Despite the pace of online communications, we still spend a lot of time waiting: staring at an IM window is a common occurrence for anyone who spends a better part of their day at a computer. WaitChatter wants to make use of that standby time to promote a vital skill, letting users brush up on their vocabulary for a second language while they wait for their colleague or friend to respond to their Google Chat message.
The app comes out of research from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, which found that the average person racks up 10 to 15 minutes per day of essentially wasted waiting time while conversing over IM. That realization led to the development of WaitChatter, which uses a Google Chat (you have to revert from Hangouts to use it right now, but that’s fairly easy) extension to offer up quick vocabulary learning lessons right in your IM chat window.
It’s based not only on leveraging that otherwise unoccupied time, but also on the feeling people tend to have that dedicated language learning apps require an additional time commitment, even when designed for convenience and mobility.
Users of the app who participated in a pilot test picked up new words at a rate of about four a day, leveraging words from both a built-in list and from a user’s own IM conversation. And while it isn’t exactly a method for mastering a language and becoming perfectly fluent, it’s exactly the kind of thing that’s handy for accruing small useful skills that require a lot of memorization.
The research team behind WaitChatter is looking to exploit other waiting situations, such as when you’re letting your email messages load or standing in a taxi line. As for WaitChatter itself, they say it works with any alphabetic language that Google Translate can currently handle, and should also be able to be ported to most other popular IM applications, including Skype and Facebook Messenger.