To learn a new language, travelers often turn to time-tested solutions like Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur or actual classes with native speakers. Yet a number of new, creative and often more affordable tools are aiming to help you rattle off “table for two” and “how much does this cost?” in no time.
Will they get you through the most complex grammar? Not necessarily. But beginners are likely to appreciate these fresh approaches — especially if you’ve had difficulty sticking with traditional language-learning programs.
Never miss a local story.
This book by ShaoLan Hsueh, who grew up in Taiwan, the daughter of a calligrapher, aims to help people read Chinese characters by associating them with simple, colorful illustrations. You can see how Hsueh’s system works by watching an excellent instructional video under the “films” tab on the Chineasy website. The Chineasy book ($24.99; available online for less) recently arrived in U.S. stores, and a second volume is in the works. Information: chineasy.org.
This free app and website are among the most effective language-learning methods I’ve tried, because the lessons come in the form of brief challenges — speaking, translating, answering multiple-choice questions — that keep me coming back for more. When you answer incorrectly, you lose a red heart. Lose too many hearts and, like a video game, your lesson will abruptly end and you'll have to start all over again. If you successfully complete a lesson — available courses include Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese — there’s fanfare and you can proceed to the next lesson. Information: duolingo.com.
This free online program teaches by immersing you in news, sports and entertainment articles written in the language you want to learn. And the list is long: English, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Arabic, Czech, Dutch, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish and Chinese (both simplified and traditional).
Let’s say you’re using the desktop version. When you encounter a word you don’t know, double-click on it. The site provided an audible pronunciation, and the word was added to a master vocabulary list that could be studied later. In April, Lingua.ly introduced an Android app and plans to introduce an iOS app in the fall. Information: lingua.ly.
Why not learn a language by watching feature films? This system from Mango Languages is available free on public computers at libraries across the country.
Introduced last year, Mango Premiere includes films such as the Japanese Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge and the Mandarin movie Kung Fu Dunk. You can watch an entire film with subtitles in English, the language you’re learning, or both. Alternatively, you can watch the movie in “engage” mode, which gives plot highlights, words you might hear and cultural notes before each scene. Then you watch the scene with whatever subtitle option you like.
An optional color-coding feature matches words in the English subtitle with the corresponding words in the foreign language subtitle. If you pause the movie, you can hover over the foreign words with your mouse to get phonetic spellings and then click for an audio pronunciation. Information: mangolanguages.com/mango-premiere.