Monday, January 30, 2012

Language Learning - A Review of Popular Methods

Montage of languages. Prototype header for the...Image via WikipediaBy Brian A Thomas

Today's technology has made the world much smaller and many people have become interested in learning foreign languages. Some want to learn for fun, many for business reasons, but it is your desire and passion to learn that will make you successful. No one can give you that.

I have discovered that many popular language-learning methods are not what they say they are and you can waste a lot of money quickly on them. Here is my homework on some of them.

Rossetta Stone - online - $299 for 12 months

I tested the free demo online at the Rossetta Stone site. The demo seems to brag that there are no written translations, you learn from looking at pictures only. The first lesson for Spanish shows pictures of a woman (una mujer) and man (un hombre). By clicking the pictures you learn the words woman and man.

The next lesson shows a boy (un nino) or girl (una nina). So now you have learned words for boy, girl, man and woman. The next pictures are of people drinking and eating. You learn all of this from pictures only. There are no written translations. This is where I had a few questions.

What if I wanted to know who is this woman? (in the picture) What is her name? Where is she from? What kind of pictures can they make to teach me the words who, what, where, her and name? Also what do the words is, this, and from look like? I had to use Google translate to find that (una) and (un) are the word "a" in Spanish. I urge you to take the free Rossetta Stone demo online before you purchase it.

Pimsleur - software - $119.95

The site started by teaching me phrases. I think it makes more sense to build a vocabulary first than to start with phrases because then you will know what each word means. From their free half hour lesson of repeating phrases I learned the Spanish words for pardon, understand, English, miss, speak, sir, no, yes, a little, North American, you, and are. Twelve words.

I was a bit puzzled because they taught me "entendo" and "entende" for the word "understand" then told me I was saying "I understand" and "you understand." "Yo" is I in Spanish and "usted" is you. "Yo" was never spoken with understand and "usted" was used only at the end of the lesson and not spoken with the words for understand.

The lesson is audio only. Nothing is written. I like to see the words because for me it is easier to remember them. I completely agree with their statement - "Probably no aspect of learning a foreign language is more important than memory." Word memory is the key. Repetition is good for this reason. I think you could learn from their approach but it will be slow and impossible to learn phrases of your own choice.

Transparent Language - software - $179.95

I like the philosophy of the site. I could not test it because they offer no free trial or way to see how they teach so I Googled the site for reviews. I have found if reviews talk only how great the method is but not how you are taught or why you will learn fast they are most likely written by the people selling the product. No trial lesson and no review with content? You decide.

World Word Exchange - online - 2 lessons $12 - 4 lessons $20 - 8 lessons $32

This is a new site. Their philosophy seemed sound so I signed up and got a free lesson. The site has seventy-six lessons of twenty words each. The first lesson had the words: who, what, where, when, why and how among others. These are helpful one-word question words. I clicked the words to hear a native speaker say them.

What surprised me was that they spelled the English word first, next to it the word was spelled phonetically in English, and then they have the native text. I listened and studied for a while then went to their memory test. It's a multiple-choice word game which challenges you to match the question word to eight other choices. This is an excellent way to remember the words in my opinion. Repetition is how we remember.

The site also has a grammar section that explains how to use the words and there is a page to practice spelling. For people who already know some words there is a user lesson page where you can choose the words you want to learn. The site has some great tools.

The most impressive feature is the organization of the words you learn. Learning the most common words first is a feature no other language method I could find has. The only down side to the site is they teach only Mandarin Chinese, Spanish and Thai. Hopefully more languages will be added soon.

You decide what works for you.
Comments are welcome.
Brian Thomas

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