A Gift Horse

I used to think Mango Languages was the boring workhorse of language apps. I get free access to Mango through the New York Public Library. Mango includes many languages. I’m currently studying Japanese, Spanish, Arabic, and German on the app. The interface doesn’t have all the visual bells and whistles included in services like Duolingo or FluentU. Mango’s online cards contain either vocabulary, sentences or phrases punctuated with cards that may explain a grammar or cultural point.

Mango Languages is a steady, gradual introduction to the language with a lot of repetition within each lesson. I usually take about 7 to 10 minutes to complete one lesson so it is easy to incorporate into my day. I like the gradual introduction of grammar. However, for time I found Mango to be plain and unexciting.

Recently, I’ve realized that Mango’s lack of enhancements (visual progress graphs, points, rewards, paths, videos, pictures etc) is actually one of its benefits. Every morning I use six language apps or websites. I use iKnow and NativShark for Japanese every day because I have Japanese family. Then I use Mango, FluentU, and Duolingo for whatever additional language I am focusing on each week. I use LingQ to quickly dip into the four languages I am studying.

Clean Look/Clean Mind

I’ve come to appreciate the clean, plain look of Mango cards. On most cards, Mango includes a phrase in the target language to translate into English or an English sentence to translate into the target language. You guess in your head or out loud and click the “Show Answer” button. The answer card shows the English sentence and the target language. Each word or phrase is colored so that you see the word function in each sentence. This is great because word order varies differently in each language. Take for example the German sentence, “Trotzdem brauche ich Deutschunterricht.” This means, “Despite that I need German lessons.” Mango labels “trotzdem” and “despite that” blue, “brauche” and “need” brown, “ich” and “I” red, and “Deutschunterricht” and “German lessons” green. This color labelling is really helpful because over time I’ve come to understand sentence structures through exposure as well as short explanations on Mango.

Underneath all of this are three simple icons: a microphone to use as a voice comparison, a megaphone to repeat the native speaker reading the target sentence, and a go back button to go back to the original question. I only use the megaphone to hear the sentences again.

Repetition, Repetition, Review

Mango uses repetition in a way that suits me. Within a lesson, Mango repeats sentences several times as well as vocabulary within each sentence that may be new or troublesome. The lessons do connect so vocabulary and sentences will be repeated. At the end of the lesson, each lesson you can either move on to the next lesson or restart. I restart if I’m dissatisfied with how I did with the cards or if it is the last lesson of the week. I switch languages on Mango every week so I like to start with the last lesson I finished.

Mango also generates review cards–but not too many of them. Certain sentences have a little light bulb on them and will come up later in a review section for each language. If you fail cards, those cards will come up more often. However, this isn’t like an SRS system like Anki where hundreds of cards pile up. I make a point of reviewing the other languages every other day to keep a little bit of every language alive instead of waiting a whole month to begin studying the language again. If I do this regularly, I usually only have to review less than ten cards. Just a little bit to keep the flame of each language going.

I also review lessons depending on what kind of mastery I have in each language. I’m reading semi-fluently in Spanish, so I usually go from one lesson to another, trusting my extensive reading and other language learning systems to fill in the holes. However, with Arabic, when I begin studying I back up several lessons from the newest material to review whole lessons. If the newest lesson is 8, I start with lesson 2 so that I review this lesson that I have very other little exposure to.

Because of the various apps and immersion experiences I am using to study, I’m starting to achieve results. I’m reading the Hobbit in Spanish. I’m reading and enjoying A1/A2 graded readers in German. Because Duolingo for Arabic spends a lot of time studying the vexing Arabic writing system, I am enjoying studying the Mango Arabic lessons and testing my Arabic reading skills.

I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, horse capital of the world. I am licensed to use horse metaphors. When learning a language, it’s more fun to have a stable of horses. Some apps are like show horses that look pretty and do eye-catching tricks. Other apps are like draft horses that can carry carriages and go the distance and actually get you around the farm and beyond. Mango is like a good draft horse. Practical and beautiful at the same time.

If you are interested in a steady, non-distracting language app contact your local library to see if they subscribe to Mango Languages. This workhorse will take you places.