Library Offers Language Learning Through Mango

In December, the Swarthmore library system began offering a subscription to the Mango language learning system. Mango is a computer-based tool that allows students to study basic language skills at their own pace, similar to programs such as Rosetta Stone and Tell Me More.

The library has seen 303 people use the Mango subscription so far. The most popular language has been Italian, with French, Spanish (Latin American), and Korean following. German, Hindi, and Mandarin Chinese have also been popular.

Modern Languages Librarian Pam Harris said that the library chose Mango because it was the language instruction service most well received by the library community.

“I saw this as an extension of what the library already does,” said Harris. The library currently carries foreign language textbooks and grammar instruction books.

Head Librarian Peggy Seiden said that the decision to offer Mango was “motivated by hearing various anecdotes from people who would be interested in going away, and wanted to do language learning that wasn’t available at the college.”

Seiden added, “Language has always been an area that has used technology to enhance language teaching.” Her hope is that Mango will turn into a “feeder into the foreign language classes.”

Speaking on behalf of the Modern Languages and Literatures Department, Department Head Sibelan Forrester said, “We are very happy that students and staff and faculty have access to Mango languages. We think it’s useful in several ways – but not in the way of actually learning a language.”

Forrester emphasized that the MLL Department offers opportunities for students to learn languages in a more profound way than Mango, and highlighted the focus on culture and literature that the department offers.

“My sense is that what it’s doing is sort of teaching you potted sentences,” said Forrester. Still, she said, “It won’t get tired the way a tutor might.”

“We don’t want students to think that they’re getting their money’s worth out of a Swarthmore education through Mango languages,” said Forrester. “On the other hand, it’s lovely to have something…any step away from American monolingualism is a good thing.”

Forrester made clear that Mango languages was not the best model the college offers for learning a less commonly taught language. “If someone wants to study a less commonly taught language, they need to do a directed reading with a professor who knows it, or they need to go to Penn, or they need to study abroad.”

The Mango website notes that while their service is “not designed to deliver total fluency, it does give you all the tools you need to engage in polite conversation, gain a basic understanding of a culture, and get the most out of your journey.”

Vivienne Layne ’11 completed the comprehensive French course at all levels over winter break. Spending an hour or two on the course each day, she finished in a week and a half.

After studying French for several years, Layne wanted to graduate from Swarthmore proficient in the language, but could not find the time for a French class during her senior year. “I needed a regimented way to practice that wasn’t just me and a textbook. It was great for pronunciation and basic survival,” she said.

Layne expressed some reservations about whether Mango actually met her needs. “Mango is designed for people who are traveling and plan on just being tourists, vs. practicing what you’ve already learned and may have forgotten.”

Would she recommend Mango to others? “Definitely, if they’re traveling. Or if they just want to try out a new language for a little bit before they decide on taking an actual course.”


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