“John is typing…”
These are the unrecoverable moments of anticipation that are the cornerstones of our digital lives. But a new Chrome extension from MIT wants to change that. WaitChatter is an app that tries to teach you a foreign language while you wait for friends during the down-time between instant messages.
Created by a team led by a Carrie Cai, a PhD student at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), WaitChatter teaches you basic words in Spanish and French while you wait for your Google Chat contacts to finally cough it up. The app draws vocabulary words from a database, as well as those being used in you active conversations, and displays them unobtrusively beneath your chat field; to read the English translation, you just click “reveal.” For example, if you and your partner are discussing your cat, WaitChatter might decide to let you know in-between messages that the French word for cat is chat, and yes, she is being une chienne méchante these days.
It won’t exactly teach you to trade witticisms with Esther Duplo, but if you want to learn a smattering of European vocabulary, WaitChatter is effective: Cai says that in a pilot study, WaitChatter users learned an average of around four words a day over a period of two weeks.
“Given all the time that is wasted due to waiting, we wanted to explore how to use these moments as opportunities for learning,” Cai told MIT News. “This integrated approach, which we call ‘wait-learning,’ is far less likely to be perceived as time-consuming or intrusive compared to using a separate learning app.”
Right now, WaitChatter only works with Google Chat, but Cai says there’s no reason the same software couldn’t be applied to any other IM program: Snapchat, Facebook, Skype, and WhatsApp. Or how about Slack? That way, next time my editor walks off for lunch in the middle of typing something out to me, I can actually learn something during an hour I would otherwise spend in the paranoid terror that she might just be composing a several thousand-word dissection of my own garish ineptitude. Make it happen, MIT!