Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

Monthly Archives: February 2014

Thank you Chloe and Maya for your review of Duolingo and Cat Spanish

Well, I’m officially addicted to second language gaming with Duolingo.  I’m on a roll reviving my Portuguese, beginning German, and taking “English” through Spanish–by my 4 year old daughter’s request –she wants “to learn English” and loves the pictures and spoken portions.  So my anthropologist buddy Trish said her daughters were also into these programs and I asked if they could write a review of their two favorites–here it is!!! Makes me want to go cat crazy next! I am so excited about these programs and hoping they stick around, stay free, and get better and better!  Try one out and see these two crazy cats and their wonderful review!


Learning to speak Spanish on your mobile device: A review of two apps


By Chloe Niesz Kutsch (age 10) and Maya Niesz Kutsch (age 12)


            Nowadays there are many apps that can help you learn Spanish. But which one should you use? Here is a comparison of two of our favorite Spanish language apps: Duolingo and Cat Spanish. Starting with Duolingo, there is a map that can show you what you will learn. Each lesson has different related words (for example, animals, people, verbs, etc.). You have a coach who is an owl, but the coach doesn’t do much. After you set a goal for how many minutes a day you want to work on this app, the coach tells you how much time you have left and how many points you have gotten. You have four ‘hearts’ when you start Duolingo and you have to try to keep them by doing well. You lose a heart when you answer a question incorrectly.

Duolingo is vocabulary-focused; it does not teach you survival Spanish (common phrases for example) as much as Cat Spanish. Sometimes you learn words and sometimes you learn phrases. The app tests your translation, allowing you to type words or choose them from a word bank. Sometimes when you tap on a word, it shows you the translations. This can be helpful, but it can also allow you to ‘cheat.’ In addition, one advantage of Duolingo is it has audio tests where you listen and select what was said in both Spanish or in an English translation. Also, there are speaking tests that show you what to say and then judge how you said it. If you are more experienced, Duolingo allows you to skip ahead to more advanced activities. A great thing about Duolingo is that it’s 100% free. Some disadvantages are that you can only redo lessons individually and not review all of the words you’ve learned altogether. You do not get a chance to preview the words that you are going to be learning before the lesson actually starts. Duolingo sometimes uses pictures, which can help you learn vocabulary, but the pictures are not as frequent or as interesting as Cat Spanish. The lessons end when you lose all of your ‘hearts,’ so you don’t always get to finish a level. Compared to Cat Spanish, Duolingo is not as interesting or funny.

            Cat Spanish, which features a bilingual cat as your professor, works by associating cat pictures with both English and Spanish words. Cat Spanish teaches you “survival Spanish,” phrases which you would need to know in a Spanish-speaking environment. There are more kinds of learning challenges in Cat Spanish than in Duolingo. You translate from English to Spanish and Spanish to English by choosing words from a word bank or typing in the translation. There are audio tests where you choose which phrase you heard. One of the best features in our opinion is the conversation feature. You see a person with speech bubble with a phrase in English. You reply with the Spanish phrase that makes the most sense (to a cat).

When you are on the main screen there is a button that you can click that shows you all the phrases or words that you have learned with pictures beside them. Also, if you want to, you can learn or review these phrases all over again. For each Spanish phrase it shows you a picture of a cat that relates to the phrase. The cute cat pictures help you remember. The picture, English phase, and Spanish phrase are all associated together, which helps you learn the words. This app is also humorous. We have heard that studies have shown that when you laugh or when you think something is humorous, it releases something in your brain that makes you a better learner. We think the humor helped us learn. The cute pictures and the humor also made us want to come back to this app. The app is very cat-oriented; sometimes it portrays dogs poorly. So this app is better for people who like cats. A disadvantage of Cat Spanish is that there are no speaking tests. Also, it’s free for a few levels, and then you have pay for it.

We enjoy Cat Spanish more, but they are both good apps. Maya likes the cats and finds that she remembers what she learns better with this app. Chloe thinks that Cat Spanish is more interesting and funny than Duolingo. Hasta luego! 




Cat Spanish

Speaking tests



Select the correct translation






Audio tests



Review feature










Grieving for Maxine Kumin in Rhyme

Maxine Kumin was so great at maxims–her adages often repeated by students, like “Memorize poetry, so you have a library of the mind when you become political prisoner.”  A pioneer woman who broke so many barriers in the manly world of letters she was brought into as a young, talented writer in the late 50s.    Her kind belief in my work–encouraging me to submit and ultimately publish a poem with Robin Becker at Women’s Quarterly that another teacher had destroyed.  Her brownies, ponies and garden.  Her love of rhyme.  Her spare and fiery curse words.  Her tiny frame and big horses. Her long marriage.  Her metered outrage.  A toast to you, inspiring, caring, mentor.  Here’s a draft I’m working on today as I read your words and think about raising more young sweet poets in your memory.

First Grade

—-for Maxine

Two thousand three hundred nine words

rhyme with “estar” but my son can’t think

of any for his tarea en español, prefers

action figure distractions, spilling his drink,


breaking pencils, falling from his chair—

anything that’s not homework until

I suggest “vomitar,” to vomit  and “estornudar

to sneeze. Pleased, he asks if “to kill”


in Spanish would rhyme, and “to hit,” and “fart,”

–smart boy, figuring out a second tongue

multiplies words that disconcert, courts

deep laughter in theatre dark. So strong


his will to be liked, to understand peers, offer

jokes, to translate “butt” and savor what comes after.

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