Thanks for joining me again today for another installment of my series on homeschool language learning apps. This is the second of a three-part review of Mango Languages. In my first review, which I published earlier this week, I wrote about the strengths of Mango Languages, but today, I’m delving into some of the app’s features that I consider less than ideal. Remember: overall, I really like the app, but I also want to share my concerns with you, so that you can make an informed choice for your family.
If you didn’t have a chance to read my first post on Mango, I encourage you to go ahead and do so—it’ll give you a great overview of how the app works, what it offers to homeschool students, and how it can make your life easier as a busy homeschool mom. Go ahead—I’ll wait right here.
Now, let’s pick up where we left off. While overall, I think that Mango Languages is a good option for families looking to start language study with an online tool, it isn’t necessarily the best fit for everyone. Most of my concerns fall into two categories: Mango's ability to teach languages that use a non-Latin alphabet (i.e. Hebrew, Russian, Chinese, etc.) and its suitability for younger (or less motivated) students.
That said, here are the factors that I think you should weigh carefully before you choose Mango to be your main homeschool foreign language curriculum:
- Mango provides little writing practice. If it is really important to you that your child learns to write in the target language, Mango might not be the best option—at least, not as a primary curriculum. In comparison, Duolingo offers somewhat more practice, although if you read my review of that app, you saw that its writing practice is also seriously limited (and it definitely is not robust enough to be a primary curriculum). With regards to Mango, I was especially concerned about the lack of writing practice in Hebrew. Since Hebrew uses a totally different alphabet than English, I really needed practice writing the letters—not just in order to be able to write, but also to be able to read! I didn’t see a way to get that kind of practice within Mango itself—which leads me to my next point...
- Some homeschool language learners will need supplemental materials to get the most out of Mango—particularly if they are beginners in ancient or classical languages. I’m judging this based on my experience with the Hebrew version of the app, which had some teaching gaps that made me question Mango's overall effectiveness.
As a new Hebrew learner, I was left wanting a better orientation to the language itself. For example, Mango could have provided an overview of the Hebrew alphabet (I had this issue with Duolingo as well), but instead, the app jumped right into teaching me how to say “Good morning” and “Good evening.” Furthermore, as I later found, there were some major issues with this approach. Please bear with me here as I explain—I’m about to get really technical, but I think it’s worth sharing all of the details.
Take a look at my screenshot below. This is Mango teaching me how to say “Good morning” in Hebrew. Can you can see how the app has color-coded the translation? This is good, because it helps English speakers understand which word in Hebrew corresponds to its translation in English. This activity also (as you can see in the green bubble) includes the phonetic spelling of the phrase. Again, this is a good thing.
However, now let’s take a look at the grammar note that Mango includes to explain the
word order of this Hebrew phrase:
And here’s the problem: that’s not actually the most direct explanation. This isn't a "word order" issue—the
reason why the adjective looks like it comes “before” the noun is that Hebrew is read right to left, NOT left to right
(like English). Why not just give that explanation? Hebrew learners need to start learning to read from right to left at the
very beginning of their language study, and Mango could have very easily have taught that skill from the start.
One lesson explaining the Hebrew alphabet, how to say (and write) its letters, and how to read in Hebrew could have
solved all of these issues, but during my time in the app, I didn’t see any lesson offering that information.
- Younger children or those who need significant motivation for language learning might struggle with Mango’s style. While I really like the clear and comprehensive grammar instruction that Mango provides, its straightforward style may turn off those students who need a heavy dose of fun to stay engaged in language lessons. And it’s not the best option for younger students who want to learn alongside older brothers and sisters, since the grammar lessons will likely go over their heads and Mango isn’t designed for children who cannot yet read in English. Of course, language learning shouldn’t be all textbook (or app) learning—you know that I believe it is essential to ENJOY the target language—but it is something to consider.
- The app’s design makes student accountability tough. Unlike Duolingo, where students must master one level before they can move to the next, Mango’s design allows students can “speed through” each unit without having to demonstrate proficiency—which means that they can basically fake their own progress. This won’t be an issue if your student loves language learning, but if she doesn't, it could present a problem.
So those are some elements of Mango Languages that I would think about when considering using this option as a homeschool foreign language curriculum.
If you’ve used Mango Languages and have additional feedback to share, let us know! What would you like to tell other families who are thinking about using the app?