologies with Microsoft Translator and neural network-based speech recognition.

How good will it be? We know that online translators are not very accurate, to say the least, so Skype Translator will have to be way better to be a decent tool. And, it will have to understand people who often don't always speak as clearly as those on the demo. What can we be sure of? There is a demand for this kind of product, and computer translators will continue to improve. Online tools for learning a foreign language will too, but they won't replace real teachers. A real teacher can sense when you need help, can answer your questions, can help you get the pronunciation right, can adjust lessons on the fly, can get you excited about learning and can make you laugh.

▲ Back to top

Add the Word of the Day to Your Toolbox

If you're learning Spanish, frequent "contact" with the language is a good thing. This can take many forms, and it's always nice to add something quick and easy to your toolbox. SpanishDict is such a tool. We are going to cover only the smartphone app, although there is also a website.spanishdict The app includes an online translation tool, word game, lists of common phrases organized by topic area and our favorite, the word of the day. You can subscribe to receive a new Spanish word each day, along with its definition, usage examples and audio pronunciation. And, you can schedule when you want the notification, such as first thing in the morning. This is a simple thing and will sometimes include words you already know, but either way it's beneficial and takes next to no time out of your schedule.

You may also like the word game. You can set the difficulty level and test how well you can identify the meaning (multiple choice) of a series of Spanish words. And if you're traveling, the list of phrases is pretty complete. And for that matter, it's a pretty good for review even when you're not. You don't need an Internet connection to access the phrases, except for the audio.

Available for iOS and Android. It's free and you can remove the ads for $2.99. (02/17/2016)

▲ Back to top