4 Tools to Make Language Learning Easier

I’m learning a second language for the second time. Normally you’d consider that a third language, but when you don’t properly learn a second language the first time (read: via high school Spanish), your second second language is really your first second language.


After that clarification here are a couple tools I’ve been using to make language learning a bit more automatic on my Mac.

1. Using PopClip to make translation easier.

I’ve mentioned my love of PopClip before. It’s an extension that appears when you highlight text with your mouse on your Mac. There are two handy extensions you can find on the PopClip website. Translating via the Google Translate website and having a pop-up translation appear.

For the latter, if I wanted to know what “Ne razumem” 1means in Slovene, I can just highlight the text and click the PopClip extension that shows the translation overhead.

PopClip - autotranslate PopClip - autotranslate 2

What’s special about the second extension with the popover is that the translation is displayed and copied to your clipboard. I’ve found it better to translate from Slovene to English, thus setting English as the default option since I can guess what it means if the translation is a bit off. If I go the other direction, I’m likely to get a literal (i.e. bad) translation into Slovene.

Finally, I created an extension that searches the PONS online dictionary in English and Slovene. You can customize for any languages PONS has, and it’s saved me a ton of copying and pasting and switching windows. I just highlight the word or phrase and click the extension and it brings up the website for me. You can download PopMaker to make your own extensions.

PopMaker example

2. Using Drafts to keep track of new words

Another oft-praised app is Drafts, and I use it to save new words I’m learning. I’ve found that when you’re learning a new language, you constantly have new vocabulary you hear but don’t understand. I type those words in a draft 2and have an Evernote action set up to append those words to a running note. That means all the new words I’ve heard but haven’t figured out the meaning to are in the same list I can reference and research.

Here’s a screenshot of the action. I just use the default Evernote Drafts’ setting with the title of the note changed to my vocabulary list and change it from create to prepend, so my newest words are at the top.


3. Using TextExpander for non-English characters

Slovene uses ?, š, and ž. I call them c, z, or s with a hat. 3Anyway, if you press and hold on a letter key when you’re on an iOS device or Mac, you have an option to choose a different variety of that letter.

That’s handy, but I never need the other versions of the letters when I’m typing, so it takes a few extra steps.

  1. Press and hold the letter
  2. Wait for the pop-up dialogue
  3. Choose the proper letter

On the Mac the system also creates different letters if you hold down the option button and press the letter.

Letter S Pop Up

I never use the French c with a goatee (ç), the German little l 3 (ß) or Omega (?). So, I set TextExpander to automatically replace the Option + C or S or Z letters to replace with ?, š, and ž, or in the capital variety when I hold Shift + Option + C or S or Z.

To do that, just create a new snippet in TextExpander, place the character you want to type in your target language in the Content box and the default Option + Letter character in the Abbreviation box.

TextExpander letter c

4. Keyboard Maestro for searching words

I mentioned the PopClip option to search for words on the PONS dictionary. Unfortunately, not all websites are as good as PONS.

I use an older website called Amebis to look up conjugations of words in Slovene. I’m not sure how it works behind the scenes, but the website doesn’t return a new URL or search query, it just appears on the page.

So, I concocted a little KeyBoard Maestro expansion that copies a word, opens Safari, clears the text in the box, and pastes the copied word, and searches for the word. It saves me a ton of steps and hassle. It’s my favorite action I’ve created in Keyboard Maestro so far.

Here’s a 8-second video of how it works.

And here’s a screenshot of the workflow.

Amebis Workflow

What are your favorite tips for using technology to acquire new skills?

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  1. Don’t worry, “ne razumem” is a phrase I’ve mastered in Slovene.

  2. with context, preferably

  3. very technical language jargon

iOS 8 Widgets

It’s been two months since the release of iOS 8, and I’ve quickly taken to using widgets in the Today View. If you’ve updated to iOS 8 but haven’t explored widgets, you’re missing out.


With your phone unlocked, simply pull down from the top of your screen to see your Today View, and at the bottom click the Edit button to add widgets.1


Here are the widgets I’m currently rocking. … 

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  1. You can reach your widgets via Today View at any time, but you can only edit your widgets with your phone unlocked

The Unpacked Podcast Episode 6 – Curing Clutter

Jordan and Niki discuss the cure to clutter, how to figure out what stuff you don’t need, and best practices for eliminating clutter, after a brief detour about Harry Potter. Click here to listen.

Simple Chairs

I’ll use the made up word “unclutter” a number of times, we’ll chat about why clutter builds up, and how to feel more comfortable throwing out picture frames from your grandma.

Check us out in iTunes here or visit our podcast website.

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Awkwardness is a Choice

Calling out awkwardness is the new black.

Alerting the world to awkwardness is now cooler than sitting with the in crowd at lunch.

There are hand signals for bringing attention to awkwardness.
There are websites dedicated to awkwardness.
Awkward is the strange love child of American culture.


We’ve made it all encompassing.

When something is weird. When it’s uncomfortable. When it’s embarrasing. When there is more than one second of silence in a conversation. When someone mispeaks. Or misteps. Or misses a cue. When you do something clumsy. When you run into that old, former friend in an unexpected, ordinary place.

Everything is awkward.

Yet at the same time, awkwardness is a choice. 1

When someone says something weird, you can say, “That was awkward.” Or you can do something else. Let me encourage the latter, because awkwardness can be a cascading river of nastiness and strange feelings, and, well, no one wants to be the awkward inducer.

The next time you’re tempted to say, “That was awkward,” I encourage you to try some of these tactics instead.

Laugh at the circumstance instead of the person.
Help them, don’t mock them.
Shrug instead of feeling uncomfortable.
Enjoy the irony of a chance encounter.
Pick up the conversation where it left off.
Say hi instead of avoiding that guy.
Lean into the uncomfortable and love someone when they feel vulnerable.
Say, “No big deal.”
Affirm that girl.

Since adopting the awkwardness-is-a-choice mindset, I haven’t felt awkward nearly as much. Awkwardness truly is an option to embrace or reject or do something else with.

I’m human. I do strange, clumsy, unimpressive things. Often. And so does everyone else. So instead of blaring the awkwardness trumpet, I do something else, because that’s what I want other people to do.

Calling out awkwardness is played out. It’s no longer a thing. Move along.

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  1. Kudos to our teammate Melissa in Slovenia who was the first person I heard say this. And I agree wholeheartedly.

5 Years of Blogging: An Emotional Roller Coaster

I’ve been blogging, intermittently, for five years. Somehow I don’t completely hate my first post.

I started with a hope.

I hope this can be a place where I can share my thoughts, my encounters, and my opinions in an effort to make this world a better place, one reader at a time.

I was called a pliable college idealist shortly after writing that. I suppose I’m now a pliable twentysomething idealist, because my hope remains.


Photo provided by Death to the Stock Photo

Five years later, I’m still clicking away on my keyboard, trying to be witty and pithy, helpful and inspiring. I’m not always those things. Not even close.

I’m going to take you on a 1,300-word journey through my emotions and realizations of the blogging process throughout this post–why I write, why I’ve changed what I write about, fears I experience, and advice I’d give to people who are embarking on the journey of online publishing.

Why I Still Write

I share my words to be helpful, encouraging, entertaining, and inspiring. If a post is none of the above–at least in my mind–I don’t click publish.

Above all, I want to write about common problems and issues that, even if not explicitly, point people to Jesus.

I’ve wrestled with that bit–pointing people to Jesus via blog posts–for years.

Does telling people how to save a buck on apps advance the Kingdom of God?

Is this worth it?

Does what I’m doing make any noticeable difference?

The short answer: I still don’t know. Maybe. Hopefully. Possibly.

Martin Luther allegedly said, 1

The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.

As Justin Taylor notes, I think God wants us to love our neighbors more than he wants us to make nice shoes. Making crappy shoes and then selling them to your unknowing neighbor is fully unloving. So, as a Christian blogger, I post seemingly random, commonplace tips and advice because I think it may help someone, in some tiny way, and that could clear the way for more important things.

I love my neighbor by helping my neighbor however I can–especially in the ways I most enjoy helping.

I try to love my neighbors (that’s you, my gracious reader) in the simple and in the ideological. I share what I’m struggling with and see if others can relate.

Some days I want to write posts that advance my kingdom instead of God’s. I write to make me look good, or funny, or intelligent, or sharp. I write to attract eyeballs instead of influence hearts. I like it when my stats are off the charts, and I get way too much cheap satisfaction when people share or comment on my posts.

Even though I’m trying to write for God’s glory, I still live for man’s approval over His more often than I’d care to admit.

Why What I Write About Changed

I used to write more frequently about life experiences correlated to ideas and theories. I’ve subtly shifted over the years to more practical tips and technology advice, with the occasional theological revelation.

I often say my target reader would be someone who is engaged in ministry (personally or professionally, maybe both) and is a technology geek. That would be me. I write for an audience that looks like me in many ways, and I adhere to the advice, “Write the Internet you want to read.”

At the same time, I write for what I think people might, maybe, perhaps, possibly want to read. I try to guess. But I’m a bad forecaster.

I waffle back and forth, not wanting the people who read for the technology tips to stop reading because of the theology stuff while not wanting the people who read for the faith-related posts to get bogged down by me explaining if their iPhone shift key is on.

Typical people pleasing. My rationale is fear laden.

I feel unqualified to write about theology and biblical theories.

What if my analysis is wrong? What if I say something heretical, accidentally?

Why should I write (or podcast) when there are guys like John Piper–who are smarter and more godly–writing and speaking?

Should I even bother when there are far more prolific, intelligent, poised authors publishing with better quality and a higher frequency?

I still spar with those questions. I often want to leave the important to the professionals and instead take care of the interesting-to-me-yet-at-times-menial posts because, well, Kevin DeYoung isn’t going to write about how to use a text expander.

It feels good to get that off my chest. Thanks for bearing with me as I hopscotch between creating not for your feedback, yet wanting your feedback, and despairing and triumphing on the wave of emotion I feel in writing about different things.

All of this to say, this blog is still evolving. Slight changes, slight course corrections, slight tweaks and experiments. I’m still learning and growing and sharing what sticks along the way.

With all of that out of the way, here’s my last bit on what advice I’d give to someone who is starting to publish content online.

My Two Cents on Online Publishing

Anyone can start writing for the web.

There are tons of free ways to do it. If you want to be fancy and have a domain and seem more important, you can do that for less than $10 a month. I’m a huge fan of Squarespace, because they help make beautiful websites for next to nothing.

Your audience is out there.

If you want to write about anything–truly, anything–there is an audience for you. But you have to find them, or help them find you. There’s no simple way to do this. Twitter helps. Looking for similar blogs and commenting and engaging the author helps. But honestly, it’s process. There’s truly no overnight successes. But people want to hear from you. Let them.

There will be days when you want to quit.

You’ll be uninspired and have nothing to share. That’s ok. It’s part of the emotional rollercoaster you click yourself into when you start publishing online.

Don’t be ashamed of humble beginnings.

My mom was one of my only readers for a long time. For someone who has been blogging as long as I have, I should have more views. More subscribers. More comments. More feedback. Better SEO. Better stories. Better posts.

I don’t. But I decided a long time ago that if I helped one person with a post, it was worth it, even at the cost of my ego.

Don’t get consumed with stats.

It will kill your soul and the pleasure of someone sharing what you write is fleeting.

Don’t write for robots that will push you to the top of Google or for page views and click-throughs. Write to make a difference. Write to be helpful. Write to love your neighbor.

The value of publishing online for others to see can’t be underestimated.

Written communication is becoming increasingly important. Emails. Text messages. Tweets. Facebook updates. And the more you write, the better you get. Don’t just write and keep it to yourself. Please share.

Writing will always increasingly become an in-demand skill for nearly every job and career path. Write more to write better.

Wrapping Up

In my first post I admitted,

Everyone has an opinion about something; I’ve been blessed with opinions about everything.

That’s still true. I’m still a cornucopia of opinions–now hopefully more backed by careful thought and a Biblical basis rather than off-the-cuff rants and diatribes. I’m trying to hold opinions more loosely held when I’m unsure or unconvinced. Trying.

In the midst of all I’ve received from blogging, my greatest reward has been helping people. People who have stopped to take a moment to read. People who subscribe and reply and comment and those who don’t but still left better than when they arrived.

So thank you. Thanks for reading. Thanks for encouraging. Thanks for clicking and sharing and being willing to be challenged. Thanks for sticking with me.

I do this for God’s glory and your good. To another five years of that.

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  1. but probably didn’t