I promised you that I would be reviewing some of the common language learning websites and software currently available. Here’s my first stab at it, with Frantastique and Gymglish (the latter of which I still don’t entirely get the name). As they say, it’s hard to let go of your first love, and in my case, that would be French – I love learning the language, I love the culture, and I love listening to it. When I somehow stumbled upon Frantistique on the internet – and it offered a free trial! for learning French – I had to try it. Here’s a pictorial introduction of my first impressions:
For those of you who don’t speak French, the script read as follows: 1) Oh, him, him, him! 2) Oh, no, no, no, no. Too little, too little. 3) No, not a singer. 4) Oh my! What a dreadful sight! No, not her. 5) Yes, this guy, this guy! 6) Of course not. Michael Jackson doesn’t speak French. 7) Wooooooooooow, his beard! 8) Please, please, this guy, this guy! 9) Yes, it’s true, he has a lovely beard. 10) So, can we unfreeze him?
In addition to being hilarious and adorable, the first lesson – following the adventures of Big and Little, very intelligent aliens who understand everything EXCEPT French, requiring the assistance of a naked un-dead Victor Hugo to take them around modern-day Paris explaining things to them – was followed by verb conjugations, grammar exercises, oral comprehension, and culture. And best of all, it was all written in French (with the opportunity to “cheat” and use English translations if the meaning wasn’t clear). The whole seven-day trial period allowed a smart data system to calibrate your level based on right or wrong answers to questions, grammar skills, and vocabulary words you select. That’s right, you select the words you want to learn from the script and the website gives you “study cards” at frequent intervals throughout the program, giving an English definition and using the words in context.
In short, the website is adorable. The third or fourth day (I’ve lost count) involves Victor Hugo taking Big and Little around Paris while singing a song about “tournez à gauche” or “tournez à droite” that rhymes. It’s not at all juvenile but has plenty of the charm that makes the French language so wonderful. The voices are all recorded native speakers, and there’s plenty of culture and famous artists and singers that are presented. Plus, due to the artificial intelligence, you actually work on things you need to review or don’t do so well on.
My two favorite things about Frantistique: it’s fun and it has a lot of culture! The problem with websites such as Duolingo is that they aren’t all that entertaining, engaging, or even relevant. Frantastique introduces you to key French personalities and has a whole section dedicated to culture, presenting songs and famous French citations. I was able to skip a lot of the easy stuff, as it got progressively more complex as the AI system took note of my level.
Here are a few more snapshots of the website as I progressed through the first seven (free) days. The subscription for the site is $14 a month, which, considering you get 30-31 lessons a month, is not that bad!
Some of the terms are incredibly useful and rarely offered in language courses, such as language for emails. It was always ridiculous and hilarious throughout: “Envoyés spéciaux, agence intergalactique de la francophonie”or a bio sheet on Victor Hugo talking about his five mistresses or how his pastimes are “adultery, prostitutes, and walks by the banks of the Rhine.”
Humor aside, it has great pedagogy: grammar basics, registers of language (formal, informal, when to use such and such a word) which is often missing from straight grammar tools, and plenty of culture. You engage the ear, the eye, and the brain, an all-inclusive form of learning.
I was so enamored with Frantastique that I decided to go to their sister site, Gymglish, to check out the English learning website. I was expecting some cute alien invasion of New York City, but instead, I was greeted with this image:
Although the website is destined for French speakers who want to learn English (perfect in Hedi’s case), it was so different in its approach. First of all – it was boring! We follow the adventures of a spoiled brat Franco-American named Bruno Delavigne (we later learn about how he is late for a business meeting in order to have coffee with his ex-girlfriend), in a story of how the Delavigne perfume company came to be. It felt like corporate advertising, and I wasn’t nearly as engaged. However, the language-learning software was just as good, and I of course went straight to the upper levels given that I am a native speaker. I was able to choose a “theme” for my lessons and chose Business English. My mistake – I learned all about running a multi-million dollar company and all the terms that go along with it. Perhaps I’m biased. After all, cute aliens and Victor Hugo don’t appeal to everyone. And many people who learn English do so not to benefit from the culture but rather to find a job or to do business abroad. The total lack of culture was unsettling, especially compared to the wide array on Frantastique. It was as if the U.S. didn’t have anything remotely cultural worth knowing. The one thing I did appreciate from the website was the built-in pronunciation for vocabulary words: you could listen to either British or American pronunciations (similar to the québécois and français options on Frantastique).
Perhaps I just got upset by the whole four-lesson “tour of the company headquarters” that was both racist and sexist all in one. I don’t think it’s software that I would pay for. I might be tempted, on the other hand, to invest those $14 a month for Frantastique.
Man, I need to get moving on learning languages other than French!
My final assessment:
–> For quality of language-learning software, incredibly engaging, personalized, relevant, interesting, culturally sensitive; negative: it’s not free but not too pricy, it’s still online, and there is no speaking involved
–> For quality of language-learning software, personalized; negative: the advertising/sponsorship is too blatant, it costs money, it’s still online, there is no speaking involved, it’s not very interesting and the content is mildly offensive