I’m trilingual, or at least that’s what I’ve been telling everyone for the past couple of decades. The truth is that ever since I graduated high school, my French has all but completely disappeared. My Polish is a bit better, but only because I still use it to communicate with my parents — it has also fallen by the wayside. Enter Gboard.
The poorly named Google app (which replaced Google Keyboard in December 2016) is a virtual keyboard for Android and iOS devices. It has a bunch of built-in features, including Google Search results, predictive answers, GIFs, emojis, voice dictation, and so on.
But the one that I’ve embraced is multilingual language support. Gboard’s predictive typing engine, which uses machine learning to suggest the next word using context, is already good. If you add multiple languages in the app’s settings, however, Gboard becomes wonderful.
The killer feature, if you will, is that you don’t have to switch between languages when you’re typing. Gboard simply detects the tongue you’re writing in and offers suggestions in that language. And because this is a virtual keyboard app, all the functionality works everywhere you type on your device — all first-party and third-party apps that have any sort of input field.
As you can see above, I have English, French, and Polish set up in Gboard. When I communicate in English, it works just like any other virtual keyborad. When I crack a rare joke in French, it corrects me as I write it out. When I’m typing to my parents, it offers suggestions in Polish — accents, correct conjugation, and all.
The beautiful part is that I’m learning from these suggestions. There is a ton of nuance in Polish, from multiple letters that sound identical when pronounced, to completely different letters that sound oh-so-similar. In French, verbs are conjugated. In Polish, every single word can be conjugated. When I’m typing and trying to sound out certain words, Gboard often helps me figure out how a given word is spelled.
Sometimes it’s a quick fix and I simply pick the top suggestion (“yeah, of course, I knew that!”) while other times it takes some trial and error for me to get close enough for Gboard to be able to correct me (“oh. OH!”). But in all cases, I learn the correct spelling, and thus the correct pronunciation.
Gboard isn’t perfect. Sometimes it throws in random suggestions from a different language, just because. But that’s a small price to pay to be able to accurately type in three languages.
Whether you’re fluent in more than one language or are just learning an additional tongue, I highly recommend this method. Of course, it doesn’t have to be Gboard. Just find a keyboard app that has multilingual language support for the languages you’re trying to learn (or re-learn), and off you go.
Let your keyboard do the teaching.
ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.