Q&A: Jason Teshuba

Mango Languages, the innovative online language-learning database, now offers 60 courses for English speakers—from Spanish and French to Kazakh and Tamil; it also provides English lessons for speakers of other languages, fun extras such as Pirate, and an essential-to-our-profession Spanish for Librarians course (ow.ly/o9ctT), which is free. The company has added a new module: Mango Premiere, which uses movies to teach languages. I recently test-drove one of Mango’s courses—standard Irish, basic level—and took in a movie with the company’s CEO and Linguapreneur, Jason Teshuba, who speaks fluent Italian and Hebrew already and is using his company’s lessons to now learn Hawaiian and Chinese.

“An bhfuil Gaeilge agat?”

“Do you speak Irish?” After this course, you will, a little. Mango offers language instruction that’s a little different, and its Irish course is no exception. It goes beyond vocabulary and grammar to include social and cultural context as well that will help students understand the reasons behind some unexpected usage and get along in Ireland. For example, the course explains that “hello” in Irish is “Dia duit,” which literally means “God to you” and that the reply is “Dia is Muire duit,” or “God and Mary to you.” Chapters are presented step by step on “cards” that appear on the user’s screen, and after the student has learned “Dia duit” in chapter one, a “Cultural Note” explains the traditional role of religion in Irish life.

Jason Teshuba

Throughout the lessons, the Irish words appear on the screen along with an English translation, a phonetic pronunciation guide, and optional narration voiced by male and female native speakers. Users can turn on their computer’s microphone and video to use Mango’s voice comparison feature, which allows a learner to record their voice using the microphone and compare it to a native speaker to help refine their pronunciation and articulation of the language. (A mobile app is also available.)

At the end of each chapter, learners take an assessment in which they are prompted with English terms and must come up with the Irish equivalents—a task that should be no problem if they’ve followed the preceding lessons that build up competence through reinforcement of material already learned, adding small variations and extra vocabulary slowly as the cards progress. At the end of the two basic chapters, students will be able to greet others in Irish, ask how they are doing, know about odd language facts (there are no Irish words for “yes” and “no,” for example), and talk about that perennial Hibernian topic: an aimsir (the weather).

In order to take a course, users must create an account, which is free; logging in on subsequent occasions, they will see their progress in terms of courses and chapters and be prompted to resume the current lesson or browse the course menu to start somewhere else.

A more advanced Irish course, “Complete 2.0,” teaches more advanced vocabulary and grammar. Sections cover “Greetings, Gratitude, Goodbyes,” “Do You Speak Irish?”, both of which were in the basic course, and add material on “Names and Introductions,” “Getting Around,” “How Much Does it Cost,” “Eating and Drinking,” “Numbers and Money,” “Getting Help,” “Could You Repeat that, Please,” and “What Does This Mean.”

As well as the various language courses, Mango offers Google Translate through its site, which it explains translates “the ‘gist’ of conversations from one language to another.” The company also provides extensive support to users and a means to offer feedback on courses.

Mango Premiere

Why teach language through movies?

Jason Teshuba: Movies are authentic content, designed for native speakers. Movie scenes are embedded with cultural information. We’ve taken this real material and made it accessible to language learners.

Which languages are available on the new product?

The beta version teaches Mandarin Chinese, which we chose because it’s a language in a different script, making it a really great challenge to do right. We’re also planning to offer ESL for Spanish speakers, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Russian.

How does it work?

Mango Premiere divides a movie into scenes that feature “dynamic captioning.” Each scene is preceded by a list of words to watch for and a little context about the scene. In the Mandarin version, Chinese characters are accompanied by an English translation and a Pinyin transliteration, and corresponding words and terms are shown in the same color. The colors and the English or the Mandarin can be switched off. We provide cultural notes as well, springing from the movie content.

Along the way, the program tests users’ progress by prompting them to say the words that they’ve learned, using repetition to ensure new vocabulary and grammar lessons become second nature over time. Cultural notes also appear as the movie plays, giving context to action that may be unfamiliar or puzzling to foreign viewers. This kind of viewing is called “engage mode,” but it’s also possible to watch the movie straight through, with or without subtitles in English or Mandarin.

Cultural notes are provided too; for example, the movie we’re watching, Kung Fu Dunk, centers around basketball, so cultural notes pop up describing the rise in popularity of the sport in China.

Users can post their progress to social media, with Mango creating an automatic message that ends with, “…because I got it through my public library” so that the library has some automatic marketing built in for the service it’s bought.

Which kinds of movies are available?

The movies featured—at launch, there will be three to five titles per language—are aimed toward adults but are family friendly. They are chosen to be engaging to watch even if you aren’t learning a language. Down the road we may offer some material for various age groups. The movies are rated using Mango’s internal rating system because different cultures find different things offensive.—Henrietta Thornton-Verma

Henrietta Verma About Henrietta Verma

Henrietta Verma is Senior Editorial Communications Specialist at NISO, the National Information Standards Organization, Baltimore, and was formerly the reviews editor at Library Journal.