How Technology is Helping Me Learn to Babble On

(This blog post was written by Cody from the Community Technology Center.)

In preparation for an upcoming trip to Ecuador, I decided, once and for all, to learn Spanish…and I’m making real headway!

Second languages and I have a troubled past. Despite 5+ years of French classes in high school and college, it never stuck. (Okay, okay: I probably should’ve studied abroad in Paris, rather than Dublin, but how else would I have gotten to read, like, 75 pages of Finnegans Wake while drinking pints of Kilkenney?) Then, a few years ago, I took an Adult Ed Spanish class, though I quickly realized that a weekly session of book learning just wasn’t engaging enough. I also dabbled in German and Russian but never made it more than a few weeks into a listening program.

So, what’s my secret this time around? My phone! Well, that and some great one-on-one tutoring. But seriously, the myriad ways in which I can now study Spanish makes it not only convenient but fun and refreshingly varied. Sure, I still scribble away in a workbook with my tutor (though it’s one that she designed herself, thanks to some nifty software), but when I tire of that, I have an arsenal of additional study tools, all of which are stored right in my pocket.

Take Duolingo, for example, which is a free smartphone app that drills you on all sorts of vocab and grammar. It’s so fun that I find myself doing it anytime I have a spare few minutes. Duo the Owl roots you on, and as you rack up points, you can buy him things, like a monocle or a champagne track suit (I don’t know about you, but my Duo’s looking good). Duolingo sends you daily reminders via email and your phone’s notification system, and trust me: you don’t want to upset the owl (he cries and then gets kind of passive aggressive. It’s not pretty…so it’s best to stay on task!).

Mango Languages, which is available via the Library, also comes as a nifty smartphone app and has a wide range of focused language programs based on your needs--for example Latin American Spanish, Medical Spanish, Spanish for Librarians, etc. There’s also Brainscape, which is a glorified flash card app. It tracks which words I remember and which ones I don’t, and adjusts the frequency accordingly. I can press a button to hear any word pronounced correctly, and it alternates voices (male/female) for deeper familiarity. The Brainscape app is free, and you can purchase pre-made flash cards or create your own. (At the moment, it’s only available for iOS devices, but an Android version is coming soon. In the mean time, there’s no shortage of similar flash card apps in the Google Play store.)

Some other apps I use are iTunes U (check out the “5 Minute Spanish Course” for quick grammar lessons), and, seeing as it’s World Cup time, the Univision Deportes app streams all of the fútbol matches with energetic commentary and offers a plethora of articles about games, teams, and players in Spanish. I also subscribe to a handful of free podcasts, like “Coffee Break Spanish” and “Audiria.” Podcasts are a great way to listen to fluent speakers whenever you’ve got a spare few moments.

And don’t forget about Overdrive! The library has a range of eBooks and eAudio content in Spanish as well as a number of other languages to help you hone your listening and reading comprehension. I’ve currently checked out some study charts as well as a set of audio conversations called Immersionplus. Soon, I’m going to try my hand at reading some Harry Potter en español!

I’m still a ways off from being comfortable jumping right into conversations, but I’ve made more progress in the past couple of months than I have in the previous decade. Why? Because I now have so many fun ways to keep me studying every day (the real key to learning a language). 

¡Gracias, tecnología!

Written by christopher on June 27, 2014

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