Last year I decided that it was time I started learning a language, as at 27 I had one language to my name (English). Eventually I landed on Russian, and then came the hard part – what’s the best software for learning a new language?
There were a few choices. Rosetta Stone is of course the most famous of these applications, using a flash-card-esque system. I’ve played with Rosetta Stone before, and although it was thorough, I found it frustratingly slow. Byki is another package, that’s very similar to Rosetta Stone – it has a free version, but again, it seemed like a slow way to learn a language to me and I quickly found myself getting bored.
Eventually I stumbled upon Mango Languages. I watched a few of their videos and then gave it a go, via a free online demo, and the next thing I knew I was speaking a little Russian. It was fun, easy, and fast.
Mango Languages’ approach
The difference is that Mango Languages doesn’t focus on teaching the foundations of a language – instead it focuses on quickly getting you to a point where you can travel through a non-English-speaking country using minimal amounts of English.
I found that within a few weeks of using Mango Languages, I could comfortably use basic phrases like “Can you tell me where the nearest subway station is?” or “Hi, I’m Brody” and “It’s nice to meet you”. The software is designed to make you then structure your own sentences, based on what you’ve learnt.
This approach, learning through conversations, seems to be a great way to quickly learn a new language. But there are disadvantages – which probably apply to all computer-based language learning.
It’s definitely the quick wins in Mango Languages that really keep you coming back for more.
By learning language in this kind of way, there are some fundamentals that you miss out on. Grammar rules are learnt on the fly, and you sometimes have the feeling that you just need someone to explain something to you in a bit of detail. That being said, Mango Languages does a much better job of explaining things to you than the alternatives.
Mango Languages also explains cultural oddities and customs to you along the way. That makes learning a lot more fun, as you can imagine yourself experiencing these things using your new-found language skills.
Mango can also show you how a word is meant to be pronounced via simple transliteration with emphasis on the important parts of the words. This can be word-by-word, or you can take a look at the whole sentence. There’s also a speech comparison tool in Mango Languages that helps you to analyse your pronunciation. It’s a common phenomenon that people think they’re pronouncing something perfectly, when they’re not... I know that I’ve been in that situation on more than a few occasions.
I spent two-three hours a week for six months with Mango Languages before going to Ukraine for my first time (the beginning of a larger European holiday). I’d heard that few people spoke fluent English outside of the big cities, and I quickly realised how true that was. Trying to ask someone where the nearest McDonalds was proved a difficult task.
Sure enough, within a day or two, I was comfortable speaking to people in Russian. I was asking where things were, introducing myself, talking about myself, and more. It was fine.
I should note that I studied the alphabet myself before going. Mango doesn’t really teach you the characters in a non-Latin alphabet. Of course, being able to speak a language is great – but being able to read is very important.
Of course, one the most useful phrases I learnt was “I only speak a little Russian”. There’s always a risk when I’d start speaking in Russian, the person would assume I knew more than I did and I’d quickly be out of my depth.
Since that time, Mango Languages has added advanced courses. I’m half-way through the first of those two courses now. It’s harder, and takes more time to get through each chapter, but I’m still learning at a rate that leaves me feeling satisfied.
I’ll be going back in December and I’m hoping I’ll be able to talk about family, pets, and more things in basic conversation.
Features and device support
An Adobe Air version of Mango Languages is available on Windows and Mac. Mango has also recently launched apps for both iPhone and Android. However, they currently don’t support Windows Phone nor Windows RT (which power the two devices I use most in my life).
Mango Languages is also available in some libraries. For those users, progress is stored in the cloud and they can share their progress on Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately those features aren’t currently available for users that buy Mango Languages via the company’s website. This is something I’d expect to see them address in future – as I’m sure they can see the value in supporting users across all of their devices through the power of the cloud.
When I asked what else was coming, Mango Languages told me that they’re working on a "large endeavour that creates a way for language-learners to learn from each other and from authentic content to enhance the learning experience."
If you want to learn a language (and Mango Languages has that language), then this is a great way to get right into it quickly. It won’t take you long to get to a place where you’ll be comfortable getting around a foreign country.
But don’t expect magic. You still need to work at learning with Mango, and just as I had to learn the Cyrillic alphabet outside of Mango Languages, you’ll likely have to do a little self-teaching too.
As everyone has a different learning style, I’d recommend trying all of your options out before committing to one. These packages aren’t cheap, but when you find the right one, you’ll know. Just make sure you try Mango Languages.
More information: Mango Languages