Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Language Learning: From Pimsleur Audio to Unlimited

Pimsleur German Unlimited screenshotPaul Pimsleur developed his language learning method over 50 years ago. And, if you read on, you'll understand why taking a look at Pimsleur Unlimited is feeling a little bit like "back to the future" for me.

If you've ever used Pimsleur audio lessons for learning a language, you'll know how deeply the sound of words and phrases embed themselves in your brain with this program. 

Young children also learn their first language through sound. They hear (and repeat) their caregivers' words, phrases, and sentences numerous times, begin to absorb the patterns of the language, and put all of this together to say what they want, and to understand others.

The Adult's Conundrum

When you learn a new language as an adult, you're in fact learning a new sound system, which runs parallel to the one of your native language (or to a second, or third, etc., if you speak more languages).

A problem for adults is that they may find it difficult to hear some of the sounds in a new target language. Why is that so?

Very early on, children's brains make it possible for them to hear ANY children playing - Yay imagessounds of ANY language. As they focus on learning their first language, this ability narrows down to the sounds they listen to and use in their daily life.

This narrowing down of sounds heard continues through adolescence and adulthood and can be traced to the growth of our “categorical perception.” (We described this phenomenon in an earlier post: “Beyond Learning a Language Like a Child”.)

So, adults have to re-learn how to hear and produce sounds that are not part of the language(s), they use in their daily life. It can be done, but they have to focus and practice.

Before you read on, you may want to read my disclosure at the bottom. For these reasons I can't really provide an objective review of the German course(s). But by starting to use the Pimsleur Unlimited Russian app, I'm able to judge how the app works for a language that I don't know.

What I know well: Pimsleur German Audio CDs

Obviously, I'm well familiar with the features that make a Pimsleur German audio effective:

  • Each unit's initial conversation has only one new word or phrase.
  • Later in each unit, new words are introduced in the context of what you know.
  • You hear and repeat new words, with backward buildup. (Singers call it "back-chaining.")
  • Comments on pronunciation issues are given as they come up.
  • A “spaced” recall schedule helps you move words from short to long-term memory.
  • You learn to make new combinations following a familiar pattern.
  • The speakers pronounce clearly, with a standard German accent.
  • You learn the sound system of German.
  • You learn basic German sound-spelling correlation in the Reading sections.
  • The units are downloadable. You can play them on your computer or mobile device.

But, no course can be everything to everyone. People have asked about these points:

  • There's no systematic introduction to grammar. There are only brief explanations.
  • Not enough vocabulary. Each unit introduces about 10 new words.
  • Most cues are in English, so you hear a lot of English.
  • You don't learn the spelling of the German words and phrases you hear.

Pimsleur audio does a very good job teaching the sounds and pronunciation to adult beginners. And most importantly, it asks the learner to SPEAK, REPEAT, and IMITATE. Good pronunciation can become a habit. Pimsleur gets you into the good pronunciation habit.

User comments, competition, online/app progress, etc. were certainly reasons for expanding the Pimsleur method, first to downloadable software, and now also to mobile apps.

What I'm discovering: Pimsleur Unlimited

Pimsleur App pageTo try out Pimsleur's "Unlimited" mobile app, I used the iOS app for German. To its traditional audio course, Pimsleur has added Flashcards, Quick Match, and Speak Easy exercises. (To date, Pimsleur has 8 languages in its Unlimited mobile edition: German, French, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese Mandarin, Japanese, and Russian.)

The core of the program is still the audio lesson, as described above. The added feature for "Unlimited" is that you can easily pause, skip back and skip forward when doing the audio. You can keep redoing a short (or longer) segment until you've got it.

With the Flashcards, Quick Match, and Speak Easy exercises you have new and different tools for quick practice and recall of what you've learned.

Listening + Reading

Besides, you're learning to hear and understand, to say, and to READ words, phrases, and sentences in context. By learning to read beyond basic sound-spelling correlation, you're acquiring a powerful language learning tool.

Yes, children learn languages without first learning to read. By age three to three and a half, many children are highly conversant in their native language. However, they then spend years in school to learn to read and write fluently.

For adults, reading and writing in one's native language is part of daily life. When you learn new words in a foreign language, you automatically imagine how they are spelled. Without other information, you'll apply your own native-language, or other familiar spelling system.

By learning how German words sound and are written, you're training yourself to become a reader of German texts.

German is plentiful on the Internet in the form of news stories, social media streams on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (to name the most popular), ebook readers you can download, etc. Once you make a habit of reading German on a daily basis, your vocabulary will grow exponentially.

My Tricks With Russian

I'm a native speaker of German and taught college German for a number of years in the U.S. Right now I'm learning Russian from scratch with Pimsleur Unlimited. In general, my tricks for using the program with Russian are also applicable for German, or any other language. (I'm planning a more detailed review of Pimleur's Unlimited Russian for later.)

Whenever I start with a new online program or app, it takes me a couple of weeks to get into it and figure out ways I can optimize the resource.

The Pimsleur Unlimited mobile app is very easy to navigate, so you can hop around. Besides learning daily with new material, I go back and review. I love it that you can pick and choose what chunks to redo.

I go back a lot and replay parts of the course. For example, I replay the five last conversations, one after the other, just the conversations. Or I listen to one conversation again and again, until I've memorized it.

I replay an earlier Quick Match or Speak Easy, or several of them in a row.

A small notebook for each language is a constant companion for me. Pimsleur User Guide - Gamesforlanguage.comIn it, I write down words and phrases, as well as brief grammar explanations that come up.

Even if I never check back to those particular notes, just the act of writing something out by hand, helps me to remember better. Writing out also makes me literate right from the beginning and teaches me the new spelling system as I go along.

From time to time during the day, I recall in my mind - without the app - the words or phrases I learned the day before. There always are a few moments of down time to do this. My little notebook helps me if I need a prompt.

I certainly follow Paul Pimsleur's Golden Rule for Success #4: "Daily exposure to the language is critical to your success, but don’t attempt to do more than one 30-minute Audio Lesson per day. You may repeat a lesson more than once if you find it helpful." (You'll find these rules in the downloadable PDF of Pimsleur Unlimited User Guide, see screenshot above.)

How Fast Can You Learn German (or Russian)?

Learning a language takes time and effort. (Whew, how many times have I said this in my life?) Becoming fluent in a new language as an adult cannot happen just like that in 10 days. Three months of total immersion, with an excellent tutor on the side, may do it. At least that was my experience when I learned Dutch, and later English.

Learning a language as an adult with a job, a family, and a social life means you have to squeeze language learning in whenever you can. And you have to keep your motivation up.

With Pimsleur you can get a good start and keep going. Most of all, you'll build some confidence in speaking. For many, having the courage to speak in a new language is the hardest part.

As you need them, add other resources, such as a basic grammar book (to figure out what some of the underlying patterns are), podcasts or audio books (to learn listening to rapid German), a browser extension, such as Lingua.ly (to help you read many different types of texts), or a flashcard program, such as Memrise (to practice various types of vocabulary).

Finding a language exchange partner, or a tutor via Skype can also be a powerful motivator. If you can, travel to a country or region where the language is spoken.

Putting in the effort is really worth it. Most of all, have fun! Viel Spaß!

Let us know your comments below.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

Disclosure: Ulrike Rettig was the Development Editor/Author of Pimsleur's German Levels 1, 2 and 3, written during the time she worked for Pimsleur Language Programs (owned since 1997 by Simon & Schuster Audio). She left Pimsleur in 2010. GamesforLanguage has no business relationship with Simon & Schuster, other than receiving the German and Russian Unlimited apps for free.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"SuperCoco" - Learning Spanish - A Review

Supercoco - Gamesforlanguage.comBecause I'm interested in everything language learning, I signed up to beta test "a new approach to language learning" in one of my online language groups. This was some time ago.

In the summer, I got an email that I could "test flight" the iPhone app for Spanish and started testing it through its updates. Mid-October 2016, "SuperCoco - Learn Spanish by talking" went live. It's pretty neat.

For many people, myself included, learning to converse with some fluency in a new language is highly challenging. SuperCoco seeks to addresses that issue in interesting ways.

Except for audio programs such as the Pimsleur Language Programs, and more than any other language apps or programs that I've tried, SuperCoco encourages you to SPEAK. The instructions are simple: "When you hear Spanish, you repeat it. When you hear English, you say the Spanish."

Phil Mitchell, who is the founder of Larkwire, the maker of the SuperCoco app, told us:

"SuperCoco was built by people who love language learning. It's the app we wanted for ourselves. Version 1.0 is incomplete, of course, there's lots more coming ... but we'd really love to hear from users about what they like and don't like in the app so far. It's an opportunity for people to get the app that they want."

WHAT YOU LEARN

To date, SuperCoco has four (4) Levels: Beginner, Advanced Beginner, Early Intermediate, Intermediate.

Five (5) more Levels are to come: Advanced Intermediate, Proficient, Advanced Proficient, Near Fluent, Fluent.

Each of the current Levels has 60 or moreSupercoco:Section Screen - Gamesforlanguage.com conversations organized into 4 Chapters. In a Level you'll learn over 1000 sentences, and around 1000 new vocabulary items. (see screen shot: Intermediate Chapter 3)

The conversations are in the form of brief stories, sometimes ending with a humorous or surprising twist. These anecdotes contain cultural information and give context to the language.

You don't learn lists, you always learn words in the context of conversational sentences. That also means you learn grammatical forms as they are used.

Only new words are practiced separately in the Spanish First + words option, which is the initial and default "learning stage." Any words you've had before, are not isolated for practice.

There's a wide variety of topics. They include: Essentials, Food, Shopping, Communications, Transportation, Housing, Health, Social, Entertainment, Sights, Language, Dating, Wayfinding, Family, Work, Culture, School, and others.

LEARNING STAGES

SuperCoco automatically moves you through Learning Stages that are increasingly challenging.

(You could, but don't need to ever touch the Practice Mode button.)

  1. Spanish first + words (Sp. audio - pause - words Sp./Engl. - Sp. audio - pause - Eng. - Sp. written)
  2. Spanish first (Sp. audio - pause - Eng. audio - Sp. audio - pause - Sp. written)
  3. English first (Engl. audio - pause - Sp. audio - Sp. written)
  4. Partner: You take the role of one of the conversation partners (tap to hear Spanish)

Phil Mitchell also explained the following:

"Tracking every word allows the program to do something really neat: if SuperCoco predicts that you can already produce a given sentence, it jumps right into English First mode the first time you see that line. This is very powerful. First, it gives you the chance to produce Spanish that you've never heard before; and second, when you're in the flow of the conversation, you often speak the Spanish without even realizing that it's brand new. You're just speaking Spanish."

HOW YOU LEARN: FIRST LISTENING and SPEAKING

With SuperCoco you learn first and foremost through sound. When you start a lesson, you can go hands free, and just listen and repeat. The lesson continues automatically.

Or if you wish, you can control SuperCoco by voice commands, such as Coco WHAT? (alias: Coco REPEAT?) - to hear a line again; Coco SLOW - to hear the line at slower speed; Coco STOP (alias: Coco PAUSE) - to pause the conversation, etc. Go to the Library (Menu icon) for other voice commands. Note that you can only give commands when SuperCoco is not speaking.

You learn and practice each of the conversations sentence by sentence. You never hear the full conversation just in Spanish. (It is always broken up by English translation.)

After the Spanish audio or the English cue, there's a pause to let you say the Spanish word or sentence.

In the early lessons, coach SuperCoco pops up to give you tips, reminders, and encouragement.

At the end of a conversation, you can rate it: Too hard, Just right, Too easy. This information will go into the algorithm of the program, and determine how soon and how often you'll review that particular conversation.

DO YOU NEED TO SEE THE WORDS?

Supercoco: conversation - Gamesforlanguage.comAs an adult who's been schooled in reading and writing, you may automatically imagine how words in a foreign language are spelled - when you hear them.

Most likely, you'll apply the sound-spelling correlation that you're familiar with, i.e. the spelling of English if that's your native language.

Learning a new language means that you have to learn a new sound-spelling system. You can only do that by seeing how a word is spelled when you hear it, or right after.

SuperCoco gives you that option. You can see the Spanish text after you hear the audio, following a short delay. The brief pause not only lets you repeat what you hear, you can also anticipate the spelling in your mind.

(By the way, that's quite similar to Gamesforlanguage's “Say It” module, which we use in all of our language story-based courses.)

GRAMMAR at YOUR FINGERTIPS (if you want)

Supercoco: Grammar Explanation screen - Gamesforlanguage.comBy tapping on a specific word in the conversation, you'll first see a brief grammar point.

Then, if you tap the capsule, it loads a full explanation. For a verb, it explains the tense or mood and shows shows the conjugation. You'll also see links to related topics.

For example (see screenshot above), you'll see the sentence "¿Por qué ne estás tirando fresas?" (Why are you throwing strawberries at me?)

When you tap on "tirando" and then "fresas" you'll see: tirando (tirar): to throw (verb: gerund); and, fresas (fresa): strawberry (noun: pl f ).

By tapping further, you'll load an explanations of the gerund form, and other related links.

Or, tapping on the imperative form "espere,"  (see screen shot) you'll load an explanation of the form, as well as the (positive and negative) conjugation of the imperative.

NO IMAGES

Very different from picture-heavy Rosetta Stone (and many other popular programs), SuperCoco uses no pictures at all. Interesting!

While pictures can certainly link to the foreign words (or labels) of objects, they can also be a distraction from learning their sounds.

With a picture-driven program you have to constantly figure out what the picture is supposed to represent. Besides, how can one show anything complicated or abstract with a still picture?

THE SKILLS TAB and PRONUNCIATION LESSONS

There are eight (8) Core Skills Lessons which give you one Key Tip in each lesson. Each is about 2-3 minutes long and includes the topics 'How to absorb Spanish faster,' 'What to do when you can't remember,' 'How to find time to practice,' and 'How and when to learn grammar.'

In the Skills Tab, you'll also find 23 excellent short Pronunciation Lessons that cover all the sounds of Spanish, with step-by-step instructions on how to produce the sounds. In each lesson, you can then Listen, Record, and Check your pronunciation. It's a fast track to getting a great accent.

COST

Without a subscription, you are limited to one chapter of conversations -- it can be any chapter.

A subscription to the SuperCoco app Spanish is $4.99 a month in the app store. With a subscription, you have access to all the chapters.

Having a monthly subscription may quite motivating: The serious learner will want to pack in as much as possible into a limited time.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • The focus on listening and speaking is very effective.
  • Seeing the spelling right after the audio is a great option.
  • The stories, which are in conversational format, are humorous and use real language.
  • Understanding the meaning is always part of how you learn.
  • The many different topics cover a wide range of vocabulary.
  • You can find a level that challenges you and you can pick and choose topics.
  • The voice recordings are high quality and easy to understand.
  • You're pushed to translate automatically when you hear an English sentence.
  • You get lots of encouragement.
  • We really like the hands-free part. You can listen while cooking, walking, commuting, etc.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

  • SuperCoco is currently available only for Apple devices with iOS 8.2 or later.
  • There's no setting for listening to a Spanish conversation in its entirety.
  • You cannot record and play back your own voice to check your pronunciation.
  • At this time, there's no reading and writing practice.
  • You don't get alternative translations.

CAN YOU LEARN WITH the APP FROM ZERO SPANISH?

I believe so, but since my Spanish was at an intermediate level before I started testing the app, I don't have an objective answer for that.

In my experience, the combination of hearing, repeating, and understanding the meaning of the foreign words and sentences is essential for learning a new language.

In any case, I can recommend SuperCoco as an excellent resource for learning and practicing Spanish.

In combination with other language courses and sites, including Gamesforlanguage, our affiliates, (Lingualia, LanguageZen, Lingohut, Benny Lewis, Mosalingua), Duolingo or other free or fee-based online courses and apps, you'll progress for sure.

Using more than one resource will help you stay interested and motivated. Once you have progressed beyond the basics, choose articles or books with topics that interest you for reading, podcasts for listening comprehension, language-exchange partners for conversations, etc.

In all, SuperCoco is a powerful learning tool that's fun, versatile, and easy to use. Whether using it alone, or adding it to whatever else you're learning with, you're bound to level up your Spanish.

That's true especially for your pronunciation, your listening comprehension, and fluency in speaking. To be contacted about new levels that are added, write to Larkwire: advanced@supercocoapp.com

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Disclosure: GamesforLanguage has no business relationship with SuperCoco, except for having participated in some beta testing and receiving the app for free. Certain links above are to affiliates' programs with revenue-sharing, should you decide to purchase or subscribe.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Learning and Practicing Spanish – Language Zen Update

Language Zen home pageRecently, Ulrike reviewed Language Zen - one of our partner sites for learning Spanish. While I had also used it intermittently, I really got into practicing with it during the last several weeks.

I also discovered a few features that are really helpful, but that I had not paid much attention to before.

“Literally” vs. "Meaning”

For translating a sentence, you often have the option to select “literally” vs. “meaning.”not a single man knows it - alternative Spanish translations - Language Zen & Gamesforlanguage.com

For example, to translate “Not a single man knows it.” I was very tempted to start with something like: No un solo hombre ...

However, when I clicked on the “literally” option, it suggested I say: “Not it (male) he knows not one man,” for my translation into Spanish.

And, as ningun had been introduced previously, I remembered that it was the translation for not one. Thus I was able to translate the sentence correctly. Then, when I confirmed my response, I was given the other possible correct answers, i.e. I could also have used “señor” and a different word order.

Using the“Try Again” Option

Earlier, I'd been frustrated when I made a mistake or could not remember a word or form. I finally discovered the benefits of the “Try again” link. Not only can I correct a mistake, but by retyping it correctly (or saying it again, see below) it helps me to remember it better. It also improves my accuracy score.

That woman has something in her hands - Spanish translation - Gamesforlanguage.comA case in point would be translating the following sentence: That woman has something in her hands.”

Using the “literally” option, I see that in Spanish you would not say “her hands” but “the hands.” However, I had forgotten that the Spanish word for “hand” has a feminine gender – although it ends with an “o.”

As I check my answer I both HEAR the correct translation and am informed of my mistake: los is crossed out, and I read las is missing from your answer.

I can now rewrite (or say) the sentence with the correct female pronoun “las.” Not only has it now cemented the correct gender for “la mano” in my mind, but I am also are credited for the correct answer in the progress chart. (Love that!)

Translation Alternatives

As I pointed out above, one other translation alternatives - Language Zen and Gamesforlanguage.comfeature I find particularly helpful is getting translation alternatives for many English sentences. In many other online programs there is often only ONE possible correct answer.

Language Zen gives lots of translations alternatives both for the vocabulary as well as for the word order of a translated sentence.

The screen shot (on the right) for the translation of “Can you (formal) tell me what happened?” shows a whole series of options, including different verb options for  tell, and happened, different word order, etc. 

(You'll also note that I did not conjugate the verb pasar correctly - or, the voice recognition did not like my pronunciation and I failed to correct the shown spelling.)

Lesson Accuracy and Progress

Language Zen accuracy chart - Gamesforlanguage.comOne of the motivating factors for me is the “lesson accuracy” at the end of each lesson. See the screenshot of my last lesson: 98%. I just hate it when I can't get close to a 100%, i.e. a perfect score.

My score tends to slip when I lose concentration and get tired. That is also a good reminder that it's time to stop and do something else.

Under “View Progress,” you'll see the words that I've practiced multiple times (green) Language Zen Progress Chart - Gamesforlanguageand the new words (blue) that were recently introduced.

Clicking on the “View Progress” tab lets me see several other learning metrics and also check how I'm doing in several categories: words, phrases, facts and meanings.

The screenshot on the right shows how my recent re-engagement with Language Zen is reflected in those categories.

Courses – Watching Sports

With the Olympics recently happening, I thought I would check out the “Courses” and the “Watching Sports” topic.

screenshot: which channelIndeed I was learning much relevant vocabulary, e.g. “partido,” “canal,” “defender,” “boletos,” etc.

For the translation of “On which channel is the game?” I had neglected to use the “literally” option (On what channel they GIVE the game?) and promptly made a mistake. Let's hope that I now remember to use “dar” and translate: “¿En qué canal dan el partido?

I also learned that “One has to defend well” translates to “Hay que defender bien.” Again the “literally” translation option (“There is that to defend well”) had given me the clue to avoid a mistake and pick up this idiomatic expression.

Using the Microphone

I'm also using the microphone more often now to enter myLanguage Zen screenshot translations. This is only practical when you are by yourself without much background noise.

The voice recognition is not always perfect as this screenshot (right) shows – it understood my “tienes” as “quieres,” but that is also easy to correct.

I noticed that the system appears to be getting used to my still imperfect pronunciation. Either the system's improving with time, or I'm getting better (or maybe both ...)

In any case, having the translation transcribed speeds up the practice, even considering the necessary corrections. It also lets me do more translations within my daily time quota, currently set to 3 hours per week. (I plan to double this time once I have again completed my 2 daily Scenes of our GamesforLanguage Spanish 1 course.)

At the moment, the transcription of dictated translations does not work on my iPad. It does work in my Android phone and tablet with the Chrome browser. We understand that Language Zen is working on an app, which should fix that issue. 

Learning with Songs

Language Zen song - Julieta VenegasThe idea of learning with songs attracted us first to Language Zen. I have just started taking full advantage of this feature by playing Julieta Venegas' wonderful song Eres para mí (You are for me).

It's not only a great way to learn a Spanish song, but the repetition of phrases and sentences certainly makes you remember certain expressions. 

For example, it will be hard to forget the refrain Eres para mí and its expansion to  eres para  yo soy para ti.

The song feature lets you listen to the song, see the lyrics either in Spanish or in English. (You can switch between either as the song plays.) Then you can click on Start lesson on the lyrics.tus ojos mirandome - Language Zen

After that, you're asked to translate the English words, phrases and sentences of the song into Spanish. Again you can use the microphone and when you check your answer you'll often hear the fragments of the song again.

For example, in Your eyes watching me you'll pay attention the the gerund of mirar and in this, as in many other instances, how Spanish words are linked: mirándome.

I especially like songs with a memorable refrain and melody. Language Zen's selection is still limited, but you may well find a song that you like and that you'll want to learn. And when you do it with the Language Zen song feature, you'll not only learn the song, but also improve your Spanish skills at the same time.

In taking advantage of the various options Language Zen provides, I'm not only enjoying the lessons more, but with my increased accuracy percentage I can also see that I am getting better!

Realizing that I am making progress is definitely an important motivator to continue learning and practicing.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Disclosure: Language Zen is a partner site with revenue sharing should you decide to subscribe.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"MosaLingua" - Learning Italian - A Review

Mosalingua - Gamesforlanguage.comHave you heard of MosaLingua? I hadn't, until a few weeks ago, while I was looking for an iOS app to practice and improve my Italian.

I had put Italian aside for a couple of years, because I wanted to focus on Spanish (and was afraid of interference between the two languages).

It's been a nice way to ease myself back into Italian. I've actually found that using a different program for Italian (than for Spanish) helps me to minimize interference between the two. (I have a visual memory. When I'm recalling a word, I also remember the visual context in which I learned it.)

WHAT IS MOSALINGUA?

MosaLingua is a range of flashcard-based vocabulary apps for iPhone,Mosalingua Flashcards iPod, iPad, and Android devices.

It has a great, uncluttered design, easy to use layout, and a number of cool features. 

The vocabulary you learn is extensive and highly practical. Moreover, you can choose what to learn and at what level.

Your learning is driven by a spaced repetition system for refreshing your memory. Ideally, whatever you learn will be reviewed 8 hours later, then 2 days, 8 days, 1 month later, at which time it should be in your long-term memory.

Currently, there are apps for 6 languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Brazilian Portuguese, and for any language combination between them (eg. French for Italian speakers; German for Spanish speakers, etc.).

There are also individual applications that teach Business language, Medical vocabulary, and, for those learning English, Test preparation for TOEFL [Test of English as a Foreign Language] and for TOEIC [Test Of English for International Communication].

CONTENT SETTINGS, LEVELS, CATEGORIES

Mosalingua offersWhen you start, you're asked to set a learning objective: Travel, Speak and socialize, Work and do business, Improve grades, Pass an exam, Other. You can change your objective at any time.

Within an app, you can change the teaching language. I, for example, have the option to learn Italian from any of the 5 other languages. At the moment, my "preferred language" setting is English.

My husband Peter is currently using Spanish as the teaching language to practice his Italian. He actually says that it helps him to not mix up the two languages (as he usually does).

In a couple of weeks, I'll start learning Italian from Spanish to find out whether it works for me as well.

When you begin, you can take a "Level test" (find this in "Settings"), or you can choose a level of difficulty to start with. You can change the difficulty level at any time. Italian has 12 levels.

Next, choose what type of vocabulary you'd like to start with. For Italian, there are 16 Categories and 4 Episodes of a Travel Story: Fabrice's Trip to Cambodia.

The categories include many which you'd typically find in a travel guide, e.g. Eating, Accommodation, Transportation, Shopping, Tourism, Emergencies, Time and Weather, etc. But there also are others, such as Hobbies, Socializing, People, Telecommunications, etc.

Optional Packs for the more advanced users offer further possibilities. There are many materials included in the fee-based Italian apps, as the above screenshot shows. You'll find over 3,000 Flashcards, organized in 16 main and 100 subcategories and 10 levels of difficulty, Tips for studying, 37 Dialogues, 200 "Bonus" items, and more.

Just for registering on MosaLingua's website, you can download an ebook: "The 6 essential tools to learn a language," as well as 5 Phrasebooks (French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Portuguese), and more. 

LEARN and PRACTICE

Mosalinguag Learning stepsNow, you're ready to start learning the 5 flashcards that show up.

You'll follow these Learning Steps:

  • Listen & Pronounce: Then Repeat and Record.
  • Memorize: An English cue and a picture help you remember the word or phrase.
  • Write: You translate words, or arrange words into short sentences.
  • Self-Assessment: You test yourself with an English cue and a picture. Your self-assessment determines the recall schedule. (You can choose: Again, Difficult, Good, Perfect.)

(As I already knew the first batch of Italian words, I clicked on "Perfect," only to be alerted that this "assessment" will not provide any information for the recall schedule. So, I set a more difficult level and switched to "Good" for the next few times.)

You'll practice these flashcards again eight hours later or the next day, before you start learning with new flashcards. 

DIALOGUES

There are 34, Dialogues. The audio of each is about 60 to 90 Mosalingua Dialoguesseconds long. They depict specific situations, such as Introducing yourself, Taking a taxi, Talking about your trip, Buying a bus ticket, On the phone, etc.

As with individual words and phrases, you can listen to the full dialogue with several options: Audio only, Audio with target language subtitles, Audio with English subtitles.

With each of these options, you learn a little differently. Following a conversation by just hearing it, allows you to focus just on the sounds, while your brain figures what the rush of words means.

It's exhilarating to suddenly start getting the meaning of what you hear.

Finally, you can choose to go through the dialogue sentences to memorize them, with the option of adding any of them to your learning stack.

Under the section "Dialogues," you'll find "Travel Stories." With these, you not only learn travel language, but also follow the adventures of Fabrice on his trip to Cambodia.

At this time, there are 4 Episodes in Italian. The approach is the same as with other Dialogues.

GRAMMAR LATER

There are few explicit grammar lessons in the early MosaLingua lessons.

Co-founder Luca Sadurny explains: "In my opinion, it's best to start to learn a language by listening, memorizing vocabulary, repeating loud sounds, words and sentences. ... Especially at first, when you learn grammar it can be a real drag when learning how to speak. ... But, [grammar] will prove to be useful later on."

We actually do agree with Luca on this. Focusing on grammar rules too early will inhibit you from speaking. Once you have absorbed the basics of the language and acquired sufficient vocabulary, you'll begin noticing and remembering some of the grammatical patterns. And then you'll want to know more about some of the grammar rules.

From time to time, at the end of the day's practice session, some grammar tips do appear, and, I assume more frequently as I progress.

Also, under "Categories" and "Lessons: Tips for Success," you'll find a section on "Italian Conjugation." It explains the conjugation of the auxiliary verbs "to be" and "have," as well as the conjugation rules for the various tenses of regular verbs.

Some of the tips are not available in the "Lite" version.

ADVICE, TIPS

The MosaLingua Italian iOS app, which I am using, offers lots of advice and practical tips. Two quick examples out of many:

At the end of the list of words in Level 0 (The Basics), you can tap on "Our advice on how to initiate a conversation with a stranger." You get practical tips, as well as 12 easy conversation starters. These are flashcards with audio, and a translation. For each, you have the option to add it to your learning stack.

Or, after a flashcard practice, I'm told that I've put them into my long-term memory: "Long-Term Memory? What does it mean to have flash cards in your long-term memory? It simply means that the review sessions for these flash cards will be 30 days apart." 

BONUS MATERIAL

As an inducement for continued study, MosaLingua offers "Bonus Material," which only unlocks after you have reviewed more cards and progressed.

They include historic facts about Italy, quotes of Italian celebrities, Italian proverbs and jokes, as well as further learning advice, memorization techniques, and much more.

As I've just started and have only studied about 50 flashcards to date, there's a lot of bonus material still waiting for me. One of the "language facts" I recently unlocked:

  • Around 59 million people are native speakers of Italian.
  • In total around 85 million people speak Italian around the world.
  • Italian is obviously the official language of Italy, but it's also an official language of Switzerland.
  • You'll find many Italian speakers in Malta, Vatican State, Croatia, Slovenia and France (especially in Corsica). In addition, Italian is the second most spoken language in Argentina.
  • etc.  (Source: Wikipedia)

Another example would be these two Italian quotes, which are easy to memorize and help to remember some of words they include:

  • Un viaggio de mille miglia inizia sempre con un singolo passo. (by Lao Tzeu): A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. (I would, however, translate it as: ... always begins with single step.)
  • Ho un'ottima memoria per dementicare. (by Robert Louis Stevenson): I've a grand memory for forgetting.

You then also have the option to click on an icon and "put this flash card in your learning stack (menu 'Memorize')".

COST

The apps are available on iTunes (for iOS) and Google Play (for Android).

See also mosalingua.com for information about the coming Desktop app.

There is a free "Lite" version with reduced content, for each of the languages. Individual language and test apps are +/- $4.99. Business language apps, and app bundles are also available. Check for special offers or discounts.

The advanced learner can buy additional packs: Advanced Vocabulary, Master slang, Sound like a native speaker, Speaking online, Manage at school/university; News vocabulary. (You can find those in Optional Packs, under Categories.)

In Next dialogues (under Travel stories) you can add the final dialogues of Fabrice's trip to Cambodia and his complete trip to the USA, for $2.99.

Compared to the monthly subscription prices of many of the popular online language programs and their free apps, the MosaLingua apps appear like a real deal. And there are the Free "Lite" versions, so you can first try out whether you can learn with them.

Especially when considering that - after purchasing the basic apps - the all-inclusive packs are currently offered at a substantial discount ($10.99 iOS, and $6.99 Android).

WHAT WE LIKE

  • The fun, clean design
  • The feature to record and play back your voice to check your pronunciation
  • Spaced repetition system for memorization
  • Option to set level and choose categories of vocabulary
  • Option to add and remove and word or phrase from the learning stack
  • Frequent advice and practical tips
  • The dialogues to start practicing listening comprehension
  • The forthcoming desktop app for PC, Mac, Linux users

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

  • For some, the many options may seem a little overwhelming at the beginning. Once you get familiar with it, however, you'll discover many more ways to learn and practice (and to buy other packages).
  • While the iOS and Android apps are excellent, some users may prefer a larger screen and full keyboard. (A Desktop option is in development.)
  • The travel stories are like a "dubbed" film: eg. in Cambodia everyone speaks Italian. A story happening in the target language country could better address what is particular about Italian culture and language.
  • MosaLingua is based on memorization, which is not the only way we learn. For example, longer stretches of listening and reading - without memorization - help the brain to recognize and process linguistic patterns. (We'd advocate more stories.)
  • No online program or app is going to make you a fluent speaker. You need to line up other resources to practice speaking: a tutor, a language-exchange partner, local language meetups, friends who are native speakers, etc.

Both the iOS and Android apps are well made and easy to use. They offer motivated learners a great way to learn and practice their target language on the go, while commuting or waiting.

And anyone traveling to one of the countries whose languages are offered can quickly pick up some essential travel language with the apps and/or with the free phrase books you can download.

 

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of :GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagramand leave any comments with contact or below.

Disclosure: The link above to Mosalingua is to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to purchase.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"Language Zen" - Learning Spanish - A Review

Language Zen - Gamesforlanguage.comLanguage Zen is a language learning site that features Spanish for English speakers. Its home page promises: Language learning without frustration. Personalized to you.

Frustration is sometimes unavoidable when you're learning and are annoyed by your mistakes. However, learning a foreign language with a program that adapts to your learning style and skill level is clearly the way to go.

At the center of Language Zen's program is the algorithm that keeps track of what you've learned and has you redo the phrases and sentences where you made mistakes.

What you learn are the most frequently used words, which Language Zen gathers through data mining” - analyzing thousands of TV transcripts. 

A special feature of Language Zen is that you can learn with songs and use the song lyrics for learning vocabulary. The program promises: The system gets smarter the more you use it. If you learn something through a song or a special course, it will carry over to the rest of the system.

Let's see how it works!

ASSESSMENT TEST

Once you've registered and clicked on Start Learning, you can Select your Level - Language Zendo an Assessment Test to determine your level: Beginner, Beginner Plus, Intermediate, Intermediate Plus, Advanced, Advanced Plus, Fluent, Near Native

To find your level for the test, you're asked to Slide to the right until you don't understand one or more of the Spanish words. [see screenshot, right]

The test is based on translation, always into the target language. For my level, I slid into Advanced Plus. The test of 20 sentences that followed included various verb tenses and idiomatic ways of saying things. I did not come across any uncommon or specialized language. 

For the translations, I could speak or write the answer. An option for a literal cue provided some help. Then, for each answer I got corrections and brief explanation. So I was already learning during the test.

Language Zen start screen - Gamesforlanguage.comAfter completing the test, I was indeed assessed to be Advanced Plus. But that doesn't tell me that everything I did was perfect. It simply means that I'll do my best learning in the advanced language environment. 

Language Zen is a bright, uncluttered, inviting site, and easy to navigate. 

On the Bar on top, you see: Learn, Courses, Music, Review, Blog, Premium

LEARN (or Start Learning)

When you start, you learn at the level you've reached.

There are three types of exercises:

  • Write or speak the translation of a sentence into the target language. Once you've done that, you'll hear the right answer and get corrections. From time to time, you'll get a grammatical hint.
  • Listen to a sentence in the target language and choose the correct translation out of five. Again, you'll see and hear the correct answer so you can check.
  • Match the meanings of 5 words or phrases.

At the end of each section, you'll see your progress.

COURSES (or Special Courses)

Here you have a list of 13 specific topics: Language Zen Courses - Gamesforlanguage.comGreetings, General Education, Travel Essentials, At a Restaurant, Getting Around, Telling Time, The Family, General Shopping, Watching Sports, Dating, Flirting with Girls, Flirting with Guys, and Investing in Startups

With the 4 hours I had done in the Learn” section, I could see the percentage of words that I knew in each of these courses (without yet doing any of the courses).

The last course Investing in Startups caught my eye. The Info Tab tells you: Language Zen is starting its first raise. As a treat for our investors and potential investors, we've built a course to help you talk about investing in the next great Latin American startup.

The learning method is similar to what I've been doing in the Learn” section.

Learning from your mistakes is part of the method:

For example, I translated the sentence I like working with VCs with: Me gusta trabajar con VVCC. (Because I had previously learned that you make abbreviations plural by doubling the letter, as in EEUU (United States).

However, the correct answer is: Me gusta trabajar con VC, which is something I will now remember. Deeper into the course, I also learned the Spanish for VCs - inversores de riesgo.

I really like getting the corrections, sometimes with a brief explanation of why my answer was wrong.

Language Zen Recording - Gamesforlanguage.comRecording the answer is a really cool option.

When you speak your translation, it appears automatically as written. You can still correct the written form before you check it.

However, as with many voice recognition features, this one sometimes doesn't work that well for me.

I spoke the sentence ¿Cuánta pista tienen? (How much runway do you have?) - and the program wrote: autopista kennedy.

My husband, who was listening, commented that maybe my Austrian accent in Spanish didn't go over that well... But then, who doesn't have some kind of accent when learning a foreign language?

I've noticed, though, that the program has become more accepting of my voice, with fewer strange transcriptions. That means it's learning too!

MUSIC (Learn from Music)

I love learning with songs. Because there's lots of repetition, Language Zen Song - Gamesforlanguage.comsongs become a surprisingly effective way to learn vocabulary, idiomatic phrases, grammar structures, and the pronunciation of difficult sounds.

For many language enthusiasts learning the lyrics of a foreign song is a great way to engage both with the music and the language. (No wonder that La Paloma Lyrics - Learning Spanish With a Songis still one of our most-read blog posts!)

For Spanish, 15 songs are listed. Next to the song titles, you see the percentage of its words that you have already learned in another context on the site.

Each song has three Tabs: Learn, Play, Info

The Info Tab lists the Artist, Album, Genre, and Accent: Spanish (Peninsular), Dominican, Honduran, Colombian, Mexican, American, Andalusian (Peninsular), Chilean, Puerto Rican.

By the way, it's a good idea to listen to different accents and dialects in a language. Doing so, trains your ear to hear subtle differences in sound. If you do this consistently, you'll understand native speakers of your target language much better. Especially, if they aren't your standard-accent radio announcer.

The Play Tab takes you to the song. You can listen to it in Spanish and see each of the lines as they're sung either in Spanish or in English.

The Learn Tab teaches you individual phrases that occur in the song (by having you translate or pick a translation out of multiple choice). I noticed that some of the sentences from my other course lesson also showed up, scattered in between.

Language Zen Lyrics lesson - Gamesforlanguage.comYou can also just do a lesson on the lyrics, where you learn individual phrases that go to make up the lines of the song.

As you go along, you get quick grammar tips. For example: As you see the sentence (line of the song) Lo oigo todo es tiempo a small box opens and tells you: When someone or something receives the action of a verb, that someone or something is known as the direct object of a sentence.

As you progress, you'll hear snippets of the song, where the words you're learning occur.

You slowly start building the sentences of the song.

The short phrases are quite easy in themselves, but as you start putting them together into longer sentences, you learn colloquial structures that go beyond literal translation.

If you click on More ... on the bottom of the box, a page of explanation opens, giving you an extensive description of a direct object, including a list of pronoun objects, and a note about word order.

REVIEW

Learning a language effectively depends a whole lot on how you review. Language Zen has some nice features in that department.

On Review you can pull down three options: Progress, Words, Facts

Progress:

This opens a Dashboard that tells you your status: Language Zen Progress screen - Gamesforlanguage.comHow close you're to your weekly goal in hours; what you've learned in numbers and on a graph (Words, Facts, Phrases, Meanings); your streak in days; what level you're on; how many points you've earned.

Words:

This lists all the words and their meanings that you've learned so far.

You can sort by:  Words I Know / Don't Know” and Need / Don't Need to Practice that are Of Any Type or 11 other grammatical categories such as /Verbs /Nouns / Prepositions, etc.

When you see the letter P beside any of the words, it means you need to practice it; a puzzle piece beside it means there's a grammatical fact attached to it.

Facts:

Language Zen grammar explanations - gamesforlanguage.comUnder "Facts", you'll find a list of grammatical points that are explained in the lessons, such as Por vs para, Expressions with Tener,”etc.

You can sort this list the same way as in the Words section. Also, you are given the skill level for each. Clicking on any of the items gives you a brief explanation and examples.

For example, in the screenshot as on the left: they are”, the use of the  verb estar to express conditions (rather than “qualities,” for which “ser” is used) is explained.

COST

Language Zen can be used for free, with ads on the site and limited daily learning.

There are also Premium monthly subscription options, which let you try out the premium version for free for a month before being charged $14.95 for 2 months. Check the Membership Feature Comparison page for the various subscription options. (An option for companies and schools includes custom professional content and group usage metrics.)

What we Like

  • You learn most vocabulary in the context of phrases and sentences.
  • The vocabulary seems practical and useful.
  • The “Special Courses” let you learn and practice what you need or want.
  • Translations are always into Spanish.
  • When translating a English phrase you often get several Spanish options.
  • Choosing the “literally” translation option is often helpful.
  • You can select a slow voice option.
  • Recording your answer gives you an opportunity to speak.
  • The voice recorder seems to learn and adapt to your voice.
  • You choose the level to start (or rely on the assessment test).
  • The recall algorithm of words I missed, seemed to work well.
  • You get grammar points at times, but they are not overwhelming.

Other things to consider

  • The learning and practice is translation based.
  • I did not find any dialogues of conversations (beyond some of the song lyrics).
  • The “Learn” and “Course” module translations are quite demanding; interspersing a song and just reading the lyrics can be relaxing.
  • Language Zen has found a very effective way of using its teaching method for song lyrics. We find the method both engaging and demanding.
  • It really requires you to be on your toes to get the translations correctly – one sure way you are learning!
  • There are no iOS or Android apps yet but we understand that an Android app is in the works, to be followed by an iOS app.
  • Conversations and stories, using a similar method as for the song/lyrics module, are also in development and will be added shortly.

Brief Comparison with Lingualia

In April we reviewed the Spanish program (online and apps) of our partner site Lingualia. Lingualia also uses a learning algorithm and adjusts to your skill level. Here are features in which Lingualia differs from Language Zen: 

  • Lingualia's exercises are all in Spanish (without any English/Spanish translations).
  • Definitions are in Spanish and you are often given Spanish synonyms and antonyms for words you're learning.
  • Each lesson starts with a rapidly spoken dialogue. You can listen to it as many times as you want.
  • If needed, you can click to activate Google translate for dialogues and example sentences (and have to live with the often literal and incorrect Google translations).
  • Grammar points are taught in the form of exercises, with explanations in Spanish.
  • Texts in Spanish and questions for reading comprehension are mixed in.
  • Both the iOS and Android Lingualia apps work well with the online account.

Both sites are good examples for how different programs can be used for developing and practicing different skills.

Which one is more effective for you, may well depend on which method and topics engage you the most. You'll want a site to which you come back again and again to learn and practice - the only sure way to progress.

If translating, special courses and vocabulary, Spanish songs and lyrics, etc. are your thing, then Language Zen will work very well for you.

And you can read about our Update on Language Zen.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of :GamesforLanguage.com. She is a life-long language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagramand leave any comments with contact.

Disclosure: The link to Lingualia is to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to subscribe. Gamesforlanguage, LLC had no business relationship with Language Zen when the review was written, other than having received a free subscription for the course. Subsequently, on 6/15/2016, we entered into a revenue-sharing agreement with Language Zen.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"Lingualia" - Learning Spanish (or English) - A Review

LingualiaLast month we reviewed “Frantastique,” our first partner site for learning French. Searching for an online language program for learning Spanish that would fit well with ours, we came across Lingualia.

Right from the start we liked some features that are similar to our Gamesforlanguage courses: the context of a dialog with each lesson, coupled with fun and effective ways for practicing words and phrases used in the dialog.

This review is based on Lingualia's Spanish course with English as the teaching/translation language.

(The program also works for teaching English. As with the Spanish course, you have a choice of a number of different teaching/translation languages).

I am learning with the Free version. As part of our partnership agreement, Lingualia provided us also with a free 6-month premium membership, which my husband Peter is using.

I've chosen to use my computer or laptop. (On my iPhone, or iPad, the audio for the dialogues is available only with Premium.)

Similar to Frantastique, an initial test places a learner into a Level ranging from A1 to B2 (according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages).

You can also choose your own starting level, if you want. I decided to start at the beginning of A1 to see how the course is built up. After his test, Peter was to start at level A2.

THE SETUP: The Dashboard

Clicking on Lingualia or Home gets you to the Dashboard with the choices of Home, Lingu,” Lessons, Challenge, and Activities on the top bar.

The DashboardLingualia dashboard - Gamesforlanguage.com

The dashboard sample (right) shows my current status, i.e. I've completed 35% of Spanish A1, and 41 of 82 “Concepts” - these are words, abbreviations, grammar points, phonetics, etc.

Clicking on “Statistics,” I can see that I am behind in my vocabulary learning and my reading (both of which are accelerated with “Lingu” - see below). 

The “Social” tab lets you compete and connect with other learners – a feature we have not yet taken full advantage of. There you can invite your friends from various other social sites (Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Yahoo) or you can simply send them an email. You can also connect with others on Lingualia by following them.  

LinguLingualia: Lingua - Gamesforlanguage.com

LINGU is your individualized “made-to-measure” teacher that adapts the course to your rate of progress and your level. In the free version, you are limited to learning and practicing 8-10 concepts a day with Lingu. (In the Premium version, you are not restricted.) Lingu prepares you for each of the lessons.

As you do your lessons, Lingu tracks how often you've recalled a certain word or concept. Then, in your practice session with Lingu, you'll review it in different ways until you've mastered it. 

Here are some examples from my recent practice session with Lingu. In one question type, you hear a word - such as, “microondas” - and then select an image that goes with it. If you don't know what the word is, you can get a further clue by clicking on “Theory” - which gives you a definition in Spanish.

It's fun and challenging to see if you understand the Spanish definition. Here's the one for Microondas" [mi.kro.ón.das]:Lingualia: Microondas - Gamesforlanguage.com (s., m.) Horno que funciona por generación de ondas electromagnéticas.” If you want a translation, you click on the beginning of the Spanish sentence - which activates Google Translate. (The Premium version will, in addition, give you an example sentence with audio.)

In another type of question, you are asked to click on the written word that you hear, or even type out the word that you hear. The old technique of dictation still works well. 

In a third type of question, you see a picture with a series of letters that you have to unscramble and type in. The particular picture I just saw was that of the Taj Mahal, and beside it the letters: u o e m n m t o n. The answer is “monumento.”

A fourth type of question would be selecting the definition, in Spanish, of a word, which in this particular Lingu session is “ojo” (eye). The correct definition is “(s., m) Parte del cuerpo que está situada en la cara y que se ocupa del órgano de la vista.” In this case, if you click on the icon “Theory,” you can verify your answer. Again, by clicking on the beginning of the the sentence, you activate Google Translate.Lingualia: text - Gamesforlanguage.com

In a fifth type of question, you're given a text of about 130 words to read in Spanish and are asked a (not always obvious) question about it. You answer by picking one of four responses. In my lesson, I am asked: “Según el texto, los egipcios piensan que los gatos...”

with the answer being: “vuelven a vivir después de la muerte.”

These short reading texts provide you with vocabulary that is richer and in the context of more complicated sentences. You learn to absorb a description, an explanation, a brief argument, etc. and see how language is used to connect ideas. 

LessonsLingualia: Lessons - Gamesforlanguage.com

In Level A1, there are 50 Lessons (10 Units, with 5 Lessons each). Each lesson has a Dialogue in Spanish, 13-15 items of new Vocabulary, a Grammar section, a short Phonetics section, and finally a Checkpoint, which tests you on what you learned in the lesson. 

In the screenshot on your right, you see my summary for Lesson 26. It shows the vocabulary practiced, as well as the 100 Percent score I received when doing the Checkpoint Test. It should be noted that the Dialogue typically contains more vocabulary than practiced in the vocabulary section.

Dialogue: Lesson 26 has a one-minute Dialogue (audio and written): “Esta semana he trabajado mucho.” The Dialogues in general are spoken in fast conversational speed.

You can listen to each Dialogue's sentence also individually and play it as many times as you want. This is a great way to improve your listening-comprehension skill. (Note that the audio the dialogues is not available for the Free version is you're using an app.)

I find that I often need several playbacks before I get the meaning, but it also allows me to pay attention to the language melody. (On the computer or laptop you can now get a Google Translation in the language you choose with a mouse left click.) 

Vocabulary: The individual items of vocabulary are introduced with their definition in Spanish. For example, “derecho” (right/law) is defined as: “(s., m.) Ciencia que estudia las leyes y su aplicacíon.”

Then, when I click on the beginning of the Spanish definiton, I get an English translation (via Google Translate) - “(S., M.) Science that studies the laws and their application.” (Google Translate, of course, is not perfect, but definitely helps for finding the meaning of the Spanish sentence.)

Grammar: Préterito perfecto: regulares (Regular present perfect) You get a simple version of the rule and the conjugation of regular “-ar” verbs. The rule is given in Spanish, and by clicking on the beginning of the sentence, you get the English meaning.

Phonetics: a tongue twister and description of the ñ sound in Spanish. (To play the audio, though, you need a Premium account.)

Checkpoint: You get 15 questions that put to the test what you have learned in the lesson you just completed.

Challenges

You can find people to follow and challenge them to a language duel. Peter and I challenged each other a few times and it was fun who could get the better score.

You'll notice quickly that each question has a time limit, so you don't have time to look up the correct answer, if you are really competitive!

Activities

Here you can practice your writing and have it corrected by other users. (I must confess that I have not taken advantage of this opportunity yet!)

ACCOUNT SETTINGS

You have a number of options: Create a profile (with biography, etc.); Interface language (Español, English, Deutsch); Privacy Settings; Notifications you want to receive (Newsletter, Weekly progress, Lingu challenge alerts, Follow, Accepted invitations, Activities); Subscription information

PRICING

Lingualia is free with registration, and you can sign up here for Spanish or English and try it for free. If it works for you and you want to become a Premium user (see below) look for special offers.

After registration (and until March 31st) you can activate Coupon code GAME25 for a 25% discount by visiting http://www.lingualia.com/coupons/validate/ (The regular monthly subscription rates range from $9.95/month to $24.95/month, depending on the subscription length.)

As a Premium (subscribed) user, you have the following advantages: Faster learning; Access to 15.000 audios to improve pronunciation and understanding; No restrictions when learning with Lingu; All downloads in a PDF file; All these are available on iPhone, iPad, and Android apps; No ads.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • I particularly enjoy the Dialogues (which get longer as you go along). They are conversational, spoken at normal speed. And, I see the text, and can replay the audio as often as I want, line by line.
  • The all-Spanish definitions are great, they get me into an immersion mindset. If I don't understand something, I click on the beginning of the line and get a Google translation into English. (While the Google translations are not always perfect, you will always will get the gist of the meaning.)
  • The exercises are varied, including “write what you hear”; “unscramble the letters” to match a definition or an image; “read a text” and click on the right answer to a question about it; etc.
  • At the end of each lesson you'll do a 15-question Quiz that tests what you've just learned.
  • Lingu helps you to practice words and phrases (“Concepts”) often enough until you've mastered them.
  • You can keep track of what you learned, and go back any time to review.
  • The tests provide immediate feedback and the dashboard lets you review and understand your progress.
  • You come into contact with a wide range of words and phrases, which you hear and practice all in context.
  • I also find the phonetics section with the many similar sounding Spanish words like votar/botar, tubo/tuvo, seta/zeta, rayar/rallar, etc. quite useful.
  • You learn and practice Grammar in small chunks and related to the Dialogues in each lesson. This part has been very helpful and I feel I'm clearly building my grammar knowledge of Spanish.

OTHER POINTS TO CONSIDER

  • To practice your pronunciations, you should repeat everything you hear and read, and imitate the native speakers as best as you can..
  • The standard lessons are short. (Lesson 26 took me 12 minutes.)
  • By trying out Lingualia for free, as long as you want, you can see if it works for you.
  • The subscription (Premium) does add various benefits, including unlimited learning with Lingu and being able to progress as quickly as you want.

I've enjoyed learning with Lingualia. When you use it regularly, discover how to get the Google translations when needed, use the “Theory” icon to help you, or practice some grammar points until you've “got it,” you'll also learn how to tailor each lesson to your individual needs and liking - and, most importantly: your Spanish keeps improving!

Postscript: In a later post I'm describing Reaching Language Fluency - My Experience with Spanish (so far).

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of :GamesforLanguage.com. She is a life-long language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Disclosure: Links above are to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to subscribe.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

"Frantastique": Learning French (or English) - A Review

Frantastique - Gamesforlanguage.comWe're always looking for multiple resources for learning and practicing a foreign language. Different programs teach you different things and will often complement each other.

GamesforLanguage's mission is to find ways of making language learning both fun and effective. We've seen that games and a story will make learners come back again and again. Nothing against traditional methods. It's just that adding fun elements - and context - to language practice makes learning so much more engaging and motivating.

We've been on the lookout for other online programs with some of the above characteristics. In addition, motivated learners - perhaps after completing our free GamesforLanguage's French 1 course - may be ready for a next step: individualized lessons, more explanations, more grammar exercises, and other ways to test their language level.

From that point of view, Frantastique is definitely a winner in our eyes. Here's why this program could lift your French to another plateau.

The idea is unique: The program consists of a regular email (5 times a week), a (somewhat) crazy story or text used as a frame, a number of exercises, detailed explanations, and an immediate email back with corrections.

As part of our partnership arrangement, Frantastique provided my husband Frantastique - Gamesforlanguage.comPeter and me with a free 4-month Basic subscription.

Lessons are personalized right from the beginning. After seven lessons, Frantastique assigned us a skill level. Frantastique uses the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages:

Mine started at 4.2-4.4 (B1-B2). After 24 lessons, I am now pegged at a straight 4.5 (B2). Peter, who speaks French more fluently than I, but is weaker in spelling and grammar, started with a 3.4 (B1) level. Now (after lesson 24), he has moved up to 3.7 (B1).

The Setup: an Email, a Brief Review, an Ongoing Story, Exercises, Correction

Frantastique - emailThe Email

Five times a week early in the morning, you receive an email with your 15-minute lesson. It sits in your inbox, waiting.

Obviously, you can do it any time that's convenient for you. If you skip your lesson, you'll get a reminder after three days.

The Review

Your lesson starts with a review. If you made any mistakes in your previous lesson, the Review will cover them again with detailed explanations. To see if you've understood, you'll be asked to do another couple of related questions.Frantastique - Review

You'll then find a brief review of some grammar points or expressions for which you can get a translation.

After each of these, you have a number of options: You can click on "inutile to reviser" (don't need to review) or “je savais” (I knew), etc. When you do, these particular grammar questions won't be included in a future review. Or if you don't know or are not sure, you'll see them again. This is also a way your lessons become personalized.

Frantastique - Story startThe Ongoing Story

Each lesson gives you a small piece of the story, either related to the Extraterrestrials and Victor Hugo or a humorous, made-up story in the form of a newspaper article. (Clicking on the image left will let you play the beginning of the Victor Hugo story.)

The story chunk you get consists of a short article, video, cartoon, or just audio. Typically, you'll see the written dialogue of the audio or video clip when you receive your corrections.

The story itself is a little crazy: A naked, fully-bearded Victor Hugo traipses around Paris together with a couple of aliens from outer space. Hard to believe, but their conversations are eminently practical and fun.

The ExercisesFrantastique - Exercises

These come in the form of questions about an idiom, expression, grammar point, or cultural topic.

You answer these by typing fill-ins, choosing pull-downs, or writing what you hear. Most of the questions have a small audio with it. This way you can hear French spoken at normal speed by native speakers throughout the lesson.

When you're done, you send off the email with your answers.

Frantastique-correctionCorrection

Before you can say Victor Hugo, your corrected lesson will be in your inbox. If you look at the corrections right away, everything you just wrote will still be fresh in your mind.

For each question you answered, there's a brief explanation of the rule. This is especially helpful for understanding why a guess was correct. If you've made a mistake, you'll also see why your answer is wrong. How better to learn and remember an expression, a way of spelling, or a grammar point.

There are advantages to not receiving corrections the same moment that you write them (as you do with many language programs and apps, including GamesforLanguage). By getting the corrections AFTER completing a lesson, there is no trial-and-error guessing. Also, with the accompanying explanation, you'll better remember both the correct answers as well as the corrected mistakes.

With potentially 340 lessons (at 5 lessons a week), you'll have over 1.5 years of study.

Account SettingsFrantastique - account settings

There are a number of settings you can chose in your account tab:

Reception Days: You can only select 5 days, which is ok if you don't want to learn during the weekend.

Vacation Days: Each subscription allows for a certain number of vacation days during which you postpone your lessons. (For example, a 6-month subscription allows for 4 weeks of vacation.) These days will be added automatically to the end of your subscription.

Lesson Length: Five (5) Options range from “minimum” (no story) to “maximum.” We have “standard,” which is the default.

Spicy Mode: You can opt out of receiving “spicy” content.

Low Level mode: Activating the “mode bas niveau” will give you the same modules, but they are less difficult.

Pedagogy: The Pedagogy tab lets you view your latest lessons, vocabulary, and grammar to review. It also provides various progress statistics.

Ipad & Android Apps: The iPad and Android apps are well integrated with the online version, but obviously need WiFi access to the email account.

Pricing

Frantastique has 3 different fee categories: Basic and Premium (for individuals) and Pro (for companies and institutions). Prices for individuals range from $49 - $69 for Basic, and $77 - $111 for Pro subscriptions. For further information: link to the online shop

What We Like

  • The lessons are fun and immensely Frantastique - newspaper articleenjoyable because of the humorous context of the Victor Hugo story or the funny, made-up  newspaper articles as this one on your right.
  • The expressions and grammar points you learn or review are all practical.
  • Corrections arrive seconds after you've finished the lesson and reinforce your learning.
  • The lessons arrive five days a week, which helps you to build a learning habit.
  • The course lessons are indeed tailored to your skill level. Peter's are different from mine.
  • There are multiple short audios in the lesson.
  • You'll hear various voices and different accents, besides standard French.
  • In your “Account” you'll see all your episodes and corrections in the “cahier de cours.”
  • The vocab audios have Parisian French and Canadian French versions and let you hear the differences in pronunciation

Other Points to Consider

  • The lessons are not for complete beginners (although you can opt for the “low level mode”).
  • The playful mode disguises the fact that Frantastique is a serious and effective course.
  • To practice your pronunciation you should repeat everything you hear and read.
  • The standard lessons are short – it takes me about 15 minutes for each lesson
  • In addition to English, Frantastique is currently fully available also for German, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese, with Chinese to be added soon. Other languages are being developed.
  • By trying out Frantastique for FREE for a week (or during special promotions even for a month), you can determine whether it works for you.

Final Thoughts

If you already have same basic knowledge of French, Frantastique - dessert du jourbut want to get to a next level and improve your listening, reading, and writing skills, and do so with a fun and engaging course that prompts you with lessons 5 days a week – then Frantastique is your ticket.

The extra video and audio clips of “Le dessert du jour” (as this Jean Belmondo clip on the left) that accompany each lesson often make you smile. And when you are looking forward to the next lesson, it'll motivate you to learn and practice even dry French grammar points.

Frantastique's sister site Gymglish uses a very similar approach for teaching English (e.g to Spanish speakers) with a story set in San Francisco - and, by using any of the links above you can now try out both sites ONE MONTH FOR FREE.

 Disclosure: Links above are to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to buy or subscribe.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

My Babbel and Duolingo Language Learning Update

update - gamesforlanguage.comAs readers of previous posts know, I am currently learning Dutch. As GamesforLanguage doesn't have a Dutch course yet, I'm using the Dutch courses of Duolingo and Babbel.

I have reached Level 11 and accumulated over 3500 points with Duolingo and am nearing the end of the course. In three weeks, by the end of my 3-month subscription, I'll have Babbel's Beginner Course 4 done as well, and thereby completed a total of 87 lessons and likely several of the Grammar and Extra section lessons.

While my comprehension skills have clearly improved (my principal goal), my speaking attempts with my wife (who speaks Dutch fluently) have just begun and are less successful.

Although I now spend about an hour every day with these two programs, and Dutch has many similarities to my native German, I feel that my progress is slower than it should be.

However, using both programs in parallel also gives me a good opportunity to compare them. And here is my take on – the good, the bad, and the frustrating ...

Good job - Gamesforlanguage.comThe Good

Duolingo - My strongest motivation to continue with Duolingo each day is that I don't want to lose my “Streak” (currently standing at 255 days).

Having acquired this daily “Duolingo habit” (now just 1-2 lessons per day) has also made it quite easy to follow up with several lessons on Babbel.

I also like the standard Duolingo lesson setup, which lets me study the 7-8 new words of each lesson for a minute before I start. In many cases I can figure out the meaning from their Germanic roots.

Translating the words and sentences then seems quite easy.

A feature that works well for me is the sentence dictation: "Type what you hear."

Also, I like it that Duolingo has found a way to often accept a spelling error, as well as (limited) alternate translations.

Removing the “three strikes and you are out” penalty and having you redo any sentences with errors towards the end of a lesson are good moves by Duolingo and enhance learning.

BabbelI like how Babbel first teaches you the 4-8 new words or expressions: you hear them, see pictures and spellings, and then have to complete sentences with them by using the scrambled letters of each word.

The grammar explanations are also very well done, accompanied with simple examples and exercises that let you understand the grammar points.

What I like most, however, are the short stories or dialogs at the end of most lessons. They require me to fill in the words that I learned in the current or in previous lessons. Not only do these sentences make sense, but they also let me hear and see words and expressions that I don't yet know (but may remember for later).

"Bad" stamp - Gamesforlanguage.comThe Bad...

DuolingoI really don't like translating a Dutch sentence into English by typing the English sentence. I feel that I'm wasting my time as I'm not spelling Dutch. I do understand that it's important to translate from Dutch to English translation to fully understand the meaning. However, I find it faster and more practical to get the translation by clicking on the given English words.

But, what I probably dislike the most, are the nonsensical sentences that come up from time to time. I will never have to use, for example, "mijn neushoorn is een manntje" (my rhinoceros is a male) or "de eenden lezen" (the ducks are reading).

A close second is that in a lesson most sentences are totally unrelated and that I therefore forget them quite easily.

Babbel While there are no parts with Babbel that I dislike quite as much, there are a few features that I find frustrating, as described below.

Frustrating... - Gamesforlanguage.comThe Frustrating...

Duolingo - I certainly understand that it's difficult to create a program without any glitches. (We are also fighting those in our Gamesforlanguage courses and Quick Games). I find it frustrating, however, that at times the given translation in a word look-up is then not accepted for the translation itself.

I also find it frustrating that the Duolingo app does not give you any grammar information (at least I have not found it), the way you can get grammar help online on a laptop.

Also, the exercises "How do you say ..." and "Tap the pairs" often ignore the gender or number of a noun, or the form or tense of a verb. At times, the correlations are even downright weird.

BabbelDifferent from Duolingo, any spelling error during a translation or dictation results in a mistake. You don't have a second try. Moreover, there is only ONE accepted correct translation, which can also be frustrating at times. (This is a technical issue that we can appreciate in our courses as well!)

When I can't remember a word during “fill-in” exercises when using the iPad app, I sometimes wish for a clue, maybe a first letter, etc. (The online/laptop version gives scrambled letters with the “Help” function.)

A final beef that I have with Babbel is the voice recognition feature on the app. It sometimes takes me multiple tries to get the program to accept my pronunciation. My best solution has been to turn this feature off.

I had started learning Dutch mainly to understand Dutch conversations at my wife's family reunion in the Netherlands later this month.

Starting with 1 Duolingo lesson per day in January 2015, then increasing it to 1-2 lessons per day in May, I added the 3-month Dutch Babbel course in early June.

Adding up the time that I spent on all lessons to date, I arrive at a little less than 100 hours. While this still seems quite a bit of time, it also is clearly not enough to become fluent in a language (not even to speak about mastery...)

I am encouraged, however, that when my wife speaks Dutch with me these days, I'll understand most of it – although my responses are still halting and incomplete. We are now making an effort to speak as much Dutch as we can during the day. I'm curious to find out when that is going to make a significant difference in my fluency.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage.com has no business relationship with Babbel.com other than for its founders having purchased a 1-year subscription to the Spanish course and a 3-month subscription to the Dutch course.  No business relationship exists either with Duolingo, except GamesforLanguage's founders are learning several languages with its free courses. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

LinguaVille - an Option for the Motivated Language Learner?

LinguaVille-Gamesforlanguage ReviewRecently we came across an online language learning site that has intrigued us. LinguaVille describes its approach as "National Curriculum Language Learning," aligning itself with the national curricula of Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and India, as well as the K-12 syllabi across the United States.

We had recently compared Duolingo and Babbel and were interested in finding out how you can learn with LinguaVille.

At this time you can learn six languages: English, French, German, Hindi, Italian, and Spanish. You can set any of these languages as your native language and one of the others as your target language.

When we contacted LinguaVille and indicated an interest in reviewing the program, we were kindly given a free registration and access to Spanish and French, as the target language for English speakers.

I opted for Spanish, since it's the language I'm learning at the moment and the one I'm least proficient in. 

The Village Map

You'll find the map by clicking on your name, once you've registered.

This colorful map (see above) lies at the center of the LinguaVille program and shows the language village. Click on the various buildings to get into them.

First, explore what's there: the Library for dictionaries; the Hospital is a helpline for dealing with concerns; the Travel Center for phrases to practice; the Trophy Shop for earned points and awards; the Playground for games. Then, you'll want to head to the School. That's where your structured learning will take place.

Two Introductory Sections:

Class 1: Here, you can learn or review the basics, such as letters of the alphabet, LinguaVille Curriculum - GamesforLanguage Reviewaccented letters, numbers, days, parts of the day, meals, clothing, and parts of the body.

Beginners: In this section, you'll find 1000 basic words which you can learn flashcard-style through pictures that are first associated with their sound. You'll then see the written words in your native and target languages. Clearly, you can do this section in stages, and come back any time.

Three Levels of Difficulty/Proficiency

Linguaville Exercises - GamesforLanguage ReviewThe best way for a self-learner to proceed is to follow the program in the order that it's presented. You can, of course, start from whatever level of proficiency that you have.

In each of the levels - Standard, Intermediate, and Advanced - you'll learn and self-test yourself on material used within the national curriculum. As expected, the content becomes increasingly sophisticated.

What makes this program efficient (I tried out my intermediate Spanish) is that you learn interactively and get immediate feed-back.

Every level has a series of fun and challenging target-language exercises. You can do each of these exercises also as a test.

  • In "Multiple Choice," you're asked a question or given a brief task in your target language. As your response, you click on one of the choices, which are also in your target language. I loved using just Spanish and after a while found that I wasn't translating at all.
  • In "Word Order," you're asked to rearrange a series of words into a specific order. The order may be written-out numbers from high to low, the days of the week in sequence, events in chronological order, a sequence of phrases to make a correct sentence. Again, the question is given to you in your target language.
  • The exercise "Fill in the Words" shows you a short text with six gaps. From a group of words below the text, you choose the words that fit into the context. For this, you really have to understand what the short passage is about.
  • For "Cloze" (or "reading closure"), you again fill in six gaps of a short text, but this time you have to come up with the correct words yourself. You're not given any choices. Needless to say, this is a challenging exercise.
  • The "Verb" exercise gives you a verb and a paradigm skeleton, which you fill in with the correct tense that's required. The practice is straightforward and very useful. Who doesn't need to review verb forms?
  • "Text Adventure" shows you a paragraph of text with a brief storyline or scenario. You then select the correct statement that's related to it. To pick the right one, you'll need to read the passage very closely.
  • Finally, in "Dictation," you'll hear short passages of text, which you then have to write out with correct spelling and punctuation. I found this the hardest exercise of all because the texts are read at normal speed. I had to redo a lot of them.

Travel Center Phrases and Playground

On the central map of the "Village," you can click on the Travel Center to Linguaville Playground - Gamesforlanguage reviewlearn and review the phrases of the different School levels in another format. Here, the phrases (over 52, 000 of them) are arranged according to various categories (such as Business Travel, Directions, the Office, etc.), and sub-categories (such as Food, Meal Times, School Subjects, etc.)

Three different exercises (and tests) help you master the phrases. You first learn the meaning, then write the phrase after just hearing it (with correct punctuation and grammar), and finally translate it.

When you click on the "Playground" (see picture), you'll find various games, such as "Beat the Clock," "Anagram," "Matching," "Word Search," etc., to review vocabulary.

Four Things I Enjoy About LinguaVille

  1. Online, interactive learning. I've become an online-learning junkie. I love learning a language by seeing and hearing words and phrases, and practicing speaking and writing. I also enjoy learning and testing myself with a variety of exercises that put language into context and give me immediate feedback.
  2. Extensive, challenging content. With its 1000 basic words, 52 000 practical phrases, text passages that become increasingly more challenging, LinguaVille provides a large amount of structured content. A motivated and disciplined learner can significantly raise his or her level of target-language proficiency.
  3. Doing exercises within the target language. I particularly like the many exercises in the Standard, Intermediate, and Advanced Levels that stay within the target language. They have an immersive quality that is quite effective.
  4. The gamified features of LinguaVille, which include certificates, medals of achievement, and cups that you're awarded as you progress through the program.

Comparison to other online language learning sites

The other sites I know well are GamesforLanguage, Duolingo, Babbel, and Rosetta Stone.

Compared to these sites, navigating LinguaVille is not simple. In addition, some of the instructions and descriptions seem overly complicated.

Although you're encouraged to follow the progress of exercises and levels at LinguaVille, you can easily skip around - which for some learner might be confusing, but for others a more fun, freer way to learn. Also, it's not entirely clear how the thousands of phrases in the Travel Center are integrated into the learning sequence. They seem to be phrases, passages, scenarios, etc. collected from the entire program. You can study them separately, use them as dictation, or play them as tests.

With GamesforLanguage and Duolingo you have to follow the lesson sequence. You cannot skip ahead. In both programs you can redo past lessons, and in Duolingo you can “practice your weak skills.” Perhaps it's the simple and intuitive design here which gets self-learners addicted.

Pricing

Linguaville is not a free program. A free trial is available with school membership (or with a voucher or promotion code).

The cost of a single-user subscription for 3 months is US$99, a 3-month family subscription US$198. 1-month, 6-month, and yearly subscriptions are also available. (School subscriptions, which add a Teacher Dashboard and an authoring option, are being priced on request. )

These rates put Linguaville at the higher end of online language-learning subscriptions.

Final Thoughts

If you're a home user and are motivated and disciplined enough to learn and practice regularly, LinguaVille could well be worth it. With its large number of texts, exercises, and tests, it is a content-rich program that can keep you learning for a good while.

LinguaVille could also be a good program for homeschoolers who have to meet the language learning goals of national curricula. These include proficiency in all four skills, especially communication skills. The national curriculum aims for England can be seen here.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage.com has no business relationship with LinguaVille other than having received free subscriptions to its English, French and Spanish courses  No business relationship exists either with the other language learning apps mentioned,  Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, and Babbel.   See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Duolingo and Babbel: How They Differ

Language Coursee - Gamesforlanguage.comStarting to learn a foreign language as an adult can be boring. Over the years, I've used various methods from books to CDs and have more recently added apps and online courses.

I've always found the early stages of learning a language somewhat frustrating. You mostly just plow through basic vocabulary and grammar.

However, once you've mastered the essentials of a language, continuing to learn becomes much more enjoyable. Things start to click. You begin to see patterns, get grammar points, understand idioms.

You can start reading articles and stories, listen to podcasts, watch videos and movies. In real life, you start having conversations that work.

As I described in a previous post, I am currently learning Dutch (from scratch) with Duolingo, while continuing with my (intermediate) Spanish with a Babbel course.

This presents me with an excellent opportunity to look at and compare the two programs.

There are other reviews of both programs. The Economist did one in 2013, which - due to to the improvements of both sites - is already somewhat dated.

A more recent one by Angel Armstead for Fluent earlier this year, describes well both programs' different approaches, but Fluent's Kerstin Hammes was also quite critical of Duolingo in her subsequent March 2015 post.

Duolingo's Structure

I started Dutch with Duolingo just a few months ago. Also, I had used Duolingo for several months for continuing with my Spanish.

With Duolingo, you follow a nicely laid-out lesson sequence with various categories or topics: Basics, Phrases, Food, Animals, Clothing, Plurals, Possessives, Adjectives, Indefinite & Definite Pronouns, etc.

You do one lesson after another. That means, you can unlock” the next lesson only after you've completed the previous one.

One way to move faster is to test out of all the lessons in a category or topic. That's only possible if you already know the words, of course. (Note that during a test, you can't peek at the translation.)

Duolingo's set lesson sequence has several advantages:

  • Beginners can build up their skills slowly but surely.
  • Lessons build on each other. Earlier words show up again and again to be recombined.
  • You don't have to make any choices about what to study until you've finished your skill tree.

The Duolingo Method

With the Duolingo system, you learn mostly new words by Duolingo homepage screensheotfirst correlating them to pictures. Some of the more abstract words, you'll guess from the context of a sentence. If you're not sure, you can always check the translation by tapping/clicking on the English.

New words are the practiced in various ways. For me, it's the variety of tasks which makes the learning engaging. There's plenty of hit or miss involved. But hey, making mistakes is all part of the learning process.

You translate the words you just learned back to English, together with other familiar words. You write what you hear and learn spelling as you do it. You fill in missing words in a sentence, or select the correct translation from three options.

There's also a sort of pronunciation check, which seems to respond more to the cadence and intonation of your voice than to correct pronunciation. (I once used the wrong language but still my voice was accepted.)

A recently added feature to the app asks you to tap the pairs, which are simple correlations of English and foreign words.

Early on with Duolingo you could only make 3 mistakes before you had to replay the lesson. But now, both in the app and on the PC, a mistake just sets you back a little. You can continue until you complete 20 items correctly.

At the end of the lesson, you're awarded 10 points and you can then continue to the next one. Once you've completed all the lessons of your skill tree, you can go back to any category or topic to “strengthen your skills.” Apparently, you can do this until you've reached Level 25!

My Frustrations with the Nonsense

While I like Duolingo very much, I often get annoyed when I have to learn Dutch words such as “schildpadden” (turtles), “eenden” (ducks), “konijnen” (rabbits) etc., all words that I'm unlikely to use in a conversation in the foreseeable future.

And while the lessons get a little more interesting as your vocabulary expands, the ducks and turtles reappear in different variations. The often nonsensical sentences – try: “the ducks are reading the newspapers” - may sometimes be funny and teach you some grammatical points, but I find them mostly frustrating.

No doubt, the simplicity of the Duolingo approach, with its variety of tasks, keeps you engaged and on your toes.

I just wish that the program would replace the random and often nonsensical sentences that I have to read, pronounce, translate, and write, with real-life dialogs or at least with more useful sentences.

Duolingo's Gamification and Metrics

The various “gamification” features of the program do provide some incentive. For example, points are added to your total with each completed lesson, and you receive “lingots” to redeem in the “lingot store.”

I find the daily “streak reminder” to be a good motivator to keep learning. I'm adamant about not breaking my ever growing streak (which currently stands at day 184).

For Spanish, which I did earlier, I see a Fluency Score (currently 47%), based on the 5900 points, and Level 13 completed to date.

For Dutch, with 2,625 points and level 10, there is no Fluency level yet.

I think that I'm making progress. I've reached level 10 in Dutch so far and I continue to do 2-3 lessons every day.

Babbel's Structure

Babbel's courses are structured differently from Duolingo's. You see immediately that you're not required to proceed in sequence through all the lessons. At any point, you can choose with which lesson to begin or at what lesson to continue.

In the Spanish program, there are 6 Beginner's Courses (each with 18-22 lessons); 4 Intermediate Courses (with 19-20 lessons each); 6 Grammar Courses (with 12-21 lessons each); and 6 Listening and Speaking Lessons (with 8-10 lessons each).

There are also plenty of lessons in other sections such as, Reading and Writing, Countries and Traditions, Specials (where you find such topics as False friends, True Friends, Numbers, Spanish idioms). And, the Words and Sentences section covers over 30 different topics.

The Babbel Method

Babbel HomepageLesson 1 of Beginner Course 1, called “¡Mucho gusto!Part 1,” starts with four basics: Hello!, yes, thank you, Bye!

You first hear and see both the English and the Spanish Word and a picture that expresses its meaning. You then find the Spanish translation by spelling each of the words with letters that are provided.

The next step is to practice these four words again, this time as part of a simple dialogue, which includes phrases that you'll learn in the next lesson.

As I already knew some Spanish, I jumped right to the Refresher Course 1 (called, Upper Beginner's Level). The lessons have a similar structure to those in the Beginner's Course. You're taught four words or phrases in each lesson.

At this stage, a basic knowledge of the language is required. Spelling becomes harder, as you have to use the keyboard without any hint of which letters to use. Plus, exercises for word order and specific grammar points are added.

At the end of a Refresher Course lesson, you typically insert the newly-learned Spanish words into phrases that are part of a short dialog or story around a specific topic, e.g. “At the shop,” “Daily Routine,” “Vacation,” “Leisure activities” etc.

Babbel also has a voice recognition feature. But I don't use it very often because it's hard to get the pronunciation exactly the way it's required.

If you are indeed a beginner, you can choose to follow the sequence of the lessons and move from the “Beginner's Courses,” to the “Refresher Courses” and then on to the “Intermediate (in-depth) courses.”

Babbel's Other Options

After my Refresher Course, I stopped with Spanish for a few weeks, but then started up again. I redid a few previous lessons and tried out some other sections, for example “Other Verb Forms,” such as the “pretérito perfecto.”

I also tried “Countries and Traditions” where I selected “Spanish for Everyday Life.” This section has several short lessons, such as “Ir de compras” (shopping), “En el restaurante” (in the restaurant), etc.

These lessons contain a combination of exercises. You complete sentences with missing words followed by vocabulary and word order exercises all related to a specific topic.

The many lessons in “Grammar” (92), “Listening and Speaking” (46), “Countries and Traditions” (53), and the over 500 lessons in the sections “Specials” and “Word and Sentences” give learners loads of options.

Besides, you can review the vocabulary covered in the lessons at any time, either with Flashcards of by writing or speaking them. (in the case of my Refresher Course, these were mostly sentences.) 

Babbel's Gamification and Metrics

Babbel's gamification features are straightforward. There are no badges or “lingots” as with Duolingo.

You have a progress bar at the top, and your score pops up at the end of the lesson, let's say, 22 out of 29.

You have the option to review and correct the errors you made. Even if you do, the guilty sentences get added to your personal vocabulary list. You can review them then at you leisure.

In the app and on the PC you can see the current total count of the vocabulary list and the count of those still to review. (On the PC you can also see how many times you reviewed each.)

It's a good way to keep track of what you're learning.

Duolingo and Babbel: A Comparison

I like the simplicity of the Duolingo approach. However, I keep getting annoyed that new words often appear and are recombined in random, unrelated, nonsensical sentences.

In contrast, new words with Babbel are typically taught as part of a useful dialogue or short scenario. The words make sense in the context in which they are set and this helps me to remember many phrases and sentences.

Once you've become familiar with the Duolingo system, you know exactly what to expect.

You see the 7 or so new words in each Duolingo lesson box before you start.

You also know that you'll be using quite a bit of English when you translate from the foreign language. If you type or spell quickly, you can be penalized for typos in English.

For each lesson, Babbel typically introduces +/-4 new words, which you then practice. Once you've learned the words, you'll hear them as part of a dialog or brief story and write them into the provided blank spaces. You always hear the full sentence that includes the new word(s).

Most importantly, in Babbel there is no writing or spelling in English.

Both courses don't require you to use the accents (for accented letters). Duolingo allows slight misspellings of foreign words, while Babbel only accepts correct spellings.

Both Duolingo and Babbel give you the correct answer after you've made a wrong entry and both tell you where you've made the mistake.

Duolingo allows you to set goals for yourself, ranging from the “casual” learner with 10 points or 1 lesson per day, to the “insane” with 50 points or 5 lessons per day. Such daily reminders to maintain one's streak have been a good incentive for me!

There are no specific goals or targets with Babbel, but you can ask for daily reminders in Settings.

Final Thoughts

A daily Dulingo lesson or two can easily become a daily habit, especially if you care about not breaking your learning streak.

Once you get going with Babbel - and pay attention to the daily reminder - the same can happen.

My frustrations with Duolingo - its nonsensical sentences, words I could do without, and lots of English sentences to type - these I don't experience with Babbel.

In fact, I like Babbel's dialogs. I enjoy the little scenes that incorporate the new words, the many Spanish sentences you hear and read, especially when you are reviewing your mistakes again.

Its many lessons, topic categories, and options make it an excellent course for learning a language.

Still, Duolingo's simplicity, also the fact that it's completely free for unlimited time, makes it a compelling choice for many learners. They may also overlook some of its shortcomings as I do.

No question, I'm continuing with Dutch on Duolingo for now, but may still subscribe to Babbel's Dutch course. I've got a Dutch family reunion to go to in the fall.

Update: On 6/4 I subscribed for 3 months to Babbel's Dutch course. My goal now is 1 Duolingo and 1 Babbel lesson per day!

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage.com has no business relationship with Babbel.com other than for its founders having purchased a 1-year subscription to the Spanish course and a 3-month subscription to the Dutch course.  No business relationship exists either with Duolingo, except GamesforLanguage's founders are learning several languages with its free courses.  See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details. 

1 2 3   > >