Learn Languages with Chrome

Cloud Gate by Anca Mosolu

This isn't the chrome we mean, nor is it what we mean when we refer to 'The Cloud'...

No, not chrome the metal – Google Chrome. After I talked about using it to automatically translate pages you would normally view in your native language into your target language, several people have been asking how to do it. Enough people have asked that I decided to just make it into a quick how-to.

For those who have been living under rocks for the past year or two, Google Chrome is a web browser developed and released by Google. Personally, I’m fond of it. Not just because it’s fast, but because of all the handy little tricks you can make it do – at this point, I’ve almost completely been converted over from Firefox. You can get Google Chrome from Chrome’s download page.

Now that that’s taken care of, to make Google Chrome translate pages from your native tongue to your target one, open Chrome (derp) and go to the Options menu by clicking on the little picture of the wrench (spanner if you’re across the pond) and selecting Options.

The Options menu will open, and you then select Under the Hood.

Once you’ve done that, go to where it says Web Content and click on the button that reads Language and Spell-Checker Settings.

This opens a new menu where you can add and select new languages. Click on the Add button, and use the drop down menu that opens up to find your target language. Once you’ve found it, select it. After you’ve selected it, it will be added to your Languages list. Click Display Google Chrome in this Language and it will then prompt you to restart. Make sure you don’t have any important windows open (though Chrome will save them for you) and click Restart.

Congratulations! Chrome is now in your target language! Now, in addition to being able to learn all of the words relating to just operating Chrome, every time you visit a page in your native language, a bar will appear at the top of the screen asking if you wish to translate this page into your target language. All you have to do is click the word for ‘Yes’ (usually the one on the left) and Chrome will automatically translate everything it can on that page into your target language.

So to recap, that’s: Options>Under the Hood>Web Content>Language and Spell-Checker Settings>[Your target language]>Add>Restart (The button, not your computer).

Now, it is still important to seek out genuine, native speaker written content whenever you can. This is an automated translator and it is hardly perfect. That being said, Google Translate is one of my favorites as far as actually coming up with proper translations. If you want similar functionality, but just can’t bear the idea of changing your browser into all your target language (why not?), you can always go download the Google Translator Chrome extension.

Once it’s installed, it will add a little translate icon to the top of Chrome, which you can then click and have it translate the page you’re on into the language of your choosing. The best part about using either of these methods, is that when a page is translated you can hover over a word to see what it originally said. This is a fantastic way to let you read a little beyond your level in your target language, without needing to constantly reach for a dictionary or copy/paste into a translator.

Any other tricks you know to make Chrome (or any other browser) help you learn a language? Share them with us in the comments.

Learn to Write in Your Target Language Without Ever Studying

Hangul Street Sign by Camera on Autopilot

Learning a new writing system can be easier than you think.


So far I have learned to write in two syllabaries (Hiragana & Katakana) and two alphabets (Hangul & Cyrillic). That’s not counting English, German and Chinese since I learned English natively, the German is barely different from English’s and learning to write in a logography is an entirely different process. Mostly by accident, I approached the learning of each one in a completely different way and by doing so have figured out what the biggest roadblock is when trying to learn a new writing system.

Too much studying.

Hiragana and Katakana I learned almost entirely by traditional study. Cyrillic I learned with half study, half use and Hangul I learned entirely by use after trying to study it a year ago and failing. After my experiences with Hangul I realized that the harder I worked and the more I studied, the worse my gains were.

Hiragana / Katakana

I learned to write in Hiragana and Katakana in an environment that most people would think is the best you can get, a structured college course at a big university. Ironically, not only did it take the very longest to learn, but I still go blank on some of the Katakana at times. Since the textbook the professor selected used only Hiragana and Katakana after the first chapter, we spent the first two weeks of the class just learning the syllabaries.

Every lesson and all our homework for the first week consisted of essentially nothing but writing each character over, and over, and over, and over, and over again with the goal of memorizing them all. Can you guess how well that worked? Everyone did terribly.

By the end of the week, most people had only a halfway decent grasp of the characters. Nevertheless, our teacher kept going and we started on the first chapter. I kept up the memorization tactics, and tacked on the new homework on top of it. Being forced now to read and write in Hiragana, I noticed my recognition of the characters getting faster. I also noticed I was able to recall a lot more of them when I was writing. I chalked it up at the time to my continuation of the list writing, as well as making little flashcards for each character and studying them obsessively. Oddly enough, my Katakana recognition and production didn’t improve nearly as fast as my Hiragana.

Cyrillic

Fast forward a few years and you find me in a Russian class at the same university. Our professor tells us the first day that we have to learn how to read and write Cyrillic first, in both print and cursive, before we can get going on the textbook. I think I audibly sighed when she told us. Here we go again, weeks and weeks of memorization and repetition.

Figuring I’d get a head start, I dove into it as soon as I could. I made my flashcards and I started doing my list writing. Didn’t help a bit. I progressed just as slowly as my classmates, all of us moving at a rate dismally reminiscent of my previous experiences in my Japanese class.

Fed up with it, and not wanting to waste anymore time before learning what I really cared about, speaking Russian, I just skipped ahead and started going through the first chapter of the textbook on my own. It was slow, since I didn’t really know how to read Cyrillic, but I made it work by flipping back to the chart at the beginning of the book to remind myself of the sounds each character stood for. By the time I hit the end of the chapter, something interesting had happened.

I knew the Cyrillic alphabet.

While the rest of the class was still struggling terribly, I had ditched the idea of studying and had just started working on other things is which I was forced to use Cyrillic. I started to think I was on to something.

Hangul

Fast forward one more time, to just before I graduated. Caroline and I wanted to learn Korean, but the university we attended didn’t offer it anymore. We decided we would just study it on our own. After all, we’d been through enough language classes, we could figure it out as long as we had a proper textbook. One college level textbook on Korean later, we dove right in.

If I were continuing the pool metaphor, this would be the point where I realized it was empty, and I broke my spine from the fall.

I failed miserably at learning Hangul, let alone Korean. I had used all my old methods, repetition, flashcards, rote memorization. Yet by the end of it, I only knew the sounds of five or six of the letters – and even then I often got them mixed up. Feeling defeated, I pretty much gave up.

Fast forward again (last one, I promise) to this year. I find myself working as a waiter in a new Korean restaurant. I write down the orders I take in English, while everyone else writes them using Hangul. All of the notes and things they post are in Hangul (though they usually realize and put English under it a while afterward). I am essentially surrounded by Hangul.

I frequently find myself asking the other servers, the chefs and anyone else who speaks Korean to tell me what the Hangul says. After a few times of having my poor English handwriting read the wrong way, I pick a few dishes and learn how to write them copying the other servers, and start writing those few dishes in Hangul instead of English. Before long, without ever really studying what sound each letter represents, I find I can kind of figure new words out. Not long after that, and my Hangul is now better than my Katakana.

Applying What I Learned

I’ve said it several times already – the key to learning a new language is to practice it, not study it. That’s why I had such success with Hangul, and such failure with Katakana. The Hangul I was forced to use because of being at work so much. Katakana I studied a ton but, since Katakana words come up a lot less in Japanese than Hiragana words, I never got to use it all that much.

So rather than studying, start reading. Find a basic chart of what sound each character makes, and set it off to the side. Google should be able to find one for you, if not any good basic textbook for your target language should start with one. Once you have that chart set aside, find something in the target script to read.

Newspapers are good, since they’re easy to find online, but anything will work. Again, Google is your friend here. You can find lots of reading material by translating the word ‘news’ or any other topic of interest into your target language via Google Translate and pasting it into the search box.

It will be extremely slow going. At first, you’ll probably be spending equal time looking at what you’re trying to read, and the chart you set aside for help. That’s alright, before long you’ll be looking at the chart less and less. Pretty soon you won’t need it at all. Congratulations! You can now read in the script of your target language.

Once you have that down (or concurrently if you like) start learning to write some words in your target language using the native script. Using very common nouns is a good place to start. A good way to both learn the script and tie the new word in with its real world equivalent rather than its English translation is to carry a notepad around and write the word down every time you see that item. For example, every time you walk by the fridge, scribble down the word for refrigerator in your target script. It may not be the most practical, but it will definitely help you a ton.

Another way is to write words from English using the target script. This can be a little more difficult though if the target script contains characters for lots of sounds that just aren’t present in English.

So what are your thoughts? Have you had more success with immersion, studying, or a little bit of both?

How to Start Learning Any Language

Kanji by Chrissam42
If you’ve been through traditional language classes, you know how awful they tend to be. Chances are, unless you took measures outside of those classes to build up your ability, you barely speak the language that was being taught now that you’ve been out of the class for more than a year or two. I honestly think, in America anyway, that the poorly designed language classes we all go through are the main reason learning a new language is viewed as such a Herculean task.

The problem with these classes is they teach a second language like it’s just about knowledge. It’s treated the same way a history or math test might be. You’re asked to memorize and digest information and rules, and then regurgitate that information onto a test or vocally from time to time. As I mentioned previously when posting about the method I’m using for my language learning challenge, speaking a new language is a skill.

You don’t get to be a very good archer spending 90% of your time reading books on archery, memorizing techniques and watching other people shoot. Nor would you learn to be a very good swimmer reading books about swimming and watching other people swim to study their technique. Sure, those things might help. If you really want to get good though, you have to go out and do it.

For languages, that means ditching all those lessons and just getting out there to chat with some native speakers.

You may be saying, ‘That sounds great, but I don’t speak a single word of [target language]. How do you expect me to go talk to people in it?’

Obviously you can’t just go out and have conversations with people in your target language if you’ve just started learning, if you could do that you wouldn’t need to learn. You have to start somewhere. So I’ve compiled a short list of things that you should know first and foremost to start talking.

The Basics

This is hardly comprehensive, but is actually more than you need to get started. Feel free to add some to the list, but don’t get bogged down with grammar study. You don’t gain fluency hunched over a book memorizing rules for the subjunctive clause, you gain it by practicing.

The Grammar

  1. Learn the basic structure of a sentence.
  2. Learn how to conjugate for past, present and future tense.
  3. Learn how to form the interrogative / ask a question.
  4. Learn how to form the negative.

You can actually stop here. The rest can be picked up from native speakers. Say ‘It is I water’ and have enough people tell you that you mean to say ‘my water’ and pretty soon you’ll understand possessive forms without ever looking up grammar rules. For those of you who like to do a little more studying, you can flesh things out a bit with the following.

  1. Learn how plurals work.
  2. Learn how the possessive works.
  3. Learn how modals (can, will, may, might etc.) work.
  4. Learn how prepositions / locations work.
  5. Learn how comparatives & superlatives work (-er, -est etc.)
  6. Learn how conjunctions work.

That should be more than enough grammar to allow you to start talking to people. Keep in mind, not all of these may apply, and some from the second list may be too advanced to worry about right now. Don’t worry about it, at least get the first four down and move on. Now you need some words to use with all those grammar rules you learned.

The Vocabulary

There are three different methods I’m fond of for learning new vocabulary, all of which are based off of that old standard the 80/20 principle. The idea here is to learn the most used, most important words first, and then pick up the rest as you go along. The first of those methods involves using frequency lists.

Frequency lists, as the name implies, are lists of the most frequently used words. Unsurprisingly, about 80% of conversation is made up of only about 20% of the vocabulary, after which the returns for learning additional vocabulary diminish rapidly. The idea behind frequency lists is that by learning the most frequently used words first, you maximize the benefit to time investment ratio. Knowing the word for ‘defenestrate’ (or even something more mundane like ‘ski lift’) is nice, but not likely to come up until you already have enough language skill to ask what it means.

Frequency lists can be found on Wiktionary in a variety of languages, or you can find one for English and look the words up in the target language. Keep in mind though that there’s not always a 1 to 1 translation for words between two languages.

The second option is to find an average text in your target language. A Google search for a newspaper in your target language should get you one (hint: look up the word for ‘news’ in your target language and search for that). If you don’t want news, look on Amazon in the target language for a book on a topic that really interests you. Once you have your target language newspaper or book or whatever, start trying to read it. Every time you hit a word you don’t know, look it up.

This will honestly get extremely tiresome, and the first page will probably take you an hour or two to get through at least. If you keep at it though, you’ll quickly find that you need to look less and less up. Even better, since a newspaper is likely to use very common words, and since any publication is likely to repeat words regularly, you get a nice, focused spaced-repetition system for learning new vocab.

The last (and my least favorite) is to go about your day and every time you do or see something, jot it down to look up in your target language. Before long most of the things you come across or do will have been learned, and you can start branching out into more uncommon words. I say this is my least favorite because it’s somewhat impractical, some people have said they had a lot of success with it though, so I suppose if the above two methods didn’t work for you this may be a last resort option.

Have anything else you think should be added? Be sure to share it. In the end remember that what’s going to help the most is to get speaking as quickly as possible.

How to Pack On Muscle

Marines Pull Up For America's Birthday by U.S. Marine Corps. Official Page
When it comes to losing weight, one of the best things one can do is pack on more lean muscle. This is an obvious thing, in my opinion, but given the number of weight loss programs I see advocating what seems like nothing but incessant, mindless cardio I think it needs to be stated. To put it simply, all that additional lean muscle requires energy to stay around, the more energy those muscles take up the less there is hanging around to become adipose tissue (that jiggly stuff hanging off your gut).

Since I’m under the deadline of a challenge I’m interested in pursuing the most efficient method for putting on muscle and losing fat. Since my concern is ultimately utilitarian (i.e., I want to be fit to increase my ability to do things, not just to have big showy muscles) I’m also interested in a method that builds strength with as little overall mass increase as possible. The solution?

Lift very heavy things.

Or, rather, lift very heavy things in compound exercises. Why? Three main reasons – Testosterone, Human Growth Hormone and Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1.

Testosterone

Please, ladies, do not be scared of doing things that will increase your body’s production of Testosterone. Testosterone will not turn you into She-Hulk. (Though anabolic steroids might, so please stay away from those.) What Testosterone will do is increase the efficiency of protein synthesis, facilitate the functioning of Human Growth Hormone and Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1, which we’ll get to in a second, and keeps the body in an anabolic state (that means putting on muscle, and losing fat).

Human Growth Hormone

Three points to whomever can guess what Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is responsible for. Yep, growth. We don’t mean growth like getting taller mind you, we mean muscle growth. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is a good thing for anyone with the goal of putting on some muscle, but what you may not know is elevated levels of HGH in your body also cause to burn fat faster. More HGH means more muscle and less fat.

Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1

Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) completes our trifecta of hormones you should very much care about if you want to put on some muscle. IGF-1 is produced in the liver as a result of HGH stimulation and works together with HGH to promote muscle growth.

All three of these hormones work in concert to make you stronger and leaner. So how do you get more of them? Thankfully, not in any way involving needles or pills. You get them by working with your old friend, your central nervous system.

Where the Heavy Lifting Comes In

The thing about your CNS is, you really can’t lie to it. It knows when you’re really being serious about working out and it’s not interested in compromise. To get your CNS to cough up some of these lovely anabolic hormones, you have to give it something intense to convince it you’re serious. This means one of two things, lift something really heavy in a way that utilizes a whole bunch of muscles, or do something really taxing like sprints or HIIT.

Isolation exercises or low weight high rep stuff just won’t do it. Lift a substantially heavy weight in a compound exercise like a squat though and your CNS gets the message. Once it sees that you’re doing things that are genuinely taxing your whole body, it wakes up your hypothalamus which in turn goes and has a talk with your pituitary gland. The pituitary sets in motion the process for more Testosterone to be produced, and then starts synthesizing HGH on its own. The presence of all that Testosterone and HGH kick your liver into IGF-1 production mode, and the end result is a happy hormonal environment that’s telling your body to pack on the muscle and burn off the fat.

So What Do I Do?

So now you get how it works, but what should you actually do? Personally, I’m fond of a 3 times per week 5×5 system of a few different compound exercises. No clue what that means? I’ll break it down.

The first step is finding some compound exercises. These are exercises that hit a whole bunch of muscles, instead of just one or two. Generally, if an exercise is named after a muscle (bicep curls, lat pulldowns, etc.) it’s probably not a compound exercise. Some good compound exercises are squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, clean and jerks, power cleans, snatches, dips and presses among others. If you’re not sure what any of these are, please either research them and make sure you know how to do them properly or find someone qualified to show you how. Doing these exercises improperly, particularly with heavy loads, can seriously hurt you.

The second step is finding an appropriate weight. The weight you choose should be heavy enough that you should just be able to do five repetitions before your form starts to degrade, but not so heavy that you can’t maintain good form for any of those five reps. This will vary from exercise to exercise, and will obviously increase over time, so you’ll have to experiment a little to find what’s right for you.

Putting these together is as simple as picking one pulling exercise and one pushing exercise, and then doing those two with squats. Most people (myself included) recommend both changing it up a bit, and including deadlifts as one of those exercises at least once a week. More than once a week may not be advisable, as deadlifts are awfully taxing, but you really need them at least once a week.

Since the goal here is intensity, it’s best to stick to about 3 workouts a week with at least a day of rest in between each. I prefer Monday, Wednesday, Friday personally. Any more than that and you risk overstressing your CNS and loading your body up with cortisol. That’s not a good thing.

Here’s a sample workout just to get you started:

Monday:
Squats 5×5
Pull-Ups 5xFailure (unless you can do more than 8 or 9 pull-ups before hitting the point of failure, in which case add weight until it gets down closer to 5)
Bench Press 5×5

Wednesday:
Squats 5×5
Deadlifts 5×5
Overhead Press 5×5

Friday:
Squats 5×5 (do you see a pattern?)
Pull-Ups 5xFailure
Bench Press 5×5

After the first week you can mix the order around a little, as long as you stick to the principle of squats, one pulling exercise and one pushing exercise. Also, as I mentioned, deadlifts can be awfully taxing. If you have to, it’s better to cut down to a really heavy weight for a single set of 5 reps, than do the full 5×5, get exhausted, succumb to poor form and hurt yourself.

Lastly, make sure to get enough sleep and to eat properly (and eat enough). This routine is extremely hard on your CNS, which means you need to pay a lot of attention to your recovery or you might wind up taking one step forward and two steps back. If you start feeling particularly worn down, or find yourself getting sick more often, slow down a little until you recover.

Have any other suggestions to add? Have you or haven’t you tried this method for yourself and what do you think?

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