The Instruction and Outreach Department manages and coordinates library research instruction for students, faculty and staff through course-related workshops, outreach activities, personal consultations, research guides and other instructional materials.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Online language learning tools: try them out!

As part of their efforts to provide resources to learners of foreign languages, the Duke Libraries are currently evaluating several online language learning software packages for potential purchase. Four tools are being considered: of those, Byki, Mango and TellMeMore are currently available on a trial basis to users with a Duke NetID, while the trial of the fourth (Rosetta Stone) will be available soon. The libraries are looking for feedback from the Duke community on these programs, so if you are interested in language learning, you may want to check them out.

So far I've had the chance to explore Byki and Mango, and these are some of my impressions:

Byki offers an impressive array of languages, including many less commonly taught languages (a few of which I had never heard of: Bashkir, Mirandese and Buriat). Although Byki provides grammatical information and a few exercises for some of the languages, its principal offering is an extensive set of audio flashcards for each language: students can use these to translate into or out of the foreign language, or to practice pronunciation and listening comprehension.

While Byki doesn't provide much in the way of grammatical instruction or cultural context, it could be a very helpful resource for pronunciation and vocabulary building, particularly in the case of languages for which instructional material is hard to come by. The trial of Byki runs only until October 31st, so if you're looking to acquire a bit of conversational Buriat, act quickly!

Mango also covers a large number of languages (though not quite as many as Byki). In comparison to Byki, it offers a much more structured and guided language learning experience, presenting and reviewing simple forms and phrases, and then asking the student to combine these to form more complex sentences. If you want an online version of the experience of an introductory language class, Mango might be worth a try.

Some may question Mango's frequent use of English (in instructions, translations, grammatical explanations, and cultural notes). But while full immersion has its merits, as a language teacher and student I've found that a few words of explanation can go a long way, especially when dealing with idiomatic language or grammatical features that diverge sharply from the student's native tongue. So I welcomed the information and clarification that Mango offered.

Mango's lessons don't get into particularly advanced grammar or vocabulary, so it may be more of a starting point than a complete course. But it's definitely worth a look for those who want a smooth and engaging introduction to a new language. It's available to try until November 5th.

Both of these tools, along with TellMeMore, can be found at the libraries' Database Trials page-- and Rosetta Stone will be there soon. Give them a look, and let us know what you think!

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