Language Learning Programs

When we tell people we are moving to Italy, the second question they ask after “Oh for work?”, is usually “Do you speak Italian?”  The answer is after about 1.5 years of self-study, “Yeah, I can hold my own pretty well?”  Am I fluent? NO! Absolutely not, in no way shape form or fashion. I first decided to start learning the language late 2014 after we fell and love and realized we would probably continue to vacation in Italy every year.  Now we’ve never had any trouble communicating.  Almost everyone in the main tourist areas we’d visited spoke English.  But I just felt that I should at least make an effort to learn the language enough to hold basic conversations.

In 2010, we visited Madrid and Barcelona (in addition to Rome).  I’d taken two years of Spanish in high school but wanted to freshen up my skills.  I was discussing with my best friend about getting Rosetta Stone and she relayed to me that her brother had used it for free by checking it out from the Houston public library.  I went that day and got a library card but soon discovered they no longer had Rosetta Stone and had replaced it with Mango.  Anyone who knows me, knows I hate spending money, so since it was free, I decided to give it a shot.  I loved it.  During work, yeah sorry, I know that’s bad, but during work, I would do a couple lessons a day.  In just a few short weeks, I’d progressed further than I thought could.  My husband and best friend who joined me on the trip to Spain were impressed that I used only Spanish to check into our hotel.  So naturally, the first program I downloaded when it was time to learn Italian, was Mango. I used this app for about 4 months before we went on vacation in 2015 and I was really surprised at how much I’d picked up.  After we made the decision to move, I beefed up my studying with several programs and have them listed below, along with a short description, pictures, pros and cons.

MANGO

Description:  Mango is a conversational based language learning program.  There are 69 available languages to learn.  Within each language, there are several different courses for that language. For example, under Italian there are 4 courses: Mango Conversations, Romance, Carnival of Venice, and Horse Race in Siena. The Mango Conversations course is the most extensive, containing 138 lessons. 

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As you can see below, Mango breaks down each word or short phrase from English to Italian…

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There are also 2-3 cute little breaks within the lesson that are always very valuable

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Pros:

  • Free, with public library membership
  • Placement test available
  • Each lesson is centered around very practical conversations
  • No voice recognition needed to pass/move on to next lesson
  • Computer and mobile app use

Cons:

  • No quizzes or test questions
  • No ability to bookmark a phrase

 

BARRON’S LEARN ITALIAN THE FAST AND FUN WAY

Description: I checked this out from my local library also. It is also available in Barnes and Noble. The package includes a workbook as well as 4 CD’s.  The workbook has a short conversational or grammatical lesson followed by a few reflection activities like: fill in the blank, matching, word finds, as well as question and answers.  The CD is pretty much the workbook spoken.  It’s good to put in your car and listen on your commute.  

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What’s inside the box:

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Inside the workbook:

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Pros:

  • Free, at public library
  • Good for all ages
  • CD’s can be used in the car when you’re on the go
  • Thorough grammatical explanations
  • Since it’s a physical book, it can be bookmarked

Cons:

  • No mobile app available
  • Conversational practicality/real life usefulness can be improved
  • Antiquated phrases (My Italian friend laughed at a phrase I used and said he had heard only his grandparents use it)
  • CD is not really useful unless you have actually reviewed the lesson in the workbook first
  • Graphics looks like they are from the 70’s

 

VOCABULARY TRAINER

Description: I downloaded Vocabulary Trainer from the google play store to beef up my vocabulary.  Each lesson can be customized with 7-28 words, including some repeated words, if desired.  The word is shown in Italian first along with it’s English translation in a flash card mode. Afterwards, a short quiz is administered. There are 10,000 vocabulary words on the app spread amongst the following courses: Most Frequent Words, Dating Phrases, Business, Travel Phrases, Thematic Courses, and Words by Topic.
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Pros:

  • Free
  • 10,000 available vocabulary words
  • Quizzes at the end of each lesson using various question types

Cons:

  • No way to “star” words that need more review
  • Sometimes relationship between pictures and vocabulary words are a bit of a stretch
  • Audio of some words are varying and can be of low quality

 

QUIZLET

Description: Quizlet is not actually a language program, it’s a program that I use to help me memorize words.  You create 2 corresponding lists – one in English and one in Italian.  You can select the language of the list and Quizlet will speak it with the proper pronunciation of that language. You can “star” words which need a little more practice so when you do the learning activities, choose to only display the starred words or all words for a more comprehensive review.

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Example of the match exercise.

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Example of the cards exercise:

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Example of the learn exercise:

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Example of the test:

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Pros:

  • Free
  • Fully customizable
  • Several types of learning exercises
  • Can be used with or without audio
  • You can make your list public or private
  • Timers

Cons:

  • I created a list on my old phone and when I switched to my new phone, the list was gone because no log-in or account was necessary

 

ABC ITALIAN

Description: ABC Italian is an app created with children in mind, but we’re all children when it comes to learning a brand new language. There are several categories with different types of exercises to learn the vocabulary within that category.
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Learning activities within the categories:

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Pros:

  • Free
  • Game-like feel
  • Practical
  • Different learning exercises

Cons:

  • Pop-up ads with the free version, paid version, I assume, does not have them
  • App it totally in Italian, not one English word, even instructions

STANDARD DEVIANTS DVD

Description: I checked out this DVD from my local library.  The DVD is very basic. It’s funny, cute and entertaining, but don’t expect too get much from it. Does a good job of covering the basic grammatical sentence structure and other vocabulary, like days of the week, months, numbers, letters.

The Standard Deviants - Parla Italiano (Learning Italian - Nouns, Verbs & Adjectives)

Pros:

  • Free (checked out from local library)
  • Covers a few of the basics
  • Funny skits. I literally lol’ed

Cons:

  • Limited topics
  • looks like it was filmed in the 80’s
  • A little long for the amount of material covered

 

LITTLE PIM ITALIAN DVD

Description: Little Pim is a DVD collection of several languages aimed young children. It’s mostly vocabulary and very short phrases. I was able to find this 3-DVD set at my local library.

Pros:

  • Free (checked out at local library)
  • Can be accessed online with quizzes at end of lesson
  • Entertaining for young children

Cons:

  • No English spoken at all, which sometimes leaves room for incorrect word translations with children
  • Too boring for older children
  • Not very extensive

 

When people hear about all the different types of language learning programs I use, most people ask if I really use them. I do.  I obviously use some more than others. I use Mango, Vocabulary Trainer, and Quizlet daily. If time permits, I use the others.

What about Rosetta Stone? What about Duolingo? I do NOT like them.  I spent more time trying to get past the voice recognition versus actually learning.  I promise I say it exactly as they do lol.

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