Want to learn a language? Here’s help!

By Melissa Crowe
For Sno-Isle Libraries

The museum clerk looked up in astonishment at Ian Babbitt.

“Where are you from?” the clerk asked in Croatian.

“Mi smo iz Seattle.”

If checking out dozens of language audio books or joining a conversation group seems too arduous or time consuming, Sno-Isle Libraries has tools to you help you say “two tickets, please” in no time.

Sno-Isle Libraries teens discuss the magic of Mango

The libraries are offering fresh approaches to traditional language-learning programs with on-the-go apps like Mango Languages to help parents, teachers and travelers communicate.

Mango offers instruction in more than 70 languages including Spanish, Swahili, English, Icelandic, Shakespeare and Pirate. It is free to Sno-Isle Libraries customers, who simply need to create a Mango account to track their lessons.

Danielle Dreger-Babbitt, a Mill Creek librarian, introduced her husband Ian to Mango before their trip to Croatia.

“He was immediately hooked,” Danielle said. “He would go to the zoo or when he was on the bus, he would have his headphones on listening to the instruction.”

The look on the museum clerk’s face still makes Danielle chuckle.

“He asked, ‘How did you learn to speak my language?’” Danielle recalled.

The clerk and Ian went back and forth, asking questions in English and answering in Croatian.

“He was so impressed that Ian took the effort to learn the language he gave him a free ticket,” Danielle said. “It’s such a hard language. I had to pay because I didn’t learn.”

Take your time

Danielle in Croatia

Danielle in Croatia

When conducting business or preparing for a trip abroad, more library patrons are using Mango to learn a new language, she said.

“It’s allowing us to be global citizens,” she said. “You don’t have to wait for someone to return Portuguese for Beginners, you can listen to it immediately, take your time and listen to it without a deadline.”

Not everyone needs to master a language. For people who need a quick answer, translating tools might be a better option.

Melanie Liu, a children’s liaison at Lake Stevens Library, is helping connect parents and teachers with smart phone apps that bridge the gap of languages.

Language is less and less of a barrier in Snohomish County, thanks in part to the tools and resources found in libraries, she said.

“The scary part is if they can’t access it,” she said. “If people don’t know where it is or where to find it. We want to make sure that these tools get into the hands of the people who need them.”

Help for English language learners

Nearly 20 percent of Snohomish County households speak a language other than English at home, according to Census data. English language learners who want to practice their skills can take part in weekly Talk Time conversation groups at Sno-Isle’s Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mukilteo and Mountlake Terrace libraries.

For non-English-speaking parents trying to help their child with homework, Google Translate can make all the difference, Melanie said.

“How can parents help if they can’t understand what the school is asking their child to do?” she said. “This is more of a family tool than a children’s tool.”

At an English Language Learners Family Night for the Sunnycrest Elementary School in Lake Stevens, she showed native Chinese, French, Russian and Thai speakers how to translate with Google Translate.

A parent from Togo, a French-speaking West African country, gasped when Melanie introduced herself in his language using the Google Translate app.

“He got the attention of everybody,” she said. “Everyone was coming over to see what was going on. The kids called it magic.”

Google’s translator can work by voice or by print. A person can speak one language into a microphone and it will translate audibly into another, or can scan a smart phone’s camera over text and it will translate that way.

“It’s really cool,” Melanie said. “If you don’t understand, you can write it out and it translates immediately. It’s imperfect, but it’s better than nothing, for sure.”

You’ll find a link to Google Translate on the Sno-Isle Libraries World Languages page, along links to magazines, book collections, library card registration and other resources in some of the most common “first languages” used in Snohomish and Island counties.

Students and others who need help with English-language grammar can also turn to Help Now. The service, also free to Sno-Isle Libraries customers, offers live tutors and many online lessons.

While on-line resources are great, Melanie said, she encourages people to visit or call the library for assistance.

“We’re always ready and happy to help our customers make the most of our language resources.”


2 responses to “Want to learn a language? Here’s help!”

  1. Marty Bardzel says:

    Is there any Hawaiian or Taglog. If so how would I access this info. Maybe have a culture month every month. Teach about other places along with the geography, dances, food etc. Thank each and everyone who made this possible.

  2. Mike Longley says:

    Yes, Hawaiian and Tagalog are both available. See: Mango Languages

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