I’m usually not the first one to get all excited about a new version of some piece of hardware, but I’ve noticed a few features of the newly released Kindle Paperwhite which might be very helpful for language learners.

Overall, the new Paperwhite is not that different from the old one, it’s marginally faster and has a marginally better screen, but it comes with a few software updates that will make the Kindle an even more powerful device for learning languages.

Paperwhite Vocabulary Builder Automatically Adds Words To Word List and Creates Flash Cards

Called vocabulary builder, this feature allow you to create custom Flashcards from words you looked up. The new words can be practiced and learned right on the device. How does it work? By using the dictionary or look-up function (tapping on a word), these words are automatically added to a list of words. This list appears as a new book on your shelf called “vocabulary builder”. Opening it shows the words in a list (left image), and by tapping the Flashcards button on the bottom we enter the Flashcards mode (right image).


The above image shows only English words, because by default only the English-English (definitions) dictionary is enabled. But once you activate a foreign language dictionary such as German-English or French-English, it’s easy to see how this vocabulary feature might quickly boost memorization skill. Got a few minutes between subways stops, too little to get into a book, too much to stare at the floor? Why not practice a handful of German words? Once you have learned a word, it can be selected as “mastered” and it will be added to your stacks of “mastered words”.

See the feature in action here:

Instant Translations with Kindle Paperwhite

This is not specifically a new feature of the Paperwhite 2, also the original Paperwhite offered it, but since we’re talking about language-learning related features here, I decided to include it anyway. Powered by Bing Translations readers can now get instant translations of words and phrases without ever having to leave the text itself. Just as Google Translate the result is probably not always perfect, but it’s certainly a good way to start getting one’s head around a paragraph which even after multiple word look-ups still seems impenetrable.

Here’s how it works: While reading a book, tap a word or hold down and select a phrase or paragraph. In the following popup, select More, then tap Translation. Now, simply select your desired language translation pair enjoy your very own Babel fish without sticking anything slippery into your ear.


Note: Obviously, for this feature to work, you need to have an active Internet connection. It doesn’t work with 3G but requires an active WiFi nearby, so don’t venture out too far into the wilderness.

What If I have an older Kindle?

If you have the first Kindle Paperwhite you can probably expect to get many or most of the new Paperwhite features with the next software update (if they don’t pull an Apple move and claim that the processor of the older device is not fast enough for the “immensely complex” requirements of these new simple operations)

If you have a Kindle before the Paperwhite, you won’t have either the Instant Translations or Vocabulary Builder feature, but of course you can still install your own custom dictionary. See here (physical Kindle device) and here (Kindle iOS app) on how to get and install custom dictionaries.

And regarding the Flashcards, you can still create your own by using this handy Quizlet -> Kindle converter. (UPDATE: I’ve written a tutorial on how to create your own flashcards for Kindle using this tool.) It’s not fully automated and requires some list building on your own, but hey, it gets the job done.

sources: tidbits, Amazon