Just to bring you up to speed: I’m learning French in a hurry and for free. This is a more radical version of my guerrilla language learning challenge, where I’m learning three languages on a budget. Today, I’m looking at ways of taking my French offline!
0. Privileged again: learning in the always-online world
So far, I’ve been lucky enough to have my online learning habits catered to. In fact, the only reason for satisfying progress so far has been almost constant access to internet. My setup relied on it, and it works great in London.
But can I assume that things will be the same in Morocco? And even if I do – the 3G usage fees on my smartphone would surely go against the guerrilla language learning philosophy?
Digging even deeper – doesn’t the “always-on” privilege make my language proficiency a bit of a fake? Sugata Mitra predicts the “end of knowing” as something to be praised and expected in an age where information is always available. But for a language learner, there are certain things that still need to be known, ready to use and well-internalized. So does mobile learning work out well for a future polyglot?
1. Three good reasons to take your language offline…
Usability: a language learning setup that falls to pieces when there’s no internet available is a nuisance. Working with language involves lots of research, but also lots of interaction and engagement. You can’t rely on internet for every bit of language interaction you do – otherwise, what’s the point of learning to speak?
Cost and risk management: Roaming charges, unsecured wi-fi hotspots, smartphone snatchers – all this can really put a damper on your language adventures. A low-tech arrangement will mean that you don’t have to waste time, money and effort just to get to a hotspot – and you won’t be seen waving your swanky iPhone around for all to see, just to get an extra bar of coverage.
Self-reliance: Come OOOOON! Are you learning a language, or are you learning to operate a computer program? Do you want to speak to that nice Moroccan family, or to your app? Will you use Google Translate to haggle? Taking your resources offline will mean that they lose a lot of their functionality. But it will also mean that you’ll have to do more of the work. And that’s a good thing: here’s what you can use instead.
2. And three tools polyglots can use to compensate
Pen and paper: Yes, you heard it from me, the paperless guy. Have those handy at all times. Draw. Sketch. Write down what you mean. Have others write, draw, translate. This makes it easier for the visual learners – and for everyone, it changes the rules of interaction: from a standoff between to speakers to a collaboration on a single “document.” The posture, the gestures, everything becomes more conducive to dialogue. Sure, you can do this on an iPad if you like. But I’ve never had to look for a paper notebook charger
Body language: Speaking of postures and gestures – these certainly beat the age-old strategy of REPEATING YOUR ENGLISH LOUDER AND SLOOOO-WEEEER. Look up “offensive gestures in country X” before you travel, and keep those in mind – apart from that, mime and flail away. This isn’t cheating if it gets the job done!
Memory: There are some phrases you really, really should remember in every language. These will make life easier, and also give you some confidence when you’re out and about. Learn those first and make sure you got them right before you move on.
3. Three offline French learning Android apps
A final handful of tips for those who (like me) insist on having at least some access to tech-enabled language learning. All those are freely available.
Google Translate now lets you download certain languages for offline use. The range and scope of the service diminishes, but it’s enough in a pinch.
Memrise will let you download courses for offline use. Make sure to leave plenty of time and bandwidth for those – especially the bigger ones!
This French and English dictionary works offline and is easy to use. The free version should suffice for the basic needs.
Just a few more days to go! I’m super-excited. Anything I should know about Morocco? Share your tips below.