Best apps, podcasts, and audio files for a Cantonese-speaking woman to learn spoken English?
December 24, 2011 9:12 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I have bought her mother an iPod Touch. At her request, we're loading it with things to help her learn to speak better English. What are the best apps, podcasts, audiofiles, etc. for a Cantonese-speaking woman who wants to improve her English by herself?

Right now her English-speaking capacity is functional but not super high. Overshooting her abilities at this point probably wouldn't be helpful. For example, we're starting off with someone good audiobooks of good children's books, entertaining ones written in a conversational style; something like The Wind in the Willows would be too literary and old-fashioned to get much value out of for now.

Also, we would much prefer things in American English, just because switching things up with British English might be unnecessarily confusing.

In case it's relevant, she also speaks Mandarin, but she's not fluent in it. We're genuinely not sure if having a Mandarin-English program would be any more or less confusing than the alternatives.

We've looked at the Rosetta Stone program for iOS, but it looks like you have to pay a monthly subscription for that, and we've all determined that we hate the very idea of that on general principle.

Please don't recommend that she just take classes. She doesn't have the time right now.
posted by Sticherbeast to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Okay, so it turns out that her Mandarin proficiency is better than predicted. Consider Mandarin-English options back on the table. Hopefully this will expand the universe of options.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:31 PM on December 24, 2011

I'm sure others can recommend specific programs, but would it be crazy to turn her loose on Youtube? People learn language from watching soapoperas, why not youtube videos? Obviously it wouldn't be the only source of English, but it would let her to take words as she learns them and search for related content. Or will the comments section put her off?
posted by Wretch729 at 9:41 PM on December 24, 2011

Voice of America and they have online resources for Chinese language speakers of ESL.

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events series are excellent children's books that include lots of vocabulary words that are explained/defined as part of the story.
posted by shoesietart at 3:23 AM on December 25, 2011

You'll probably find some good choices if you search the App Store in Chinese rather than using English search terms. I typed "learn english" into, took the result (学习英语) and typed it into the app store, and found matches. I don't read Chinese, so I don't know how suitable the answer is going to be.
posted by blob at 8:14 AM on December 25, 2011

re: shoesietart - Been a long time since I read a Lemony Snicket book but iirc the author tends to give definitions of words that, while not exactly incorrect, could be confusing to someone who is not fluent. For example I think "daunting" was defined as "full of incredibly difficult words." In context this was accurate, and maybe the OPs MIL will get the humor, but it seems like a convoluted way to teach definitions.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:37 AM on December 25, 2011

Response by poster: I love Lemony Snicket myself, but I don't think she herself would appreciate the humor, especially taken out of its cultural context.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:13 AM on December 25, 2011

Public radio streaming & podcasts from the US and Canada - NPR and CBC. Listening to clear speakers talking about adult things will definitely help. I believe the CBC also has some website info for ESL
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 5:34 AM on December 26, 2011

I have ESL teens. Young Reader QuickReader is very good if she's struggling with fluency, and comes pre-installed with quite a few out of copyright books that are good at different vocabulary levels. You set the speed and it pushes you gently to read faster.

There are a lot of vocabulary building apps on the iphone/ipad. I like the "4th-6th grade vocabulary" at the moment, but they're all relatively cheap, so look for a couple and let her decide.

Consider something like this too: Dictionary bookmark. We bought one for our dyslexic son and the rest of the siblings squabbled over it. If it's vocab, sometimes just having immediate access helps a lot.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:44 AM on December 27, 2011

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