Library's Web site offers basic lessons in languages

CHAMPAIGN – Anyone taking a trip to Japan, Spain, France or Germany this year should check out the Mango Languages database at Champaign Public Library. In simple steps, this program teaches language needed to travel in a foreign country – how to greet one another, ask for directions, and even where the nearest public restroom is.

Mango Languages is a language learning database accessed through the library's Web site (www.champaign.org) under the "Find Answers and Facts" category on the home page. Champaign Public Library cardholders can access this database at home for free by entering their 10-digit library number. Language lessons are delivered right to a home computer. Non-cardholders can still use this database but on a computer at the library. The program is free, but personal headphones are required.

"We can never seem to have enough books on the shelves, DVDs, enough CDs for people to learn a language," Kristina Hoerner, adult services manager, said. "The nice thing about something like this: it can't be checked out so ... you (don't) have to wait for someone else to bring it back."

Two types of programs exist on Mango Languages: complete and basic. The complete program allows study in depth and teaches formal and informal vocabulary and grammar in nine languages – from Spanish and French to Mandarin Chinese and Brazilian Portuguese.

The basic program is to prepare someone for a trip or short stay in a foreign country. There are fewer lessons, and they teach more conversational language. Twenty-two languages, including Arabic and Hebrew, are offered in the basic program for English speakers.

In both the complete and basic program, there are options for those who speak English as a second language.

Both programs teach learners in the same way. They show the English vocabulary words and the foreign translation, such as "Hello" and "Guten Tag." Then the narrator pronounces the foreign phrase; the user can repeat the phrase as many times as needed. He can also click on the pronunciation guide, so he can see the words spelled phonetically.

Lavana Hawkins, library associate in the adult services department, used Mango Languages to review and improve her Spanish.

"I enjoy how easy it is to use," Hawkins said. "When I'm in a lesson, it makes sense. It's not just random phrases, random words."

Her 14-year-old son also enjoys the program and uses it to supplement German that he is learning at school. Hawkins said she knows a few families that home school and have Mango Languages for their foreign language instruction.

The program also has a translator tool. Librarians can type in an English sentence such as, "The periodicals are located on the second floor," and then tell the translator tool what language to translate to.

Hawkins told George Edwards, owner of Champaign Do It Best Hardware Store, about the translator tool because of the many non-English speaking customers the store has who do business in the utility center. Edwards said some customers are non-English speaking Chinese. Employees can type in a sentence or question to the translator, click a button, and Chinese translation appears. Then the customers understand what to do to pay their utility bills with this "marvelous tool."

Hoerner thinks that using this database is appropriate for almost any age.

"I think children would be able to use it if they have an adult working with them," she said. "I think kids grasp this stuff a lot faster than adults do. Yes, the program is very easy to work through."

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