Vocabulary Highlighter – Firefox Language Learning Add-On

Written byZoe Mei

I remember reading somewhere that the reason Chinese is so difficult to learn is the lack of reinforcement – having now been learning Chinese for 5 years I can attest to this. With English, and other semi-phonetic languages, you are more likely to be able to pronounce a word when you see it, making it easier to reinforce the meaning in your memory as you are naturally reminded of how you used it in the past. With this in mind, wouldn’t it be useful to be able to track the Chinese words you are learning while at the same time be able to see their pronunciation as you browse around the web? Luckily you can, with the Vocabulary Highlighter add-on for Firefox.

Vocabulary Highlighter, like the name suggests, enables you to create a list of words to highlight within websites that you visit. The add-on is very simple, yet extremely useful.

After installing the add-on, to add a word to your list of words to highlight, first select/highlight the word with your mouse then right click and choose ‘add’ from the Vocabulary Highlighter menu that appears:

Then, in the pop-up window, you can add notes about the word. Here I have added the Pinyin pronunciation and English definition of the word, though you can add anything you like here. Click ‘OK’ to finish adding the word.

Now, whenever you visit a web page that has this particular word it will be highlighted for you:

To view words that you have already added to your list right click on a blank space on a web page and choose Vocabulary Highlighter. The main panel in the pop-up that appears is your word list, each of which can be edited by selecting it and then clicking on the ‘Edit’ button at the bottom.

Along the top of the window you’ll also notice more options. The first, Highlighter, enables or disables the highlighting function. The second, Database, allows you to import or export your list of words in XML format. The third, Report, displays a list of the words in your list as a web page, and lastly Pens allows you to create different colour highlighter pens.

Unfortunately you can’t create multiple lists using Vocabulary Highlighter, though there’s no reason why you couldn’t assign different pens to related words, essentially using them as categories.

The intended use for Vocabulary Highlighter seems to be to gradually add words as you go, though as Vocabulary Highlighter has an import function you could always create lists and then import your words all at once. A use-case that sprung to mind when reviewing the plugin was creating Vocabulary Highlighter lists from the word lists of each chapter of your textbook. This would be a great way to see how the words you are studying are actually used outside of the learning context.

The way you use Vocabulary Highlighter will naturally differ depending on your requirements, so if you have a use that is different that what has been mentioned here I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. And as always, if you know of a similar plugin or any useful Chinese/language learning plugins then please mention those too!

Thanks to Marjolein Hoekstra for suggesting this add-on!


Make sure that you uncheck “Matches must have left word boundaries” and “Matches must have right word boundaries” in the options for your ‘pens’. This will ensure that Chinese words are successfully highlighted.

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