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Technology Bytes: Upgrading Your Human

Going Multilingual -- Learning A New Language

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This page begins Ali's experience using computer aided language learning (CALL) to learn Spanish.
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Ali's experience

I attended three years of high school French without becoming at all comfortable or fluent, and have made attempts over the years to develop some skills. Spanish was not exactly a fresh slate as, being a romance language, it has many similarities to the French. English is a polyglot, an amalgamation of a wide variety of languages. England, remember, was ruled by the Romans for about 300 years and the border between France and England as well as the commerce between the two countries means that many words with latin roots appear in the language. As well there are many words taken directly from other languages, and this is seen particularly in the United States where large sections of the country were originally Spanish colonies.

I found that having a wide English vocabularly and a wide exposure to different ways that English can be expressed helps when approaching another language. Recognising the derivation of words helps understanding, and makes the experience feel more familiar.

Learn Spanish Your Way was the first software package to arrive. I spent some 15 hours installing the software. It took five international phone calls to US technical support desks and most of the fixes didn't come from the help desks anyway. The disc 1 CD was warped, causing read-write problems, not to mention an incredible grinding noise when the CD was spinning. Taking notice of the error message that Quicktime was improperly installed got me into terrible trouble, later I dubbed the CD to a fresh disc and just restarted the software everytime the error appeared. (See the review for more about installation and other issues).

The Learn Your Way software (reviewed in more detail here) has fairly simple grammatical rules, but is heavy on the text in the 'essentials'. Each exercise has a presentation, a test, vocabulary and bonus vocabularly.

The very first word that the vocabularly exercise offered was "arbol" (tree). One of those roll-the-r's words that is enormously difficult for native English speakers to handle. The heartless, almost-flat bink and bonk from the computer as it tested my pronunciaion rapidly reduced me to fury. An hour of the program had me just about bouncing off walls and seriously looking for a fight.

By comparison, the shareware program Buensoft, which is basically a drilling program has a range of light-hearted responses delivered randomly.

The Rosetta Stone series has high recommendations, being used by NASA, among others. They use their own speech technologies, which I was keen to try.

So far the review for these titles isn't up, and for good reason. Ok. Maybe not. It isn't up because if I have trouble with a highly recommended package I will persevere past all logic to try and get into it. This software comes with a user manual, and you REALLY need to read it. I have gone through the manual a bit and I am still struggling with the interface.

If you use the netmind button in the left-hand column, you'll be notified automatically as I update this page with my ongoing attempts to learn Spanish. As you may remember from the previous page, an expert in learning languages quickly suggested it could take up to 18 months.

One sidebar so far -- the rolling Rs. I spent quite a bit of time going through all the software trying to find some REAL help on how to make the sounds. The Rosetta Stone software has pictures of how the mouth and tongue are positioned as well as sound recognition assistance. It was one of the reasons that I was so keen to trial it. One expert on the net saddened me by saying that some people NEVER learn how to make the rolling R sound. I did find some useful links, and will put them up later in the year.

See also: Introduction
Ali's experience
Chris' experience
Tips on learning another language
Tips on using technology
About learning software
About speech recognition
About translation software
About dictionaries and other useful resources
About hardware requirements
Setting up a multi-lingual PC

Learning software (CALL):
Learn Spanish Your Way
The Rosetta Stone Traveler
The Rosetta Stone Level I and II
Speech Recognition, text-to-speech:
Dragon Naturally Speaking (Spanish)
IBM ViaVoice
Digalo speech engine and Digit clipboard reader
Dictionaries and Grammars:
Oxford University Pop-up
Word Magic
SeleCT headset switch

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