A couple of years ago, we were in the end-game preparing for our global adventure. There were so many things to handle to ensure our travel would be relatively worry-free.
During this logistical insanity, we tried to prepare ourselves for being in a place where English wouldn’t be the primary language. We hoped to not be the foreigner attempting to force their native tongue.
Learning functional Spanish took on particular importance with our first destination, South America.
Full disclosure—my wife worked diligently to improve her Spanish skills, while I casually glanced at my lessons.
In hindsight, there were online language tools I could have used in combination with classroom Spanish lessons to be further along. Recently, I revisited what’s available and how I can leverage technology to become more conversational.
Leveraging Technology for Language Learning
I see three paths:
- Online classes
- Tablet/smartphone learning applications
- Translation applications
Online learning has taken a tremendous leap in the last decade. The best offerings are interactive and, combined with dedicated effort, can move you along quickly.
I particularly like the University of California-Davis Spanish classes offered on Coursera. The professor is excellent and uses a powerfully methodical path. Watch out for Coursera’s push to sign up for a paid subscription. Look closer and you’ll see an ‘audit’ option which has no fee.
Udemy is a great place to find a wide selection of Spanish instruction choices. It’s a mix of both paid and free, where new students pay only US$12.50 for one of the fee-based classes. The Open University in the UK also is an excellent resource.
There is a dizzying array of tablet/smartphone applications. Most are set up with what is affectionately known as the ‘freemium’ business model. The idea is to have you sign up at no cost for a basic membership. Then, if you really like what you see, you can upgrade to a paid subscription. The most popular are Rosetta Stone, Babbel, and Duolingo.
Translation on the Run
Smartphone translation applications are clearly the most popular.
Google Translate dominates and has improved immensely on accuracy over the years. Google Translate has the magical ability to use the smartphone camera to point at a foreign language sign and instantly transform the image into English.
Microsoft Translator duplicates most of Google Translate functionality with more polish. It adds the ability to do multilingual group conversations with a real-time voice-to-text translation.
SpanishDict is great and one of our favorites for Spanish translation. Each day we watch for the “word of the day.” SpanishDict also excels at looking up verb conjugation, which we find to be the greatest challenge in learning Spanish.
Linguee started as a Euro-centric app with Spanish, French, German, and Portuguese, expanding to other languages. It’s best known for having high-quality sentence translation by searching the web for uses of that phrase.
Babylon has been around for years, but I hesitate using it because they designed the app to be overly aggressive by pushing itself into view constantly.
The new kid in town is DeepL.com, a Germany-based natural translation engine with impressive results. It’s great for correspondence.
Everywhere we try to speak at least a few words in the local language, our efforts are clearly appreciated, which expands our experience in ways we never could have imagined. We have friendships in far-flung places that would have not been possible otherwise.
Share with us your stories of how you reinforced your language learning when preparing for your overseas adventure!
by: Michael Wagner