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Jul 29 2019 - 08:00pm
Mango Languages
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While there are many language-learning platforms on the market, Mango Languages attempts to distinguish itself by offering a curriculum that combines listening to native speakers, critical thinking, reading, speaking, and personalized review for over 70 different languages. They market their product to educators, businesses, government personnel, and libraries, arguing that each of these groups can benefit from personalized online language-learning. Most access to Mango Languages comes through their partnerships with libraries. For this review, I was able to access all of Mango Language’s services by entering my library card information.

Pros:

A few weeks ago, I enrolled in Mango Languages’ German language course. I did not know a word of German, and began with lesson one. I was immediately impressed with the variety and effectiveness of the sensory cues embedded in the lesson. Before speaking a word, I listened to a conversation between two native German speakers that employed the vocabulary and grammar I would soon be learning. Then, I was introduced to a short German sentence with an English translation printed below. The words of each sentence were color coded to highlight which words corresponded with each other. In addition to these visual cues, I had the opportunity to practice my pronunciation with Mango Languages’ voice comparison feature. As the native speaker read the sentence, the sound waves were recorded. Then I repeated the sentence, and my sound waves appeared directly below. I found this to be extremely helpful for learning the pronunciation of difficult vowels and consonants, as well as for discovering where to place the emphasis in each word and sentence. After practicing the full sentence, I was prompted to practice pronouncing each individual word, and eventually challenged to put the whole sentence back together on my own.

In addition to finding the multimodal features of Mango Languages helpful, I was impressed with how my German course engaged my critical thinking. For example, in one lesson I learned how to say "you speak English" and "good," and then was challenged to say, "Do you speak English well?" My sentence was initially wrong, but I found the challenge of drawing on prior knowledge rewarding. Mango Languages isn’t purely about memorization; it really makes you think.

Additionally, Mango Languages recently incorporated machine learning into its assessments. This meant that my assessments were shaped by my previous performance. Questions from earlier units that I initially answered incorrectly reappeared more frequently than phrases I had mastered easily. Also, review sessions continued to quiz me on all the questions I got wrong until I answered them correctly.

Cons:

While Mango Languages offers grammar tips interspersed in its lessons, the focus is on speaking and listening. This choice is intentional, and mirrors the way a language is picked up when immersed among native speakers. I find this method of language-learning effective, but the focus on oral and auditory skills means that Mango Languages does not necessarily equip users to read and write. For someone whose priority is to read and write in German, a course with a heavier focus on grammar might be more appropriate.

I found Mango Languages’ personalized assessments extremely helpful, but also see the opportunity to develop this aspect of the platform even further. The assessments rely on the user to report whether she answered correctly or incorrectly. At times, out of fatigue or impatience, I said I answered correctly even though my phrase contained a small grammatical or pronunciation error. In the future, I can see Mango Languages using voice recordings to have the app assess whether a user has spoken the correct answer. This would, no doubt, make assessment more difficult, but I imagine it would boost both comprehension and oral skills.

Our Takeaway:

Mango Languages provides a thoughtful, personalized approach to language-learning. Their high-quality platform comes at a hefty price of $17.99 a month for individual users, but their public library partnerships make the resource freely accessible to many people. I am grateful that my public library subscribes and would recommend that aspiring language-learners inquire about Mango Languages at their libraries.

Image: by Joel Naren via Unsplash