To learn the vocabulary and grammar of another language, many people try Duolingo. And to learn a new language with stories, many people are heading straight to Lingogo. Released in November 2015, Lingogo is a free app that contains stories written in multiple languages, allowing language learners to review vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation in context.
The app contains a digital bookstore, where users can buy stories with text and audio translations in English, Spanish, French and German. New stories are released every month as a way to encourage users to regularly practice their languages. The app, which is a product of Little Mouse Co., is run by Lizzie Dunn and her mother, Shelly Dunn, in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand, and designer Hannah Craig in London.
The ultimate aim of the app is to show that language learning is fun.
“We’ve found the hardest part of learning any language isn’t actually academic; it’s finding opportunities to practice, and keeping your motivation levels up,” says Dunn.
Storytelling is the main tool Lingogo uses to promote language learning as entertainment.
“I’ve always relied on stories in my own language learning,” Dunn explains. “They’re a great way to link information together and to put it all into context. Plus they’re fun. People tend to learn a language as something extra. You don’t want to come home after work and study [in the traditional sense].”
The idea for Lingogo was sparked when Shelly Dunn, an avid reader of Spanish children’s books and magazines, expressed how great it would be if she could read foreign texts with translations readily available. Lizzie, who had just received her degree, became interested in the idea and started doing research. She found that while many language learners had access to basic grammar and vocabulary tutorials, they didn’t have a lot of opportunities to practice reading and speaking. Thus, Lingogo was born.
“When I looked mostly on the Internet at what language learners were looking for, they were basically asking for this product,” says Dunn.
As Dunn became more serious about developing this idea, she and her team partnered with a software company to build the product and tested it with language learners.
Upon downloading the app, users choose what language they’d like to read the story in. Then, they have to pick between three different modes: “Get Started,” “Get Focused” and “Get Fluent.” “Get Started” allows users to read the story in a user’s native language and language they’re learning side by side. “Get Focused” lets users flip between different languages by swiping back and forth. And “Get Fluent” allows users to read stories in their target language without looking back at the version in their native language.
One of the most useful features of the app is the ability to hear pronunciation clips by clicking on color-coded sentences.
Without modern technological advances, Dunn says, she wouldn’t be able to reach a global audience with this app.
“I still can’t quite get over the fact that all I need to do to reach my French audience is basically press the upload button—and then spend hours on hours figuring out the best ways to market to them of course,” she says. “I love physical books and don’t think going digital suits every story, but for us and our audience, it just seems to be a perfect fit.”
Dunn and her team are planning to add more languages to the app, starting with other European languages and eventually exploring Asian languages.
“My passion project is Māori, New Zealand’s native language. I’m really interested in using Lingogo to support indigenous languages,” Dunn says.
Other changes for the future involve accepting story submissions from writers and giving the app subtle game-like qualities.
“We’re not making it a game, but we’re adding in some features,” she says.
Right now, the app is only available on iOS but will be on Android in the near future.
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