Friday, March 14, 2014

Review: Mango Languages

Ever since we started Spanish lessons in our homeschool, there has been a lot of 'chatter' about learning languages. Two of the children were learning Spanish, one wanted to, and the other wanted to be totally different and learn French. As the mom/teacher, I had some mixed experiences: I took French in school when I was growing up, hung around with enough Spanish speaking people as a teen that I could recognize a few words, and had a secret desire to learn Hebrew!

When we were given the opportunity to review the Mango Homeschool Edition of Mango Languages through The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew I found myself extremely excited at the potential of covering all our homeschool foreign language needs in one program!

What is Mango Languages? You may be familiar, as I was, with Mango Languages because of it's easily accessible program available in public libraries. Mango Languages is a foreign language instruction program that uses real life scenarios to help students, young and old, learn to communicate in another tongue. It is recommended for ages 6 and up, and is very practical for adults to use as well.

What about the homeschool program? For this review, we were given one year access to a beta version of the Mango Homeschool Edition. A highlight of the homeschool program is that multiple learners can access the program. It is available to the entire family if you wish. Mom or Dad can learn a language on their own, as well as learn alongside their children. Families can study multiple languages at one time. There is also a built in communication system in the program where family members can write and leave messages for each other, either as a teacher giving an assignment, as practice using the language, or as the student asking a question.

How many languages are available? The Mango Homeschool Edition currently has 60 languages available to choose from.  Here is a small screenshot of a section of the "Commons" area of the website, where you can go to choose a language and get started.

How we used the program: 

Let me say first that I loved having a program with so many choices! When we first signed up, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the language choices available. Oh, for more time in the day!!!

Kelly (3rd grade) signed up for Latin American Spanish. This is a continuation of what she has been learning. I had her start right at the beginning, even though many of the words and phrases being taught were already familiar to her. She has enjoyed being able to log in on her own, and complete a lesson. She can easily do one lesson per day, which takes her about 15 minutes. She enjoys repeating back the phrases that are said. While I don't think she has remembered everything, she has absorbed quite a bit of it, and does refer back to it in everyday life. The Spanish course has review 'tests' after each 5 lessons, and Kelly did fairly well on them!

Melissa (7th grade) signed up for French. She has enjoyed a very limited amount of French instruction so far, so this program seemed like a perfect fit for her. She wanted to be able to actually say conversational phrases in French, and her Mango lessons have helped her to do just that. Melissa has also been working on a French notebook, writing down the words and phrases she is learning. While this is not a requirement of the program, we found that it helps her to remember them better, and also allows for easy review.

Laura (11th grade) has already taken two years of High School Spanish. Her strengths lie in grammar, reading, and writing Spanish, but her conversational Spanish practice has been very limited. She also signed up for the Latin American Spanish. The Spanish lessons come with a built in assessment test to place the student at the spot in the program that suits them best. Laura was frustrated that the assessment test placed her at the beginning, even though she already has quite a bit of Spanish training. I feel that it's likely because her conversational comprehension skills are weaker than her grammar skills.

Mom signed up for Spanish, French, and Hebrew. My desire was to keep up with the girls in their language learning, as well as explore learning Hebrew a bit on my own. The Hebrew lessons have been fascinating! It thrills me to be able to say a few rudimentary phrases in Hebrew. I plan on continuing throughout our year of Mango access to complete the Hebrew lessons.

What is included in the lessons?  I found through exploring the website that there are variations within the different languages. As I mentioned before, Spanish includes an assessment test to place the student at the right spot in the lessons. It also has three "journeys" or sections of material available, which is much more than is available with Hebrew. Spanish also had student review tests. I did not find assessment tests on the other languages we sampled.

When the student signs up for a language, they begin a "journey" through that language. After logging in, the student clicks through a series of 'slides' that contain words and conversational phrases. They learn to say these by repeating back after the native speakers. The student can also connect a microphone and use the voice recognition tool to check their pronunciation. By clicking on various parts of the slide, the student can have the words repeated slower, or even spelled phonetically, so they can be sure they are getting the exact pronunciation needed.

To make it easy to pick up where you left off, chapter selections are included:

Mango also includes slides throughout each lesson that explain various grammar and cultural applications to the current lesson:

The languages also provide a "passport" that includes all the words and phrases learned in the lesson organized onto one easy-to-read page. This works great for reviewing, and can be downloaded and printed out.

What I have really liked about this program:  Hands down, it has to be all the pronunciation helps. Not only are there options to repeat the speaker's phrase in regular or slow speed, but there is also phonetic spelling of every word, complete with emphasis and accent marking. In the absence of a live teacher, this has to be the most efficient substitute. The other huge plus is the flexibility that allows a family to have multiple students learning multiple languages at one time. I also thought the cultural notes were interesting, well placed, and very relevant to the lessons.

In the near future: While we are testing out and reviewing the beta version, Mango has been working on some improvements that will be coming over the next few months. All of these updates address areas that we felt could use improvement, including a way to track student progress, the answers to the review tests, and a way for the student to see what they got wrong. While there is opportunity on the Mango site to communicate with other students that are learning the same language, Mango is still working out the most appropriate way for homeschoolers to use this in a safe setting.

For high school credit: In my opinion, I do not think this program, in its current state, would be appropriate to earn high school credit on its own. Its main purpose seems to be teaching conversational skills for each language, and it is not heavy on the grammar or written skills of that language. I think it is a great program to put alongside book learning though, to round out a student's education and give them the practical feel for their language studies.

My final thoughts: I think the most appropriate target audience for this program would be someone who might be preparing for a short trip to a foreign land, and needs to be able to communicate in that country's native tongue when they arrive. Perhaps someone going on a short term missions trip could utilize this program to learn some of the language before they arrive. I think this is a really cool and interesting program, that would be a wonderful addition to any homeschool! 

How much does it cost: 
The current pricing is as follows: 
1 subscription is $18/month or $125/year total  
2 subscriptions is $28/month or $175 /year total                      
3 subscriptions is $38/month or $225/year total                     
4 subscriptions is $48/month or $275/year total                 
5 subscriptions is $58/month or $325/year total

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