Monday, March 17, 2014

Journeys and Passports with Mango Languages

Mango Languages Homeschool
Learning another language holds a lot of interest for us, as well as a lot of uncertainty. It can be daunting to dive into an unfamiliar language, and learning it from a textbook is often not the best choice. To me, a test of having a working knowledge of another language would be the ability to follow and participate in a conversation in that language - something that is hard to learn from a textbook. Mango Languages offers a conversational approach to learning many different languages, and we had the opportunity to review their newest product, Mango Homeschool Edition.
Mango Languages Review
Mango Languages is already a familiar name to many, as they have been offering online language learning for about seven years. They started in the public library sector, but have been expanding steadily and now offer language learning for personal use, for schools, for higher education or corporate or government settings; and now specifically for homeschools as well. 

Over sixty foreign languages are offered, and non-English speakers may choose from several ESL courses as well. Users can choose to learn as many languages as they like, and at the same time if they prefer. The focus is on learning conversational language, and being able to speak and understand in travel and social situations. There are grammar and cultural notes throughout, and the pronunciation guides are presented in both audio and visual formats, so you can hear the phrase pronounced correctly as well as see the phonetic pronunciation.

We received a subscription to Mango Homeschool Edition, which allowed us to choose from the 60+ languages on the website, and explore the many features already available, as well as start learning a little about the features that will be coming soon. While much of this new Homeschool Edition is in a beta edition, the number of features available at this time are quite impressive, and include the following:
  • more than 60 different languages
  • progress assessments
  • journals and discussions
  • collaborative learning spaces
  • eNote messaging and chat rooms
  • access to embedded and downloadable content
  • support from other community members
  • calendars to schedule meetings or study-groups
Some of the features that will be rolled out in the coming months are pretty exciting. These include:
  • enhanced tracking and progress monitoring for students and parents
  • goals and personal lesson plans (both stand-alone and tied into Mango courses)
  • a resume and portfolio builder
As you might imagine, with so many languages and features, our options in trying out Mango Languages seemed overwhelming! There is a lot to explore and more than I can adequately cover in one review. Fortunately, there are a number of Schoolhouse Review Crew members sharing about their experiences with Mango Homeschool Edition; and we tried many different languages with many different students, and tried out different features. So if you are curious about features or languages that I don't mention, be sure to check out the other reviews - other Crew members will have tried things that we did not!

How did we use it?  Once we were signed up, there were video tutorials to guide us through the many features and help us get started. I was unnerved by the prospect of setting up the dashboard and everything myself, but it was oh-so-simple once I'd watched the tutorial! Then we started browsing the list of available languages:
Mango Languages Review
Each passport page tells you the number of speakers worldwide and the countries where the language is spoken. You can see how many Journeys there are and the topics covered. (Lesson units are called "Journeys" - you are traveling on a "Passport", after all!) Some languages have printable files available with the course outline, grammar notes and culture notes in a pdf format. Most languages have a "Try a Demo" option so you can have a go at it before joining the space. Here, on the Brochure for French (Canadian), it states there are 9 million speakers worldwide, and it is spoken in Canada and the United States. There is one Journey and there are no files.
Mango Languages Homeschool
All three of us are signed up and have tried out some languages. Landon and Kennady immediately jumped on the idea of learning Pirate! Of course, this isn't a *real* language, but just for fun! I suggested they learn Pirate as their orientation to how Mango Languages worked, and that turned out to be a great idea. They both learned the *language* quickly, and were soon able to order each other around using terms like "belay yer carousin'" and "blow me down!". For a fun introduction to how Mango Languages teaches, this is it!
Mango Languages Homeschool 

Mango Languages Homeschool
When they finished the course in Pirate, they were awarded a badge that could be shared on Twitter or Facebook!
Kennady had a long list of languages she wanted to learn, and since Mango allows users to get a good feel for what's involved with each language before actually signing up for that Passport, she checked out anything she thought would be fun, including Russian and Hawaiian. She wound up choosing French (Canadian) as the primary language she wanted to work on, because she's already got a little bit of a start in that language. I previewed the French (European) course,which is more involved, and has three Journeys whereas French (Canadian) has only one. I am having Kennady do French (European) when she finished French (Canadian).
Mango Languages Homeschool
Each Journey begins with a conversation - two speakers greet each other and ask introductory questions. The conversation is shown in English, and then in the new language. By clicking on any one of the phrases, you can hear it again. Then in the next screens, the conversation is broken down into words and phrases, using a flashcard system for the user to hear, see, recall, and practice saying the parts of the conversation. It also gives the user a chance to use deduction to put together a two- or three-word phrase using the pieces of the puzzle already learned. Most importantly, it is fun and there is really not much pressure! By the end of the French (Canadian) Passport, Kennady should be able to ask someone's nationality and what language they speak, make introductions, ask and answer questions about how to find locations, and be able to ask questions while shopping and dining out. (That's super important to a girl who wants to travel and likes souvenirs, fashion finds, and local eateries!)
Mango Languages Homeschool
Although I mainly left this to Kennady, I sure wanted a shot at learning languages too, even at my advanced age! I learned along with her - over her shoulder, often - as she worked on French; and I also dabbled a little in German. The German course has three Journeys and the printable files are available.
Mango Languages Homeschool
As you can see from some screenshots of my German language files, the elements of the conversation are provided in English and German, along with phonetic pronunciation guides, and some grammar and cultural notes. 
Mango Languages Homeschool
The Grammar Notes are also presented all in one place for each Journey, as are the Cultural Notes.
Mango Languages Homeschool

Mango Languages Homeschool
The goals for each segment of the Journey are clearly listed as well. These printable files would be extremely valuable for a high school student needing something printed to put into their portfolio!
Mango Languages Homeschool
There is also a Course Exam available once you've completed the German Passport. I'm a long way from being ready for the Final Exam at this point, but I'm brushing up on the little bit of existing German I have, and learning some practical German conversation that's new to me. I'd love to reward myself with a German stamp on my real passport someday, and I intend to be able to interact with the people I meet there when I do!
Mango Languages Homeschool
Landon started looking at some of the languages available, and showed initial interest in Irish (Happy St Patrick's Day! Irish is a quite a challenge to figure out!) but ultimately decided that he would rather not dive into learning a new language right now, and left the adventure to me and to Kennady. However, the ease of use of Mango means that he will probably be back and learn a more practical language (more practical than Pirate, I mean!) such as Spanish or French when he has a little less on his plate. We also need to consider whether this would be accepted for high school credit in foreign language. The complete answer to that question would probably vary from state to state, and from one college to another, but a complete Mango course with more than one Journey would generally count for credit. My experience in the German course is that it is definitely at least one full high school credit! In fact, the rating of credits is something the developers told us they were working on, and that should be available in a couple of months. Quizzes and tests are another feature that would be extremely valuable to homeschoolers, and at the high school level in particular. This something else that is being developed and should be available soon. Quizzes, tests, and assignments were topics that many of us that were on this review asked about in a webinar with two of the Mango developers, and we were told that those features are being developed and improved, and will hopefully be available very soon.

One question that I know a lot of people will have is this: Why subscribe to Mango Homeschool Edition when my public library offers Mango for free? (Many libraries do, including ours!) The answer is this - the library version only offers ONE level of any given language, while the Homeschool Edition has all levels of all languages. Also, the Homeschool Edition has the community features of forums and other classroom style features that are not available with the free library version.

What we liked best:

  • the student really is in command of how quickly they move through the lessons and how many times they want to hear or see something repeated so they understand it.
  • your progress is saved as you move through the lessons, even if you walk away from the screen and get timed out (yeah, I may have been interrupted and have had that happen). When you log in again, you can resume right where you left off. And you can always back up to review previous lessons if you need the refresher.
  • learning a conversation makes more sense than learning a list of nouns, then a list of verbs, and then trying to cobble the whole mess together using unfamiliar (to English-speaking folks!) tenses, sentence structures, and grammatical genders.
  • the Passports are visually rich and attractive.
  • there is voice recognition technology in place, so if you have a working microphone hooked up to your computer, you are set! However, we were very successful without using our microphone, so I love that we weren't limited in our use of Mango just because our microphone/computer didn't cooperate.
  • Mango works on all kinds of platforms and operating systems, and on many devices, including iPhone, iPod, and Android.
What I need to mention:

  • we did not use the chat and community features, although I explored them a bit. I love that the chat feature allows users to converse with each other, and there is wonderful potential there to ask questions or get feedback from others that may know the languages better. Safety is a huge priority for Mango Languages, and there is no anonymity for their users - full names are required so no one can hide behind an alias and the Saywire community is a private one for registered users only. However, there is not a way to "turn off" the chat feature, so parents of younger children will need to be aware of that if that's a feature they don't wish to use.
  • since there is no built-in written component, if you want the student to have written work in their notebook, they will likely need to write information down themselves for languages where the Files are not currently available.
Our bottom line: I was so impressed at how painless it was to memorize and recall a new set of phrases! The system really works, and we had fun using it, whether we were just exploring how to greet others in a variety of languages and get a little taste of them, or whether we were delving deep into conversational French or German. I know I will continue working on German for my own satisfaction, and Kennady and I are making great strides in our conversational French. I am going to start pushing for a Quebec vacation sometime in the next year so we can really test our skills! With the new features still being rolled out in the Homeschool Edition, I will be encouraging Landon to consider learning one of what I call the "big three" foreign languages (Spanish, French, and German) for high school credit. 
Mango Languages Review
Would you like a taste of Mango Languages? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website at:
Go directly to Mango Homeschool Edition, or check out the FAQs. (At present, there isn't a list of FAQs specifically about the homeschool edition on the website. They do, however, invite you to contact them with your questions about it.) 

Age range: Mango Languages is intended for ages 6 through adult, and offers all levels of coursework.

Pricing:  Introductory pricing for Mango Homeschool Edition is as follows:
$18/month or $125/year for 1 subscription;
$28/month or $175/year for two subscriptions;
$38/month or $225/year for three subscriptions;
$48/month or $275/year for four subscriptions;
$58/month or $325/year for five subscriptions.
Six subscriptions and up would qualify for a special group rate and would depend on the number in the group. Contact Mango for more information. (Each person learning a language requires a subscription.)

You can follow Mango Languages on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other Crew member reviews. 
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