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5 Language-Learning Apps: Cracking the Spanish Code

When traveling to Latin America, among the top concerns of most travelers is:

“Can I speak English and get by?”

Those with basic Spanish experience may ponder:

“Is my Spanish good enough that people will understand me? Will I be able to get by and relate with the locals?”

Yes, you will get by, regardless of your Spanish level (or absence thereof). But, any effort you put into learning the language will enhance your experience substantially.

Respect is a universal language. The easiest way to show respect in any culture is to, at the very least, try to communicate in the local language. Try not to resort to your own language. Trust me, no matter how bad you sound, people will appreciate your effort.

Complete mastery of the Spanish language is a multi-year, highly-intensive task that usually involves immersion while living in a Spanish speaking country, but learning the basics of Spanish for the purpose of traveling can be as easy as dedicating a few minutes a day on your smartphone to tune your ear and voice to Spanish lingo.

Here are several apps that we have found to be effective and make learning Spanish a breeze.

Duolingo

Screenshot from https://www.duolingo.com/

Screenshot from https://www.duolingo.com/

Duolingo allows you to learn Spanish, French, Italian, German, or Portuguese during your morning commute or lunch breaks. Duolingo does not beat conjugations and vocabulary into your head like your high school language teacher. Instead, you’re trained to understand total phrases in various communication methods like writing, reading, listening. Your language studying becomes game-like. So you’re always trying to level up!

The App is totally free. No demos or trial runs. How? Luis von Ahn, founder of Duolingo, partnered with companies like Buzzfeed and CNN. These partners send documents to Duolingo that need to be translated. Those documents are used as teaching materials for Duolingo students who translate the documents. Technically, Duolingo creates a win-win situation for  its users and business partners.  

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.duolingo

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.duolingo

*Available for iphone and android users

Babbel

With Babble, you have the opportunity to learn 13 different languages. The app tests your language level and suggests different lessons for you. Sometimes you know the word you need to say, but you don’t know how to say it correctly (which doesn’t help when you need to converse with someone). That’s why Babbel provides pronunciation training as well.

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.babbel.mobile.android.en

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.babbel.mobile.android.en

Babbel also places an emphasis on vocabulary. The use of pictures helps visual learners engrave words into their memory for more effective learning.

Also, you can study languages as they pertain to different categories like:

  • Marketing
  • PR
  • Human resources

You can try a Babbel demo for free and pay for the full version later. The best value package is 12 months for $6.95/month.

*Available on iphone and android devices

 

 

 

 

 

Mango Mobile

Learn over 50 languages with Mango Languages – a program used by businesses, higher education programs, government agencies, and individual learners all around the world. Mango also adds an emphasis on cultures and dabs cultural facts into your studying. Features like voice comparison and audio listening allows you to perfect your pronunciation.

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mango.android

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mango.android

Other features include:

  • Memory building exercises
  • Learn through conversations
  • Understood and literal meanings
  • Grammar insights

Mango languages, originally an online platform, is now available on mobile platforms. But you must be subscribed to Mango Languages to use this app. It is more expensive than other applications.

The first level costs $79 and the second and third level cost $132. To buy all three levels at once costs $176.

*Available for iphone and Android users 

 

 

 

Lingibli

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.lingibli.app

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.lingibli.app

If you have ever tried learning a new language, you know you have a foundation of most used words.

For example in Spanish, verbs like “quierer,” “estar,” and “ser,” are commonly used during conversation. Mental trainer Tony Buzan claims that “only 100 words make up 50% of all conversations.” Lingibli uses this data to focus on key words and phrases to teach its users.

Lingibli is not meant to teach an entire language, however. The idea is to reduce friction and frustration when you are thrown into a different country. It’s for those moments often taken for granted in one’s home country – like ordering a meal at a restaurant or asking for directions.

Lingibli provides learning material for over 20 languages and is free to download. Internet access is not required to use this app.

 *Available on iphone and Android devices

Byki

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.transparent.android.byki.BykiMobile

Screenshot from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.transparent.android.byki.BykiMobile

Byki teaches over 80 languages in a 3-step process aimed for speed and addiction to ensure learning that sticks. Equipped with a flashcard interface, the user is taught their new language through memorization style.

Quickstart multiple choice quizzes test your learning. Also, test your pronunciation skills with Byki’s SlowSound™ technology. 

Byki emphasizes vocabulary rather than grammar structures stating that “vocabulary is more fundamental than grammar.”

Byki is also available as an online program. For mobile platforms, each language costs $7.99.

 

 

 

 

 

What language tools do you use to prepare for your travels? Share them with us!

The Top Things To Do In Mindo, Ecuador

One of top natural escapes from Quito is undoubtedly Mindo.

Just a 2-hour trip, Mindo is a valley and small village in the cloud forests of the Andes mountains.

For budget-minded travelers, the bus ride to Mindo will only cost you $2.50. The view from the bus is merely a tease, as you pass from the highland paramos of the andes into the lush cloud forests below spectacular views reign everywhere. But, it’s off of the main roads where the action in Mindo really is taking place.

Below are the top things to do when in visiting Mindo.

Just a little hike up the mountain. Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Just a little hike up the mountain. Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Hike up the mountain to the waterfalls

If you enjoy walking and exploring at a slower pace, then this  hike is for you. A cable car will take you across the rain forest to the hiking trails (the cable car is also a great preview of the zip lines). Once you get off the cable car, an hour long trail to your left will lead you to a huge waterfall. On your right – a shorter, 15 minute trail will take you to a  waterfall and river where you can swim and slide down the mountain into the river – a natural water park. Be sure to wear hiking sandals or boots and bring food and water.

Butterfly style! Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Butterfly style! Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Zip line above the rain forest 

At the “canopy” (Ecuadorian term for a zip line)  one of the most popular traveler’s spots in Mindo, you can zip line across ten different cables through the tropical rain forest. The cables are not very fast at first. If you are afraid of heights you’ll have plenty of time to warm up on the slower cables. Your fear will be overcome by the beauty of your surroundings.

At about the fourth cable, you will be able to test your adventurous side with different positions on the cables – superman and butterfly. The superman is a horizontal flying position and the butterfly is upside down.

Tube down Mindo river 

At first glance, tubing appears to be quite risky because of the rocks jutting out of the fast-flowing whitewater. But the tube(s) frequently tied together to form a makeshift raft is designed to navigate over and through the rocks and are quite adequate for the Class II rapids.  Keep your feet (and head!) above the tube to avoid injury. The guide will help maintain the tube’s trajectory all the way down the river.

One crazy ride down the river. Photo from www.ecuador365.com

One crazy ride down the river. Photo from www.ecuador365.com

Marisposario de Mindo

In this top-notch butterfly farm, change is a beautiful thing – the butterflies told me so. Here, you will witness firsthand the four stages in the life of a butterfly – egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly. The butterfly  pupae looks like a collection of  gold and silver earrings because of the different colors necessary to blend in with the butterfly’s natural habitat. 

El Quetzal

Here, a Quetzal isn’t a bird, it’s even better, it’s chocolate! At 4:00 you can tour Mindo’s chocolate factory and see how chocolate is made from the cocoa bean to the bar. Afterwards, enjoy a taste test!

Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

A little treat from Quetzal. Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

And the winner of the top thing to do in Mindo is… Birding 

Mindo mixes the birds from the Andean highlands with birds the rainforest to create a spectacular cacophony of avian paradise!

According to the book “Birds of Ecuador”, by Ridgley and Greenfield, Mindo is home to the greatest number of endemic montane birds species of any place on the planet!

During the 2000 to 2005 Christmas Bird Count (CBC) sponsored by the Audubon Society, Mindo has been among the top 3 highest bird counts in the world over 6 years, with over 2,000 locations participating. Each location is a 25 kilometer radius, and the count lasts for 24 hours. Mindo had the highest count in 2000 with 350 bird species recorded, and in past years has exceeded the 400 bird species mark.

The highlight of birding in Mindo may be the Cock-of-the-Rock Lek. As Tom Quisenberry of El Monte Lodge in Mindo says:

“Sometimes described as a “singles bar”, a lek is a meeting place for male and female birds. The singles bar description seems even more appropriate when you consider that the males dance wildly and engage in all sorts of displaying behavior…

The Cock-of-the-Rocks in Mindo are bright red, with black wings and a bit of white on the rump and have a crazy pompadour-looking crest. The males come together at precisely 6:00 AM to dance, squawk, mock fight and sometimes to actually physically fight to maintain territory to impress the occasional female who may fly into the lek.

Males are able to spend all this energy and time (sometimes up to 6 hours a day!) to attract the females because they have no parental responsibilities at the nest. They don’t help build the nest, nor help feed the chicks… but prefer to hang out at the “bar” trying to pass on their genes.”

Stay a While

As you can see, there is so much to do, it’s difficult to fully appreciate Mindo in a single night or two stay. Many people stay a few nights in Mindo to have more time to see all that it has to offer. Take your time and savor the experience because it’s well-worth every minute.

Anti-World cup protests: Will Brazil pull it together before the 2014 World Cup?

Uruguay’s talented right-winger, Alcides Ghiggia, hushed the Maracan stadium with his ghostly goal to beat Brazil in the 1950 World Cup. Brazil was the hands-down favorite in the competition – the reason why Ghiggia’s swift score around Brazil’s goal keeper, Barbosa, has haunted Brazil ever since. Convinced that their home, white, blue-collared jerseys were cursed from the unexpected loss, the Brazilian colors were changed to yellow and green.

The changing of jerseys proved to be a good call as Brazil captured 5 title wins in 1958, 1962,1970, 1994, and 2002.

But the ghost of Ghiggia’s goal is coming back to haunt Brazilian authorities. Brazilian protesters have taken to the streets to demonstrate their discontentment with public spending on the World Cup. Protesters are convinced authorities have given them nothing but empty promises and are in poor spirits about the World Cup.

The protest movement is just as shocking as Brazil’s loss to Uruguay in 1950. Authorities are hoping that the games will distract the public and cause a change in attitude.

Protesters are not the only disgruntled characters in the story of Brazil’s politically corrupted World Cup. Brazil’s own three time world cup winner, Pele, has expressed frustration with World Cup preparations in Brazil. He calls the situation a “disgrace” and further explains the team has no involvement with the political corruption which has delayed stadium construction. He deems the circumstance of Brazil before the World Cup in one word – “unacceptable.”

Brazil is prepared in that they already have their team chosen for the World Cup.

Will Brazil be able to pull together as a country before the World Cup? Or will the seams of the country, weakened by the loss of 1950,  continue to be torn apart?

 

 

 

La Compañía De Jesús Church: Quito’s Golden Garden

The Church of the Society of Jesus Christ (La Compania De Jesus Church), the largest symbol of the Catholic religion in Ecuador, is a perfect example of why the heart of Quito is the strongest heart of them all. Since it’s foundation, it has survived multiple Earthquakes. Quito, Ecuador is a place where the work of man and nature coincides like threads in a carefully constructed hand-made quilt. Especially in this church.

The entrance of La Compañía De Jesús Church. Tourists are not permitted to take pictures inside the church.

The entrance of La Compañía De Jesús Church. Tourists are not permitted to take pictures inside the church. 

The church’s groundbreaking was in 1605 and it was finally finished in 1765. With time, one can create a masterpiece. And that is just what the Jesuits did as they created the richest temple in South America – not because of its size, but because of the articulate detailed carvings found inside. Once you step into the church, it feels like a rich, man-made garden of golden foliage, vines, fruits, and birds.

The layout of the church is a Latin cross. The church design is influenced by various architectural cultures including Moorish, French, Italian and Spanish. The Quito school is located right next to the church where students are trained in indigenous artistic expression. Student artwork produced at the Quito school is hung inside the church walls.

There is one magnificent painting that really causes one to wonder about the consequences of sins. In the painting, humans are consumed in a fire surrounded by serpents. Beside each person is a spanish word that translates to various sins such as adultero (adulterer) and asesino (murderer).

A circular window is located at the top of the church. The sunlight pours inside and gives the walls a red, almost bloody accent (maybe a representation of the blood of Christ). In the window is a painting of the sun. The sun is an indigenous symbol used to attract more people to the church.

A round mirror, placed directly underneath the circular window, magnifies the designs on the walls and ceiling. If you look in the mirror, it’s as if you have a huge, gold crown around your head.

The outside of the church is just as impressive as the inside. The Solomonic, constructed in an upward spiral, show that life begins at the bottom – or on Earth – and when one follows the holy path, it will lead upward – toward Heaven.

The Solomonic columns on both sides of the church follow the symmetrical design of the entire church.

The Solomonic columns on both sides of the church follow the symmetrical design of the entire church.