12.06.2016

on a language adventure with mango languages

We are going to Egypt!

We're super excited about it. It's someplace we've always wanted to go. In fact, it's the only country that Allan has always wanted to see. (We went to my number one spot -- Peru -- in 2006.) Just after New Year's, we celebrate our anniversary, and we always go away for the 5s and 10s*. I thought for number 30 we should go someplace really special! The trip is in February.

In preparation, I'm learning some Egyptian Arabic, using Mango Languages, which I can access at no cost through my library card. I'm really enjoying it.

Here's why I love Mango.
- It breaks up the lessons into bite-size pieces, which makes the process less daunting.
- You hear the language spoken by native speakers.
- You can record yourself speaking, then play your words simultaneously with Mango's, to hear a real-time comparison.
- Mango teaches language concepts, rather than just rote phrases. For example, in the lesson that included I speak, I learned how to say the verb when speaking to a man and when speaking to a woman. (In Egyptian Arabic, the verb changes with the referent [who is being addressed], as well as with the speaker.) Then, in a later lesson that included I understand, Mango asked if I could figure out how to say this when addressing a woman. And to my amazement, I could!
- Every lesson begins with a review of the previous lesson, and every chapter (four lessons) ends with a review.
- It gives you cultural notes for the language you're learning. Not only does this make it easier to learn, it gives you context, which helps prepare you for the culture you're going to experience.
- For some languages, it includes other language needs, such as legal and even texting.

This reviewer for PC Mag found Mango's content "tedious". Perhaps that is something I'll encounter in later, more advanced lessons, but at this point I don't share that criticism.

The review also faults Mango for not teaching the scripts in languages that use non-Roman characters. For me, this is a plus. If I were also trying to read Arabic as well as speak it, I would be completely intimidated. Every lesson does include the script; you click or tap for transliteration. But it seems to me that learning to read a language is very different than learning to speak it, and I'm happy to skip that for now. (Linguist and translator friends, what do you think about that?)

The reviewer also criticizes Mango for not including grading, but I don't see this as a drawback. I do not want to be graded!

My only criticism of Mango is not relevant to my present learning, but very important. Many people want to use Mango to improve their English speaking skills. Mango offers English instruction in many different languages, but none of the South Asian languages are included. In Mississauga, this is a serious drawback, as many of our customers who want to improve their English speak one or more of Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi, and Gujarati. I know the library has given this feedback to Mango. I hope they can soon add these languages to their roster.

I've also heard good things about Duolingo, another free language-learning app. However, Duolingo's list of languages is much more limited, and does not include Arabic.

Needless to say, I'll be posting a daily account of our adventures in Egypt. Stay tuned.

* Charleston, South Carolina; Bermuda; New Hope, Pennsylvania (reprise of our first trip together); The Ice Hotel; Quebec City and Montreal.

23 comments:

James Redekop said...

There's always some tedium involved in learning languages... Languages are among the most complicated things ever invented by humans!

As for script -- that's a whole other complication. I did teach myself a simplified Arabic script a while back when I was reading my father's "Dune Encyclopedia" (the Fremen write in a form of Arabic), just as a substitution cipher (writing English with Arabic letters). And that one didn't even get into how Arabic letters change shape depending on the letters around them...

Amy said...

How exciting! I can't wait to read about your trip.

I've been using Duolingo to learn German---for over 240 days now. I've reached the end of their lessons and now just go back and review every day. The site says I am 52% fluent, but I doubt it. I am thinking that perhaps another site with different lessons will be a better way to keep learning. (We are going to Germany in May, 2017.) I will have to check out Mango. Is it only available through libraries? I looked at their site, and it says my local library has it, but I don't want to go to the library to use it. Maybe I can access it at home. I have to check.

Thanks for the info!

Amy said...

A follow up. I went to the local library, and they showed me how to long into Mango from home. I haven't tried it yet, but will let you know what I think. Thanks!

laura k said...

James, I used to read Hebrew almost as fluently as I read English. And now I can't even eke out one single word. I agree, obviously -- scripts are a whole other thing.

Amy, I look forward to a comparison of the two programs. As you probably already know, Mango is available for use online, for a monthly fee. Through your library, it's free and you can use it from home.

You can use it on a computer or download an app for a mobile device. I'm using it on my tablet. My computer doesn't have a microphone. Plus it's nicer on the couch. :)

laura k said...

Also Amy, how cool that you have been studying German! This is part of your genealogy journey?

Amy said...

Yes, that's what inspired me to learn---trying to read records and letters and books about my German ancestors. It's also the impetus for visiting Germany next spring.

And I didn't know you were once fluent in Hebrew? Learning something new all the time!!

laura k said...

Wow, that's awesome.

Oh no no no, I was never even mildly conversant in Hebrew! Not the slightest bit. I could read Hebrew script fluidly, without having to sound out words or recognize the word first. Just read -- not understand, not speak.

Amy said...

Ah, yes---like most of the people I know who went to Hebrew School (I never did.) They taught you to read phonetically, but not to comprehend what you were reading. Such a limited way of educating anyone about a language---all for show in synagogue with no real value beyond that.

I tried Mango yesterday. Two observations: it moves much more slowly than Duolingo. I was bored with the first lesson's repetition. In fairness, it was too elementary for me after learning German for close to a year.

That brings me to the second observation: Mango seems much more focused on listening comprehension and speaking than on building vocabulary or learning grammar. It's more like learning from immersion whereas Duolingo is more like classroom learning. My listening comprehension is far less advanced than my reading comprehension as a result. I realize now how much work I need to do in order to have conversations. It's not that Duolingo doesn't have listening as a component---it's just not emphasized quite as much.

So when I took the Mango placement test, I had trouble understanding the spoken conversations they asked about. (My poor hearing doesn't help either.) So I "placed" at Level One, Lesson One. I don't see a way to skip ahead, and starting all over with basic words like Guten Morgen and Danke and Auf Wiedersehen is frustrating. I may try it again (retake the placement test?) and see if I can skip ahead a bit.

Overall, I think Mango is probably better for learning to have conversations because of its emphasis on listening whereas Duolingo may build vocabulary and grammar more quickly. Since my main goal is to be able to read, Duolingo may serve my purposes better, whereas for traveling, Mango may be a better tool.

laura k said...

Thank you for the comparison! Much appreciated.

You can definitely skip ahead with Mango, to whatever lesson you want. You should be able to see all the units, lessons, chapters, and use whichever one you want.

Mango is definitely focused on listening and speaking. It's supposed to be a different approach than classroom learning.

Hebrew, no, sorry, that's not it either! What you describe in Hebrew school does happen, but that is strictly to read prayers. The prayers are not written in script. They are written in block letters. You can sound out those letters or recognize full words or memorize prayers -- usually a combination of those.

Your instruction in prayer is not meant to teach you the Hebrew language. It's meant to teach you prayer. Two totally different things, in both Hebrew and Arabic. They are actually different versions of the language.

I did study that for many years. But separate from that, I also studied conversational Hebrew, and that is written in script, similar (but not the same as) Arabic script. I became a very fluent reader. But not fluent in conversation or vocabulary.

I hope that makes sense!

laura k said...

Hebrew language used in prayer

Hebrew script

David Heap said...

First of all, congrats! The trip sounds super-exciting, and the language-prep too.
Mango sounds cool: I have never used any language-learning software, but I may to have to try eventually... Mango seems like it is well-suited to you, and that is the most important thing. If I have one take-away message from decades in education, it is that there are different types of learners, and one size definitely does not fit all.
From the point of view of linguistics, you are correct that oral language is more "basic" than written language, in a number of important senses: we all learn our first language(s) by speaking / hearing (or signing / seeing, for signed language natives) before we read or write; only a subset of any language community uses written language (the literacy % varies but it is never 100%), all languages were spoke (signed) historically before they were written, and not all human languages are (ever have been) written. In a few exceptional cases, people also gain written / reading fluency without speaking, often in the case of a liturgical language (like your Hebrew case): the first time I studied Arabic there were people in my class who could recite / read any passage of the Qur'an fluently, which was really intimidating (it was supposed to be a beginners' course...) until we realised that they did not understand a single word unless it was also borrowed in the same form into Urdu or Persian (their primary education had involved memorization but not understanding of Quranic texts...).
I think any language learning is exciting (despite the inevitable tedium) and I am excited for you. I hope you get a chance to practice with some Arabic-speaking kids (& their families) at the library where you work, before and after your trip!

David Heap said...

Oh, and about grading: one of my least favourite parts of academic work... if Mango leaves it out, so much the better! The one useful feature would be some kind of differentiated feedback (e.g. "great job on pronouns, you could use more work on the verb forms") to guide a learner's practice. But absolutely no need to give anyone an A or a D or a %...

Amy said...

I never went to Hebrew school, but have taught myself enough of the print alphabet to follow the prayerbook. Harvey and my kids learned both print and script in Hebrew school, and script is not only for conversation and print is not only for prayers. Israeli newspapers and books are all in the print alphabet, not script, and I've seen prayers handwritten in script. To me the analogy is to typeface and handwriting, not too different versions of the language. But maybe that's what you meant.

laura k said...

Thank you, David! I totally agree -- it is exciting embarking on a new learning adventure. I was going to say it's been a while since I tried to learn anything new in a systematic way, then remembered graduate school, librarianship, collective bargaining, leading a strike... Even learning a new kind of training for Diego was fun and interesting (if sometimes a bit stressful because of time pressures).

But there is something uniquely exciting about trying to learn a new language, even at a rudimentary level.

Amy, for me the block letters and the script look completely different. That may be because I learned how to read the Hebrew prayers at a very young age while I was beginning to read English. Then I was introduced to the script many many years later? Or some other reason. :)

I didn't mean that the block letters are only used in prayer and the script only used in conversation. I was defending the learning of prayers written in Hebrew. It might have limited application, and it's not for conversation, but that doesn't mean it's for show. When I practiced Judaism, I found reciting prayers in Hebrew very meaningful and more satisfying, in a way that reciting them in English was not.

Amy said...

I agree that learning a new language is both fun and challenging and exciting. I love to see how words and sentences are formed and used in other languages, and learning German has been especially fun as I get a kick out of seeing how many words I already knew from either English or Yiddish, both of which borrow much from German. But, oy, the verb cases and sentence structure and articles and pronouns that shift with case and purpose and gender....they are the challenge.

I also agree, Laura, that reading prayers in Hebrew is more satisfying than in English---I think because doing so in English seems so mundane and prosaic whereas reading them in an exotic language and alphabet adds enough mystery that it takes you out of the everyday mindset. But I still think it's a shame that typical Hebrew school education does such a poor job of teaching any vocabulary, even for purposes of prayer. There should be a middle ground where you know enough Hebrew to make prayers have some content but not so much that they become so familiar as to be boring as they are in English.

James Redekop said...

If you want exotic prayers, you could always try Old English:

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum;
Si þin nama gehalgod
to becume þin rice
gewurþe ðin willa
on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.
urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg
and forgyf us ure gyltas
swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum
and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge
ac alys us of yfele soþlice

laura k said...

I have read Beowulf (Old English) and Canterbury Tales (Middle English) in the original. Not much good for conversation, though. :)

For many years when I planned/hoped/imagined I would get my MA and PhD in English literature, I was excited to read all kinds of obscure texts in the original.

James Redekop said...

A propos not much, here's some silly poetry about exotic Old English letters.

impudent strumpet said...

I'm pretty sure that Hebrew script is what the lady next to me on the subway the other day was reading! I didn't recognize it has Hebrew (I can recognize Hebrew block letters) and wondered what language it was, but felt it would be intrusive to ask.

On-topic, the question of whether one should learn to read or just to speak is really a matter of learning styles. I feel lost and naked without a dictionary and conjugation charts so I need to learn to read well enough to look stuff up if I feel the need, but not everyone needs that.

And, of course, learning to read another alphabet does take up time and mental resources, so when I attempted Russian I found myself able to look things up and use my grammar charts, but not retaining much of the language.

(Which is also the problem with grading - I got an A in that course because I memorized my charts and was able to use the test questions themselves as a source of vocabulary, but I never actually learned Russian.)

laura k said...

I'm glad to hear from another language friend on this! I was hoping you'd get caught up eventually Imp Strump. I'm behind on your blog, too.

I had a somewhat similar experience with my French language learning disaster. I loved learning Spanish in high school, was in advanced classes and whatnot. In university, I could have taken an exam and placed out of the language requirement. (Can you believe there was such a thing?)

But I confused my facility with Spanish with a love of languages. I opted to take French from the very beginning. This required 4 semesters of Monday through Friday classes! I had no concept of what that would mean -- all the courses I could have enjoyed instead of struggling with French.

In French class, I excelled at all the written work, because it was so similar to Spanish. But my oral skills were awful. AND my instructor was Quebecoise, so I was learning a very different accent. AND in the process I lost most of my Spanish.

Amy said...

I took French in high school and hated it and still had to take two semesters of French in college. (They don't have language requirements anymore? I think both of my daughters had to take a language, and they were in college in the early 2000s.) Obviously, I didn't do well enough to place out of the college requirement completely. I really was not good at it and didn't enjoy it. But now as I am trying to learn German, I keep finding that French words pop into my head when I can't think of the German word. So I somehow learned enough that now, 40+ years later, it is still embedded in my brain! Very annoying that it is taking up valuable language space in my brain.

laura k said...

Interesting...! When we were in Peru, when I was mentally fumbling for a word in Spanish, it sometimes came out in French! French which I am exposed to daily in writing but rarely hear spoken. What a strange phenomenon. As if our brains have some category called "not the language I usually speak" and Spanish and French, or French and German, get dumped there together.

Language requirements in university, no idea. I assumed not, but I really don't know.

Amy said...

I am sure someone knows the answer to the question about where in our brains foreign languages get stored!