The Lingo Ledger

Why I couldn’t learn a language from a software program.

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I remember the exciting day my sister came back from the store with a software program to learn Spanish. That was it. We were about to speak that exotic and beautiful language fluently in no-time.

The software was about to change our lives, or so we thought. We couldn't wait to install it on the computer, fighting for who would start first.

Well, the excitement quickly faded.  

Why? Obviously we wanted to speak Spanish.  But it turned out that the software was not such a great teacher.

Even though the software came with the option to check our pronunciation, it was not really accurate. Trust me, I tried it. I could mumble something that didn't sound like any language on Earth and the congratulations would appear on my screen. According to the software, I was a genius! According to my Hispanic friend (or maybe according to her non-stopping laugh), I was learning everything but Spanish.

The lessons were not tailored for me. The lessons were mainly made for travelers, but I wanted to know more than 'Where is the ATM?'. I wanted variety, and besides that, I had questions the software couldn't answer - about grammar, verbs and so much more!

The software could hardly teach me the culture. At first, it didn't really bother me because I was too caught up trying to learn how to say 'Where are the bathrooms?'. However, learning a language without learning the culture is like learning the footsteps of a dance for which you've never heard the music. Right foot, left foot, move to the side, move to the other side... Does that look fun, interesting and entertaining to you? Not to me. Of course at the beginning learning a new dance (or a new language) feels robotic. We do have to learn the basics steps, the basic grammar. But when we turn the music on, it gives another dimension to the steps. The theory comes alive with the beat and its subtleties.

Languages are alive. Software is not. Software is frozen in time with it's computerized 'knowledge'. Languages keep evolving. Even teachers who are native speakers have to keep on learning in their first language. I love to quote John Cotton Dana : 'Who dares to teach must never cease to learn'. If I want to be an awesome teacher, I have to be an awesome student. Sadly, software can't share that goal.

I now speak 4 languages. I learned them by making the most embarrassing mistakes, reading, watching TV, listening to music, traveling, and most importantly, talking to others. Being a student helps me understands my students. Believe me, I know the struggles and the challenges. I know the rollercoaster that leads to the moments of joy and the moments of frustration. I know there are good days where everything comes out so perfectly that we amaze ourselves.  I know there are the other days, usually called bad days, when we can't say two words without making mistakes and that makes us feel so lame.

Unfortunately, software doesn't know all that.

That is why software doesn't work for language learning - because learning a language is an amazing human experience.

Ève Doré is a French Language Teacher and Communication Coach with Lingo Live.

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