KOReader: language learner's trusty companion

Framing language learning as a fun gamified activity apparently works well when you're in the app subscription business, but the jury is still out on whether you can actually reach a reasonable level of language proficiency using an app as your main tool. Me? I'm old school: give me a decent text book, a dictionary, plus something to read, and I'm good to go.

There is, though, something else I added to my language learning toolbox not so long ago: a Kobo Libra 2 with KOReader installed on it. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that this combo has taken language learning to a whole new level.

You may be forgiven for thinking that KOReader is just another ebook reader application. True, it's designed for reading ebooks, but it does offer several genuinely useful features that make it a pretty handy tool for language learners. As any ebook reader worth its salt, KOReader supports dictionaries. Being an open-source application, KOReader doesn't include any commercial dictionaries, and the quality of free dictionaries varies greatly. I find Wiktionary dictionaries for popular languages pretty decent.

As you would expect, you can translate any selected word and use the dedicated Dictionary lookup command to look up any word on-the-fly. By default, KOReader saves all looked up words, and the application features the vocabulary builder tool that can be used to memorize the saved words. It works similar to a flash card tool, spaced repetition and everything. You can also search Wikipedia directly from within KOReader, and the application even includes a simple text editor, so your humble e-reader can act as a no-frills note-taking device.

KOReader translate dialog

KOReader has another seriously impressive trick up its sleeve: support for Google Translate. Yeah I know, Google. But it's a killer feature for learning languages, nevertheless. KOReader allows you to translate the currently selected text, and you can save the translations as highlights. It's impossible to overstate how incredibly useful this functionality is. Better still, KOReader makes it possible to export highlights as a file in the Markdown, JSON, HTML formats, or as a plain text file. You can even push highlights directly into the Joplin note-taking application.

While the ability to pull articles from RSS feeds and convert them into EPUB documents is not directly related to language learning, this nifty feature can come in rather useful if you are interested in improving your language skills by reading texts on a variety of subjects. For example, I subscribe to several RSS feeds that cover politics, technology, photography, etc. Having fresh articles delivered straight to my Kobo without me lifting a finger makes it easier to improve my reading skills and expand my vocabulary.

In short, I'm maybe too old for language apps, but I sure do appreciate the creature comforts Kobo and KOReader have to offer. Of course, reading doesn't do much to improve speaking skills, but that's a completely different kettle of fish.