Being able to converse multiple languages is one of the hallmarks of the sophisticated adult. Learning to speak a new language – or getting back into a language I was good at once upon a time – is on my list of New Year’s resolutions just about every year. So do I speak thirty-three different languages? I do not. Whether it’s laziness, inconvenience, lack of time, or simply the fact that getting my head around a new language just isn’t as easy as it was when I was eleven years old and my brain was malleable – or, most likely, some combination of all four factors – something always seems to get in the way.

That’s why I was excited to get the chance to review Mango Languages. Mango’s main customer base is organizations rather than individuals: they supply language courses to schools, libraries, corporations and government agencies around the world in over 70 languages. But they also offer a personal subscription option, which costs $19.99 per month, or $199.99 for a full year. You can try the first few units of any language for free, which is what I did for the purpose of this review – or if you wanted to use Mango for free on a more long-term basis, you could find out whether your school or a local library has a subscription you could use.

Mango says they ‘believe in enriching lives with language and culture…and like to have fun’. Their website gives off a ‘passionate geek’ vibe, with team members listing the languages they speak and describing themselves with words like ‘linguapreneur’. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and it’s clearly not just me who thinks so: Mango claims that millions of ‘happy learners around the globe’ are using their resources to ‘learn new languages, connect with new cultures, and broaden their horizons. They also offer English courses for non-English speakers, and specialized units for learners with particular thematic or cultural interests.

yH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAIBRAA7 - I tried to teach myself Urdu using Mango Languages: here’s how it went

How did I find it

Enough hype – it was time for me to try out Mango Languages for myself.

I considered trying to use Mango to refresh my German, just like I do with Duolingo every few months, but decided to take on a thornier challenge. Right now it’s Ramadan, which means that just about every evening, my friends, colleagues and neighbors of Pakistani origin have been inviting me to share food with them. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if I could thank them for their generosity in perfect Urdu?

Mango is markedly different from apps like Duolingo in a number of ways. Each unit breaks down a conversation into very small steps, and repeats them over and over again to help you get each word and syllable memorised. It gets pretty repetitive, and could be boring for younger users, but in small chunks it’s very effective.

What’s more, where Duolingo famously tests you on esoteric phrases you may never need, Mango starts with the basics and works through very practical, country-specific language. It also gives you cultural pointers on when – and with whom – to use the formal and informal versions of particular words and phrases, and even what to do when you’re saying them (for example: when you’re greeting someone of the opposite sex in Urdu, don’t expect to shake hands).

Spoiler alert: I do not have perfect Urdu. But the few phrases I did manage to learn are still in my head several days after I first committed them to memory, which is not something many language learning apps can guarantee. I thoroughly recommend giving Mango a try!

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