If you'd like to give it a spin, install it on your smartphone and select "Chinese, Mandarin" in the app's setup screen.
This release is a milestone for us in two ways:
- It's our first release for the iPhone.
- Language Mentor is now effectively "done". In other words, it's reached a stage where it does everything it's designed to do with no obvious gaps. Yes, there will be tweaks and refinements, but we're happy with its current state.
Our goals in creating Language Mentor have been to:
- Offer a simple app that plays "mostly audio" language lessons.
- Present lessons within a simple user interface that encourages language study and practice while doing other things – i.e. working, exercising, etc. – thus creating "free" language study time within learners' busy lives.
- Make language learning more efficient by taking the existing "language lessons on audio CD" format and evolving it to its obvious next level – "audio-centric language lessons on your mobile device." This makes language learning more efficient because an app can do things like displaying text, and allowing the learner to repeat chunks of audio, that a CD can't do. Even better, Language Mentor allows the learner to suppress chunks (i.e. to tell the app "I've learned this chunk – you don't need to drill me on it any more"), which allows learners to focus on the content that they haven't learned yet.
- Offer a free and open platform. Language Mentor is open in two different senses: a) Open in the sense that anyone can create lessons for any language and publish them via Language Mentor, and b) Open in the sense that Language Mentor's code is open source. Open source code is important in an open platform because it goes a long way towards ensuring that the platform's creators (that's us) won't later decide to close the platform, or convert it to a paid product. If we were to do this, others could simply recreate the open platform by branching the project's code.
First, we're starting to evangelize Language Mentor to the language teaching community.
Second, we've started work on creating an authoring tool for Language Mentor.
It's already possible to create lessons – in fact, it's fairly easy. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it's fairly easy if you possess skills such as audio editing, editing XML files, etc.
We've created a full set of instructions. They explain how to create lessons, simply and clearly and in detail. They're written for people with no technical skills. Anyone can learn how to do this – really!
But we suspect that, even so, many people will be put off by the learning curve. Frankly, if you're considering creating lessons for Language Mentor, you'll need to invest a day or two into learning how it's done. And then your first few lessons will go fairly slowly. Once you get past your first dozen lessons the process speeds up. How much? Well, we find that it takes us under an hour to assemble each lesson – not counting audio editing. Audio editing can take as little as a half hour if your audio's quality is excellent, or much longer if it's not.
We're hoping that we can create a lesson authoring tool that will greatly simplify this process – that will eliminate much of the learning curve and make the process much faster. Our goal is to make it so simple and easy to use that it will be practical, for example, for language tutors to create weekly "one-off" lessons for individual students.
And Now, a Question For You!
If you've read this far there's a good chance that you're at least curious about Language Mentor. If you've gone a couple of steps further and have a) installed and explored the Language Mentor app, and b) taken a look at our instructions for creating lessons, we'd love your input. Here's our question:
As outlined above, we're planning to start work on a) evangelizing, and b) creating an authoring tool.
Do you think that Language Mentor as it exists now – without authoring tool – is ready to be evangelized?
In other words, what are the chances that individuals and/or organizations will be interested in creating lessons using the "manual" process outlined in our instructions?
We're happily creating lessons using this very process, but how will others feel?
Of course, this isn't really a yes/no question. We'll definitely be putting some energy into getting the word out, if only to get feedback. So, allow us to restate the question: In the short term, how much of our effort should we put into letting the world know about Language Mentor? How much should we put into developing an authoring tool? Is Language Mentor ready for use – as an open platform – as-is?
If you have any thoughts on these questions we'd appreciate your input. Please leave us a comment or contact us directly via our contact form.