Learning another (spoken) language

I am a native English-speaker from America. In my house growing up, there wasn’t any other languages that were spoken, and in school, I took Spanish over the course of several years. I’ve been in several relationships where my girlfriend or girlfriends family spoke Spanish, so that helped quite a bit. However, in the end, I can only understand some Spanish, and I can speak and write a little – probably enough to be able to survive in a Spanish-speaking country.

Meanwhile, Adult Robert has always wanted to learn another language. I think it’s just a good thing to do, and more importantly, I am convinced that this effort would exercise and strain my brain in a good way! So, over the past couple of years I ended up picking up Rosetta Stone for two languages: Spanish, to back-fill what I already know and mandarin, for obvious reasons!

Although I got well into the coursework, I found it to be a little boring and at times confusing. So, I researched this again today to see if there are any alternatives or supplemental ways to learn a language. I found a few really good resources!

Rosetta Stone (couple hundred dollars):
We see commercials on TV for this all of the time. Here is the deal – they show you pictures, say what is happening in the picture, and display in text what is happening. This works well for a while, as you build up your vocabulary, but starts to fall apart as the scenes in the picture start getting more complicated. You also are learning by semi-immersion, so you don’t learn any rules, conventions, or idioms about a language unless you happen to notice them.

Despite that, and many people seem to agree – that it’s better than nothing, and not a bad place to start. Apparently, the Pimsluer Approach is THE best way (next to immersion), but it’s also very, very expensive.

DuoLingo (free):
I just found this today from a TechCrunch article. This is very cool!! It’s pretty thorough and the courses are of the same caliber as Rosetta Stone. I don’t know how comprehensive it is, but so far, it’s pretty good. Did I mention that it’s free?!  http://www.duolingo.com

LiveMocha (free-ish):
This is another website that has a similar layout. You have the option to learn several languages and it has several levels of experience. You can learn for “free”, but you have to earn some “coins” first. How do you earn the coins? By judging/rating submissions by foreign-speakers, in your native language. So, I listen to someone pronouncing a sentence, and I grade it. Or, I read a paragraph someone wrote (who is trying to learn English). You need to do a handful of these to build up some coins to be able to go through one course.

One of the options in the course is to do the same thing. You can translate, read, or write something and submit it for a native-speaker to evaluate. Very cool! http://livemocha.com/

Foreign Service Institute – FSI (free):
This is quite amazing. The US government made a bunch of books-on-tape (sort of) for many, many languages – for English-speakers. Each “tape” is about :30 minutes. All of this content is now public domain and freely-available. http://fsi-language-courses.org/ I checked out a few and it’s first-person, kind of like if an tutor was speaking to you directly, trying to help you learn the language. Sound quality was good too.

Bottom line, most people seem to say that if you can’t learn immersively (living in that foreign country), then learning via a couple different methods yields the best results. So, here are THREE free methods, and a pay-method for learning another language. There has never been a better time to take something like this on, and you can’t beat the price.

Posted in Professional Development, Uncategorized

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