THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Becoming Bilingual in a Flash: Learning Language The New Way, Part II

Spanish! app from iTunes Have you ever sat in a darkened theater before a play begins, waiting for the curtain to open, while unexpectedly before your eyes you see lights coming on illuminating a scene behind the curtain, and you realize the curtain was transparent all along? That's the feeling I have now that I'm learning Spanish.

The other day, for example, I learned that Gitano, a brand of jeans, means gypsy. And Colibrí, which I've seen on lighters, means hummingbird. The restaurant at Neiman Marcus is Mariposa, which means butterfly. (Oh, that's why they have all those butterflies suspended above the escalators...)

I'm learning the previously secret meanings of the town and city names I grew up with, such as Escondido (hidden), Mission Viejo (old mission), Las Colinas (the hills) and even that city that supposedly keeps its secrets, Las Vegas (fertile valleys).

Honestly, I'm one of the least talented people you'll meet for learning a new language--but slowly learning my second language has been a joy every step of the way, mainly because of technology. So if you've been on the edge about committing to learn your next language, read on.

Since my last post about the helpful digital assistants just waiting to provide you with a virtual immersion experience, I've discovered yet more of these digital docents thanks to the iPhone.

The answer to my language-learning dream

No, I don't work for Apple. But in the first week of iPhone ownership, Apps have changed my life as a second-language learner. Here's how:

Flash cards from the pastLast year I bought two boxes of old fashioned paper flash cards to tutor myself in Spanish, but I quickly became frustrated with them. Lashed with a rubber band, kenneled unhappily in my briefcase, the haphazard stack daily became more dog-eared. Another stack on my nightstand toppled over as I groped for the clock. When I did actually begin using the cards, it wasn't easy to separate ones I knew from the ones I needed to repeat. I complained to Lori, "I just wish my PDA could dish up electronic flash cards for me, whenever I wanted, and that it would keep track of what I got right and wrong...."

Flash cards of the futureLike Aladdin, my wish was answered with a most gentle rub of my iPhone. There's an App called Spanish! by Andre Khromov (with audio by Juan Miranda). I've already spent joyful hours with it, made up of three- or five-minute sessions while I wait for a haircut or stand in an airport security line. It does just what I dreamed of and more, with its optional pronunciation.

¡Asombro! (Amazing!)

There's another Spanish-language game App I've been playing called 24/7 Tutor, and a marvelous Spanish/English dictionary App, both now in the palm of my hand.

When Lori and I visited our older son, Cal, in Beijing while he was on his junior year abroad, the first thing he raved about was how much an iPhone app was helping his Chinese. He demonstrated by tracing his finger on the screen to make a Chinese character, and up popped the definition. "The electronic Chinese dictionary on my iPhone is always faster and more convenient to use than a paper dictionary," says Cal.

The other night I was at a dinner sitting next to a woman who confessed she wanted to finally get back to her college French and learn the language--just for herself. I pulled out my iPhone and proceeded to amaze her.

I feel like we're now living the scene in Disney's Beauty and the Beast when the cups, knives and forks come to life and start singing and dancing "Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest!"

What we have today, in the digital tools at our fingertips, is just that magical.