Do-It-Yourself Language Products Won't Make You Fluent

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), October 11, 2009 | Go to article overview

Do-It-Yourself Language Products Won't Make You Fluent


Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Carl Falsgraf

The Eugene Library Foundation is clearly well-intentioned in purchasing the Mango online language learning program. The establishment of Chinese and Korean solar manufacturing and sales operations in Eugene brings home the reality of the global economy. Economic and cultural development depends on communicating effectively with people from other cultures. As a lifelong advocate for language learning, I appreciate the sentiment shown. But I must conclude, sadly, that the foundation wasted its money.

Only in America, where so few people actually have learned another language, could a group of highly educated people be sold such a bill of goods.

That bill of goods, slickly packaged by commercial interests such as Rosetta Stone and Mango, reads something like this: You can learn a language quickly, painlessly and easily. The only reason you can't remember anything from your high school French class is that the teacher made you nervous and didn't use a computer. All you have to do is send us your money and our program will magically make you fluent.

No research of any kind indicates that any of this is true.

Here are some claims from Mango marketing materials tempered by reality:

Claim: You will learn actual conversation skill.

Reality: The program consists of repeat-after-me and translation drills with no feedback.

Claim: You will see incredible results after just one lesson and be able to communicate within weeks.

Reality: The U.S. government estimates that it requires 600 hours to master a European language such as Spanish and 2,400 hours to master those unrelated to English, such as Chinese.

Claim: Dialogues are based on real-life situations.

Reality: Reviewing the demo for the language I know best (Japanese) revealed an unnatural and culturally inappropriate conversation that surely has never been uttered in the history of the Japanese language.

I contacted several prominent national experts on language learning for their reaction to the Mango approach. Here is what they say:

"Sounds like a dreadful approach.aa Learning to communicate in another language is more than just trying to remember your part of a stock dialogue. …

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