Software

Mango Languages; Rosetta Stone Language Learning

Mango Languages is an online language-learning app with a deal that seems too good to be true. For $20 per month, you can have unfettered access to everything in Mango’s catalog, which includes more than 60 language programs! Even more enticing, a subscription could be free through your public library. What’s the catch? While the very best language-learning apps are engaging and enjoyable, Mango isn’t. The core material is painfully tedious. What’s more, it’s nearly impossible to learn a language that uses a different writing system because the characters are never properly taught.

If you’re serious about learning a language, you’re much better off with Rosetta Stone, PCMag’s Editors’ Choice among paid language-learning programs, or Duolingo, the Editors’ Choice among free programs. Both Rosetta Stone and Duolingo are more enjoyable to use on a daily basis. Mango might be a last resort if you can’t find your language of choice elsewhere, but I wouldn’t recommend starting with it.

Languages Offered

Mango has an impressive catalog. Excluding English, Shakespearean English, and pirate, Mango offers 67 language programs: American Sign Language, Egyptian Arabic, Iraqi Arabic, Levantine Arabic, Arabic (Modern Standard), Armenian, Azerbaijani, Bengali, Cherokee, Mandarin Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dari, Dutch, Dzongkha, Farsi (Persian), Finnish, French, Canadian French, German, Greek, Ancient Greek, Koine Greek, Haitian Creole, Hawaiian, Hebrew, Biblical Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Igbo, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Javanese, Kazakh, Korean, Latin, Malay, Malayalam, Norwegian, Pashto, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Scottish Gaelic, Serbian, Shanghainese, Slovak, Latin American Spanish, European Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, Tuvan, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, and Yiddish.

While that list is certainly long, you’ll still find programs for some of the most popular languages in other apps. Duolingo, for example, has 20 fully developed courses, plus several that are in beta or “hatching,” meaning they are currently in development. Rosetta Stone has courses for 28 languages, not counting American and British English.

For languages that are harder to find, you’re not necessarily stuck with Mango. I highly recommend considering Pimsleur, which has programs for 50 languages. The hitch with Pimsleur is that it’s almost all audio-based, so you don’t practice reading and writing. Transparent Language is the other sure bet because it supports more than 100 languages. Transparent Language is very self-directed, however, and requires a lot of discipline to work through the lessons. Additionally, some of the more obscure languages, such as Wolof and Oji-Cree for example, only have the most basic course material.

All the programs mentioned so far are good for beginners. Some online language-learning apps are more suited for advanced speakers. Yabla comes to mind. It’s a video-based app that only supports a small number of languages (Chinese, French, German, Italian, and Spanish), but the content is great if you need to practice listening and understanding real people speaking at a natural pace.

Price

As mentioned, Mango Languages might be free if your local library offers it through its database. Transparent Language, Rosetta Stone, and Pimsleur are often also offered by public libraries in the US and Canada. I was able to create a Mango Languages account for free by logging into my New York Public Library account from a home computer. I’ve also tested Mango through a personal paid account, and through an organizational account. While there are some differences for administrators between these types of accounts, the learner’s experience is more or less the same.

If you can’t get it for free, a Mango membership costs $20 per month, and as mentioned, that includes access to all the language programs. With most other online language learning apps, a membership locks you into just one language. The fact that you get access to everything in Mango sounds like a phenomenal deal, but, be realistic. Are you really going to study more than one, or at most two languages? Perhaps for large households in which everyone is studying a different language it might make sense. I’d still caution people not to be lured by the bargain.

Other online learning programs keep their costs lower than Mango’s. Babbel charges $12.95 monthly or $83.40 for a year’s subscription. Yabla costs $9.95 per month.

Rosetta Stone has one of the highest price tags, but its quality matches it. An annual membership has a list price of $299, although it regularly sells at a discount for $199. Head-to-head, however, I think Rosetta Stone is far superior to Mango.

Living Language offers a Platinum subscription for $179, which gives you one year of access to the online course for the language of your choice, plus 12 e-tutoring sessions. It’s a good deal as long as you take advantage of the e-tutoring, which is a huge value-add.

The audio program Pimsleur Comprehensive is expensive at $119 for lessons 1 through 30, which will keep you busy for a month if you do one per day. Those lessons are delivered as MP3 downloads, with no interactive components online.

Mango’s monthly price tag is high, especially as more and more free language learning apps (or freemium ones) offer plenty of high-quality material. In addition to Duolingo, Memrise is worth exploring. You get a lot for free with Memrise, and if you want more, a Pro account costs only $9 per month, $59 per year, or $129.99 for a lifetime.

Another excellent free app to keep on hand while studying a language is Quizlet. With Quizlet, you can create your own sets of material to study. It will help you practice your material through flashcards, quizzes, and other interactive learning modules. Quizlet has excellent support for foreign languages, although you can use the app to study any subjects you like.

Mango Languages

Mango’s Lessons

Over the years, I’ve used Mango Languages for a variety of languages, including French, German, Tamil (which uses a different writing system than English), and Romanian. The overall structure is clear. You have units, chapters, and lessons, and you work sequentially through them. If you want to skip ahead, you can.

Each lesson has somewhere around 50 exercises, although the exercises are little more than interactive flashcards, and that’s the primary way you learn new words and phrases. The exercises expose you to a new word or phrase, ask you to repeat it, ask you to repeat part of it, or ask you to recall something you’ve already learned.

With many flashcard apps, the whole point of using technology to power them is to have adaptive learning. For example, if you’re asked to recall a word and you get it wrong, that card should soon show up. If you get a particular word right a certain number of times, the system should retire it until much later. There’s a whole field theory about adaptive learning, and there are several smart ways to implement it.

Mango Languages doesn’t put anything smart into its flashcards at all. There is no scoring, and no adapting the cards based on your progress. The cards are in a static order. You can’t even self-score cards to keep track of words you remember and those you don’t. Rosetta Stone and Duolingo score you right or wrong as you go through the exercises and keep track of words or concepts that you should study again. Even the most basic flashcard apps, like TinyCards by Duolingo, let you mark cards with a star if you think you need to study them again.

Mango Languages exercise

The first Tamil lesson took me about 12 minutes to complete, and I think I retained about half of the new words I was supposed to learn. By the following day, I had forgotten all of them. Learning Tamil was especially tough because Mango never introduces the Tamil script. So I was looking at a swirl of lines that meant nothing to me. Hovering over a word shows a transliterated version of it, which provides a little more insight, but about a third of the time, the phonetics that I heard didn’t match the pronunciation guide. In the end, I opened a note-taking app and created my own phrasebook with phonetics. At least my own notes made sense to me when I reviewed them later.

I fared slightly better with other languages, but Mango’s main problem is that it’s tedious beyond belief. There’s an overly cheerful female voice that coaches you along with phrases like, “Do you remember how to say…” and “Let’s try…” and “Isn’t this easy?” She only says a handful of phrases, but the same recordings repeat over and over again, for every single exercise. Mango would be so much more tolerable if you could shut off that voice, or if it played less frequently, or if there were more variety in the voice recordings, or if the voice were just a little less enthusiastic. It’s unbelievably annoying.

As I mentioned, there is no right/wrong scoring at all in the core material, so you might as well be using a text book or stack of paper flashcards in conjunction with a few audio files. When you compare this style of teaching to Rosetta Stone, which uses deductive learning, it’s clear why Rosetta Stone is superior: You have to think! For example, let’s say you’ve learned the words for boy, girl, and man in Rosetta Stone. Then you see four pictures, that of a boy, girl, man, and woman. You haven’t learned the word for “woman” yet. The program will announce words, and you click on the corresponding picture. When you hear the word for “woman” for the first time, your brain thinks, “I don’t know that word. But I do know the words for boy, girl, and man, and it wasn’t one of those. So this new word must be woman.” It’s not complicated. It’s not difficult. But it is memorable.

Mango Languages, by contrast, tells you the word for hello, and then immediately after asks you, “Do you remember how to say, ‘hello?'” After 50 flashcards like this, my motivation to go on is minimal.

Other apps keep you motivated with goals, which Mango doesn’t have. For example, with Duolingo and Memrise, you can set a goal for how many minutes you want to study each day or how many points you want to earn, based on the number of lessons you complete. With both Duolingo and Memrise, the lessons are short, so you can easily do them on a mobile app when you have a few minutes to spare. The apps score you right or wrong as you go, and concepts or words you got wrong come up again before you advance to the next set of exercises. There’s more variety in the types of exercises, too. Mango doesn’t have multiple choice questions or fill-in-the-blank exercises, while most other apps do.

Even Pimsleur Comprehensive, the audio-based program, gets you to think more than Mango does. Pimsleur tells you how to say a word, breaks down the phonetics, puts the word into context, and at some point in the future, asks you to recall it. Pimsleur spaces out when you hear a word for the first time and when you’re asked to recall it very carefully, and this timing makes it effective. You’re often being asked to remember words just when you were at the brink of forgetting them.

Mango Languages waveform

Pimsleur spends a lot of time on pronunciation in its beginner programs, breaking words into syllables that you hear and say several times. Mango just kind of throws words at you. Mango does have a voice-recording option, however. You can play a recording of a native speaker saying a word and see the waveform that matches it. Then you record your own voice saying the same word to see if the waveforms align. Rosetta Stone offers waveform feedback, too. I don’t find waveforms especially helpful, though, because am I really learning anything by looking at a squiggly line that represents someone’s speech? Does looking at that squiggly line enable me to change something I’m doing with my pronunciation? For me, the answer is no. If you can make use of waveforms, more power to you.

Additional Content

While I knock Mango Languages for having unmemorable, dry, and poorly presented core content, I have to hand it to the program for the extra material it offers. Some of it is pretty interesting, although it’s limited to select languages.

Mango Languages film

These are full feature-length films. For example, in the French program, you can watch Around a Small Mountain (2009; Roger Ebert gave it three stars) and La Moustache (2005). The movies can be watched scene-by-scene with English subtitles, native closed captioning, or neither or both of those options. At the end of each scene is a recap of the dialogue so you can examine it slowly and closely. I really enjoy the videos, but as mentioned, they only appear in a few select languages.

If you’re not a stone-cold beginner, you might also explore Mango Languages’ speciality courses, such as medical Spanish or Russian slang. This material is presented in the same manner as the core beginner material, with lackluster flashcards, so don’t expect any fancy learning systems here. Still, if you just need to drill through some vocabulary for a specific situation, such as business or legal practice, it might be worth a shot.

Final Word

As compelling a deal as Mango Languages seems to offer, I can’t heartily recommend it for learning a new language. There may be some material worth exploring, such as Premiere movie content, but, on the whole, you can find better resources to learn or practice a language. Try PCMag’s Editors’ Choices first: Duolingo in the free category, and Rosetta Stone among paid programs.


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