Learning Spanish on Linux

I’ve had a long-time personal goal of improving my ability to talk, read, and write in Spanish. This year, I’m doing it. Here are resources you might also find useful too, with a specific focus on tools for desktop Linux users.

Configuring Your Keyboard

If you are like me, your keyboard probably has a U.S. English layout for the keys. This means you’re going to need a software fix to easily type accents and other special characters in Spanish, like ñ.

This is shown below in Pop!_OS 18.04, which applies to Ubuntu 18.04 and possibly other Linux distros with GNOME. Regardless, you should be able to find how to do this on your operating system with an online search.

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Click Region & Language
  3. Click + to Add
  4. Click More
  5. Search for Spanish
  6. Select and Add Spanish
  7. See the keyboard selection (top bar)*
  8. See the Keyboard Layout**

* In Pop!_OS (and I think GNOME in general), you can quickly switch between keyboard selections with Super + Space Bar.

** Select the Keyboard Layout menu and hit different keys, they will change color on the screen to indicate when you are activating them. Depending on the physical keyboard layout on your computer, you may need to go back to Step 6 and select a different layout option.

Next you could buy physical stickers for your keyboard. If you are going to be writing a lot and are only used to the U.S. English layout, this is worth considering. There are a lot of options, but Keyshorts looks interesting. (I haven’t brought from them and don’t have an affiliate link.)

Web Translation

WordReference is by far the most helpful online translation tool. While it won’t help with whole-phrase translation, it provides contextual meaning for different words and I highly recommend it. You can also configure translation shortcuts into your web browser through WordReference in Firefox, which is my browser of choice. The shortcuts are convenient and totally worth setting up.

There are other online translation services that also have mobile apps. An open source option is Apertium, which also has a desktop application (see below). The most popular (in the U.S.) are probably Google Translate and Bing Translator by Microsoft. Pretty serious caution on using these. They’ll be helpful for getting the gist of phrases, but they can be inaccurate.

Desktop Translation

The most mature project that seems to have the most traction is Apertium. There are many different ways you can install Apertium on your computer. (Apertium also offers a web service, see above.)

The other option I found is GNOME Translate, however I ran into the same bugs others have reported in LaunchPad that haven’t been addressed in years. My assumption is that this is an abandoned project for the time being. It’s apparently a GNOME interface for libtranslate, which you may be able to make use of.

Linux Translation Communities

There are many active Spanish translation groups and efforts in the Linux community. These resources, especially the ones with glossaries, are helpful for seeing how certain phrases are translated/interpreted:

I hope this is helpful. If I missed something or there’s something you’d like me to look into further, please let me know.

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