By Tim Scannell
Some of the goals in my bucket list of things to do before I, well...kick the bucket include revisiting piano lessons taken long ago, learning a foreign language, and solo piloting a helicopter.
Okay, the flight lessons may never happen and playing the piano takes an awful lot of practice and time. Becoming reasonably proficient in a foreign language may definitely be a possibility, however, by using a computer-based language course that melds images, dialogue and contextual situations into an organized lesson plan.
The problem with most language learning software programs is they rely too heavily on rote memorization and take an 'index card' approach to learning. Years ago, I tried using a program used by the U.S. Department of State to learn the basics of Japanese and quickly became bored and turned off with the process. Who would know that a product recommended and used by government agencies would not be full bore fun?
Language programs today are more effective and interactive, and the Rosetta Stone offerings are a standout because they mix a series of linked programs with online lessons with native-speaking tutors, games and access to an active community of fellow students worldwide who are just itching to practice their language skills. Do not take the current ad campaign, spotlighting the farm boy who wants to learn French to impress a distant mademoiselle, too seriously. Becoming reasonably proficient in any language takes time and results will vary from person to person, but if you put in the hours you will find you are picking things up quite rapidly. In fact, the company backs this up with a 100% money back guarantee on any language product it sells direct.
Bringing Life to Language
In our hands on look, I opted for Rosetta Stone's Spanish language course (Espanol, Level 1)), installing it on an Apple MacBook Pro with the idea of taking full advantage of any multimedia features it might offer. This was unnecessary, since the software plays well on Windows as well. The software comes with a basic headset (since you verbally interact with the program as you progress through different levels), but I used the onboard microphone and speakers of the host computer since some family members joined in the learning experience.
After playing around with it for a while, I reached the following conclusion: It's going to take a while and a serious time commitment to plow through all of the program's lessons and come up to speed on basic conversational Spanish. But, since the courses are formatted to automatically revisit words and phrases, use pictures as well as words to associate the English language with Spanish equivalents, and offer lots of positive reinforcement as you go along, it is definitely a fun experience.
I briefly tried the community and tutoring features as well, and these were truly helpful - especially since it let me connect with Spanish newbies worldwide to practice terms and phrases. All in all, the Rosetta Stone Spanish course is muy bien and gets a strong thumbs up in any language.
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