Sunday, February 22, 2009

Learning from Mango Languages

Last week I went to the local library to see what language learning materials they had. I like to go periodically to brush up on a language and to see what methods are being used to teach languages via CD's, cassette tapes, CD-ROM's, books, and videos. This time I was surprised to see that the local library subscribed to a web-based service called Mango Languages. (Even if your library doesn't subscribe, you can try out the first lesson in nine languages for free.)

The method used in these lessons is similar to Pimsleur and several other products you'll recognize if you've ever tried to learn a language from a cassette. I would call it programmed learning: small bits of vocabulary and patterns are fed to the student, who is quizzed with enough repetition so that the pattern sticks.

I always secretly liked this type of learning: I could learn at my own pace, skip forward if I wanted, and choose not to learn some expressions I knew I'd never use. Plus, for someone who finds it hard to start conversations, having a store of dialogues memorized makes it surprisingly easy to be sociable in a second language. And my impression is that these older cassette programs were more effective than programs like Rosetta Stone, which are strong on graphics and weak on pedagogy (see one librarian's amusing comparison here.)

Another aspect of Mango Languages that interests me is that it's essentially a slide-show broadcast on the web using Flash. Millions of people already know how to make multimedia PowerPoint slide-shows like this, and there are free programs like authorPOINT Lite that can convert those to Flash. So in principle, there's nothing stopping those working on endangered languages from making similar products in their spare time.

I have a confession, though: I've never used PowerPoint! This week I'll try to remedy that, and I'll post whatever I come up with!