I confess that I’m a monoglot—aside from a few tenacious bits of high school Spanish and college Japanese still hanging in there, I speak only English. And I’ve always lamented that fact, being the armchair traveler that I am. Whether you’re able to communicate across cultures at a conference room table during a business meeting or at a dinner table during your vacation overseas, speaking a second language (or more!) is most definitely an asset in this increasingly globalized world. However, like many people, I don’t have much extra money to spend on special classes or expensive language-learning software—which is why I was SO EXCITED when the Free Library began offering Mango Languages. (Seriously, I clapped when I found out. And I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that publicly.)
Mango Languages is a language-learning database that provides free lessons in a ton of different tongues, from French to Farsi, Italian to Urdu. You can create a personal account (though it’s not required), in which you can track your progress as you build your new skills lesson-by-lesson. Mango Languages offers both “Basic” courses—designed for people who quickly want to learn some new words or phrases—and “Complete” courses for those interested in becoming as fluent as possible. There are courses available for speakers of English in 22 languages, and Mango Languages also offers English-as-a-Second-Language lessons for speakers of 14 different languages, including Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Polish, Spanish, and more.
Each lesson begins with an outline of conversation and grammar objectives. With a combination of audio and visual tools, you progress from basic to more complex conversations as the lesson narrator breaks down sentences into their component parts and you learn the pronunciation and meaning of the words used. Conversation is natural and useful—none of those awkward, stilted sentences that have zero practical use.
Several times during each lesson, you are called upon to remember words or phrasing you learned earlier, or in a prior lesson altogether. I really appreciate the recall and repetition because I find it helps me remember things more easily, particularly from lesson to lesson. I also appreciate that I am reading the words on the screen as I listen to the narrator pronounce them. Different parts of speech are noted by different colors—this becomes increasingly helpful as you progress through more advanced lessons and grammar becomes increasingly important.
Periodically, the narrator notes grammatical facts or features (and then incorporates the grammar notes into the lesson). There are also cultural notes woven throughout each lesson, describing things like the differences in dialects or cultural idioms between same-language speakers.
I particularly love the “voice comparison” tool in which you can record your pronunciation of a word or phrase and play it back simultaneously with the narrator’s pronunciation to compare. For languages in which syllable emphasis can drastically change the meaning of a word, this tool is essential.
Mango Languages is a high-quality, effective, user-friendly way to learn a new language—and it’s entirely free through the Free Library of Philadelphia. You can access the program through the Free Library’s database list—just scroll down to the Languages category and click on Mango Languages. Whether you’re using one of our 850 public computers system-wide or your personal computer at home, you can use Mango Languages whenever it's most convenient for you—warning: it’s addictive!
So, despite the “schönes Wetter heute,” (German lesson #1!), I find myself eager to sit down at my computer, log onto Mango Languages, and keep learning.