Teona Shainidze-Krebs is learning Spanish, using Mango Languages. It seems a wise choice: According to the Mango website, its software is used by government departments and agencies, including Homeland Security and the Pentagon. It's celebrated as easy-to-use, so much so that schools nationwide have adopted it. It's also offered free by her employer.
All of which might lead you to say, "Well, good for Teona." But it's actually good for you, too: Her employer is Pikes Peak Library District, which offers Mango software free to anyone with a library card.
Better yet, on Aug. 12, the library district announced the release of a free Mango app for the iPhone and iPad. Even though having the software on the website has made it easily available — more than 2,500 sessions have been completed since its April 2010 launch — the app has increased its potential impact. Fifty-six people downloaded the app in the first two weeks.
Shainidze-Krebs could have chosen Arabic, or Mandarin Chinese, or any of 22 languages, in basic or higher-level complete versions. But Spanish will be most helpful because as PPLD's Litsource coordinator, she oversees the district's English as a Second Language classes, where many students' native tongue is Spanish. Along the way, she'll learn how Mango works firsthand — important, because she has 14 ESL options through the software as well, opening up myriad possibilities for her students and volunteers.
The interface itself is pretty user-friendly, and looks the same whether you're online or using the app. Once you've selected a course and begin work, a main dashboard tracks how much time you spend studying. And you can take any number of courses at a time.
So far, Shainidze-Krebs feels good about what she's seen and heard.
"They explain grammar to you, but it's not in detail," she says. "They give you main points. And I like that about it, because if you're not planning on getting a degree in linguistics, you don't need to know a lot of grammar."
She points to Mango's use of repetition as helpful to retention, as well as its various teaching styles, which include spoken word for auditory learners and written word for visual learners. Learners can even record their voices and Mango will help with pronunciation, comparing the recorded version to a native speaker's version.
It may come as no surprise that the No. 1 language that patrons have accessed is Spanish. But the No. 2 selection, German, caught Janice McPherson, PPLD's Adult Services manager, a bit off-guard.
"There is sort of a large German population here," she says with a laugh, "but I was surprised, because I thought they would already know it."
But then, when you consider the next most popular choices — Russian, Italian, French — and think about our heavy transient military population, maybe nothing should be unexpected.
McPherson loves that there's no hard copy of the software that needs to be checked out. "This could be used by everyone in the city at the same time," she says, "and they wouldn't have to return it. ... It's always there for someone to learn."
Best, though, may be the cost, or lack thereof. PPLD pays $15,500 per year to cover remote access, unlimited use and 24/7 support, and you get the benefits. As Shainidze-Krebs puts it, "You don't have to pay $25 dollars per hour to take a Spanish class. It's like you have a private tutor."