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Got a second to kill? Learn a new language with this MIT app

MIT researchers design an app suite to help you learn Spanish or French while you're waiting for your friends to get back to you on chat. Muy bueno!

If you work in a typical office, you likely spend a lot of time on chat applications (or chatting with friends to set up those after-work drinks, but no judgment here). How can you make productive use of the time while you're waiting for a response? You don't want to break away and do other things -- there's not enough time for that -- so why not learn a new French word or two?

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Screenshot by Lisa Brackmann/CNET

A group of researchers at MIT wants to help you learn foreign languages during such "micro moments."

They've come up with a series of apps called "WaitSuite" that help you build up your vocabulary during those idle moments throughout the day. Instead of being unproductive while waiting for someone to write you back, or for your phone to load or your Wi-Fi to connect, you can engage in "wait learning."

WaitSuite apps are integrated right into what you're already doing. For example, while you're making those lunch plans with a co-worker on Gchat, "WaitChatter" will test you on your Spanish vocabulary. This actually improves productivity on your primary task, according to project team leader Carrie Cai, since you're less likely to leave that app to kill time with a mobile game.

The concept has applications beyond language learning -- it could also be used to learn medical or legal terms, for example.

I gave WaitChatter a try. It's a Chrome extension that works with Gchat, so if you're on Hangouts, you'll need to switch back to use it. Right now, you can learn basic vocabulary in Spanish or French, with other languages potentially on the way. The app tracks your progress and tests you on unfamiliar words until you get them right. It's a lot of fun.

I learned the Spanish words for "council" "fact" and "company," and felt much less impatient while trying to arrange those all-important lunch plans.

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