Free Mango Languages program teaches new skills

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerJuly 11, 2010 

Thanks to the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries’ new online language-learning system, I can now say “Yo hablo un poco de español,” even if it’s stretching the truth.

As a teacher who minored in German in college for no reason other than that I love language and that’s what I’d taken in high school, I’ve always regretted not being able to speak any Spanish.

I’ve spent more than a decade since college letting my German rust away even as I have encountered many ESL speakers, and even taught a few, without being able to dabble in their native tongue. I guess I could have said hola, adios and counted to diez, but that makes for exceptionally lousy conversation.

For years, I’ve wished I could take courses in Spanish, maybe even spend a summer in Mexico in an immersion class.

But with two kids and a part-time job teaching preschool, it’s one of those many things I just don’t get around to doing.

If I’m going to learn a new language at this time in my life, I need to do it at my own pace and with no commitments, no money invested, no guilt. It helps that I can do it in the privacy of my own home, where I can execute my butchered attempts at echoing the flawless Spanish of recorded voices without eliciting snickers all around me.

Easy to sign up

Apparently, I’m not the only one. Since the Chattahoochee Valley Library brought Mango Languages online in the fall of 2009, plenty of library patrons have started accessing the free language-learning system from their home computers.

All you have to do is go to the library Web site, click on the Mango icon on the right side of the screen and punch in your library card number.

And voila! You can start learning French or Arabic or Farsi. Or all three at once. Mango offers basic courses — just enough to allow you to exchange some basic pleasantries with folks if you’re playing tourist in their country — in 22 languages. In nine of those languages, you can also opt for a “complete course” with 100 lessons that extend much further into the nuances of grammar and vocabulary and that offer more practice and repetition.

Hundreds using it

Bobbi Newman, digital branch manager for the Chattahoochee Valley Library, said from January to May this year, 720 library card holders have used the system.

Among those users, the most popular courses here have been Spanish, Japanese and German, in that order, Newman said. And the ESL courses get pretty high usage too.

Newman, who had worked with Mango at the Missouri River Regional Library where she was previously employed, said one of the most common requests for online services at libraries is Rosetta Stone, a language-learning software that no longer works with public libraries. Now Mango fills the bill instead.

Since the audio CD language courses are often checked out at any given library, online learning systems help meet a larger demand, she said.

Visual and auditory

Newman, who has used Mango herself to brush up on her Spanish and to learn a little Italian before a trip to Italy, said online learning systems hold many advantages over more traditional audio CDs.

“It’s easier because it’s visual and auditory at the same time,” she said. “This way it moves at the pace you set. It’s easier to repeat what you need. … I love how it works. It’s great that you can create an account and keep track of where you’re at.”

Of course, it’s best to use the system in combination with language books and CDs and, most importantly, conversation partners who are fluent in the language you aspire to learn. But for now I’m just getting my footing.

Still, as someone who learns best when I write, I’ve realized I need to jot down what I am learning on Mango or risk sending my easily confused brain into a tailspin of Spanish phrases.

For the past couple weeks, while I’ve got a little more free time on my hands than usual, I’ve been carving out 20 minutes or so each evening to do a lesson or two.

My ambitions are modest. I know I won’t be speaking fluent Spanish any time soon, but maybe I’ll be able to keep up with my 5-year-old son who’s going to be learning Spanish in kindergarten this year. And maybe one day, if I ever finally take that immersion class in sunny Spain or Mexico, I will have laid a solid foundation.

In the meantime, I can feel my brain getting a different kind of workout than it does in a typical evening. And that can’t be bad.

Annie Addington, an independent correspondent, can be reached at

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