Tower of Babel

Learn a New Language

Tower of Babel
“The Tower of Babel (Vienna)” by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I was once told that I have a facility for languages.  I think the more correct statement would be that I have a facility for the French and English languages.  I’m an English native speaker and, perhaps because of that, I’m good at English.  And yes, I was a quick study at French.  Forays into other languages were less successful: I only remember one word of Arabic; I can sometimes read Spanish and Latin, but that’s only because I read French; and my Mandarin has slowly eked up from 20 words to maybe 50 (and I only have a shaky grasp on some of the words).

Even if I have yet to become tri-lingual, I have now done pretty intensive looks at language-learning software that libraries often license.  The two big ones are: Mango Languages and Rosetta Stone.  Then, I have tried out a few cheap (free when I got them) apps; and I’ll discuss two herein.

So, here are some personal thoughts on these language learning programs.

  1. mango MMango Languages was the first language learning software that I tried.  It’s an excellent first program to start with: it’s easy, fun, has short but effective lessons.  I promptly learned quite a few words of Arabic from it.  (Which I forgot after stopping the lessons.)  It has a more limited selection of languages.
  2. Then, I tried a free app that can be downloaded onto your phone or tablet – Duolingo.  This one duolingogets stunning reviews from most users.  Like Mango, it’s fun and easy and very accessible (no library card needed).  I had one friend who competed against his father and sister, trying to master French faster than either of them.  One friend has picked up some French and German from this app – so it’s pretty successful if you work with it.  Duolingo continues to add new languages to its repertoire, but I unfortunately left the platform when it was only offering Spanish and French – and I had a desire for languages that I couldn’t learn in high school.
  3. My most successful endeavor has been through my library’s subscription to Rosetta Stone Advantage or Rosetta Stone: Tell Me More.  While Rosetta Stone comes under fire for not Rosetta Stoneproviding instruction on grammar, the software has strengths as well.  My Mandarin vocabulary vastly improved due to Rosetta Stone’s system of displaying a word and then having the user choose the matching picture.  And Rosetta Stone Advantage has one activity where the user listen to a sentence, and then the user input what was said.  I might have had to listen to the sentence 20+ times but I slowly got better at understanding someone speaking Mandarin.  This listening component is what makes the Rosetta Stone options so strong: you don’t just learn to read and write the new language, but also to understand it when it is spoken.  Unfortunately, Rosetta Stone’s software (even for libraries) can be especially expensive and slow (depending on the OS system or the network); this makes Rosetta Stone less accessible as a means of learning a language.chinese skill icon
  4. Finally, I have tried ChineseSkill.  This app, which you can download to your phone or tablet, only teaches Mandarin – but it has been the most successful at teaching me Mandarin.  While it’s marketed as a game, I don’t feel it’s especially game-like.  It’s much more like Mango or Duolingo which have short lessons designed to teach a certain concept or list of vocabulary words.  But ChineseSkill has quicker lessons – and Duolingo and Mango did not offer Mandarin learning when I was playing around with their software.  So, ChineseSkill is great if you want to learn Mandarin, though it lacks any other language options.  ChineseSkill also wins an honorable mention for making my friend from XinJiang laugh, asking why does everything about China have a panda?

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