- Speech Recognition
- Interactive Games
- Homepage: Berlitz
To begin with, this reviewer feels they should say that this is absolutely not the right learning tool for a complete beginner. While there may be aspects of this course that make it a useful tool for brushing up on a language you have started to forget, the Berlitz foreign language package is not one that I would recommend to anyone beginning to learn a language for the first time.
So let’s begin with what you do get from this package. Well, there’s a leaflet, and a CD-ROM. And that’s pretty much it. It’s designed to be easy to use and focuses heavily on the idea that nobody seems to have the time to pay attention to what they’re learning these days. Instead of just sitting in your car bored on the way to work, or standing on the train listening to music, Berlitz seems to say why not learn Spanish instead. Which would be great, if it actually worked.
The standard CD-ROM has speech recognition software and “interactive” games that you can attempt to immerse yourself in, but compared to the wide range of technology available in these sorts of programs now, it doesn’t stand up particularly well against what you might buy. For example, the interactive aspect of this product is a little misleading, as I will address later.
Berlitz do make a phrase book for Spanish that is available on the market as a stand-alone book. This book itself is pretty useful, with a wide range of phrases and an easy to follow color coded system for looking up whatever it is that you need. It’s hard to say if that counts as a positive, however, as this is pretty standard for this kind of literature. As a basic phrase book, it doesn’t stand out as being particularly fantastic, but it also doesn’t lack anything vital. The pronunciations in phonetic English are a bit off, but again, that’s the same whichever phrase book you use. For this course, you can purchase it with the book or without, but if you are planning to buy this course, then I would definitely advise getting the book as well. The CD-ROM instructions and games by themselves are simply not multimedia enough to assist with detailed learning.
The main problem is that essentially the phrase book, as this package, is geared up for travel instead of language-learning, making it a little bit too stuffed full of information. The book also focuses much more on simultaneously teaching you a Spanish way of life, mentioning various Spanish customs and what to expect when you go. It also includes what some might consider un-necessary detail. This might be useful if this is what you’re learning Spanish for, but it’s really just wasted space if you’re learning the language to simply learn the language. Instead of creating a more comprehensive and relevant text book, this is really all that you can buy within the Berlitz set, and it is rather disappointing.
Another money-saving device has clearly been the transcript leaflet. It’s great that it’s been thought of to be included, but the practicality of it just detracts from the apparently immersive quality of the CD-ROM games and activities, though it really depends on what kind of learner you are. For more visual learners, it might be a good idea to be able to follow the words as they’re being spoken to you, but if you’re looking to make a second language more natural for you, then you really need to learn to focus on the spoken words. Essentially, the leaflet helps if you are having trouble following the audio, but a good package wouldn’t have audio that is so difficult to follow. This transcript leaflet is also not included with all versions of this foreign language course, so it’s really up to you as to what kind of learner you know yourself to be. There are a lot of different versions of this course, so check the contents carefully before buying the one that you feel is best for you, if you really feel you want to buy this course.
The Berlitz model is one of the cheapest DIY foreign language courses that are available, but as soon as you begin your first lesson, it’s very easy to see why. There just isn’t the same kind of interaction that one needs to get with a foreign language course. This course plunges you right in the deep end of language with long dialogue, run-on sentences, and a confusing lack of direction as to where to begin. This is purported to be a more useful way to immerse your self into a language, but for a complete novice, it really is just too overwhelming. I can understand the logic behind this, of throwing you into the deep end so you have to try and work your hardest to keep up with the language, but in practice it just doesn’t work. You find yourself replaying the same parts over and over again, and just getting frustrated with the speed of the speaker instead of enjoying the language-learning experience. One of the positives about learning a language from home is that you should be able to take your time getting to grips with it, and this immersion technique just rids you completely of that.
Now, let’s return to the interactive nature of the CD-ROM. When working on the spoken conversation sections, you have to follow the set patterns exactly of what you have just tried to learn, otherwise the system just doesn’t recognize it or make any intelligent response. Every sentence you make is highly specific, but often only in a singular detail. For example, if you are learning how to order in a restaurant, you will first have to learn how to be seated, then how to order, then how to pay, etc etc, learning piece by piece in a very repetitive and not entirely useful way. It is not really possible to skip any of these sections without messing up the recorded conversation on the other end, and this really isn’t conducive to genuinely learning a language.
It’s just not particularly instinctive, and requires that you follow a very rigid set of goals for every lesson, regardless of whether they are all useful to you or not. Certain digital contents are also not particularly Mac-friendly, although the virtual flashcards are mp3 versions, which do work on iTunes, etc. However, the flashcards don’t have visuals, only audio, which isn’t very helpful. Definitely something to consider when buying this product. It really tries to advertise the ease of using this product anywhere; at home, in the car, on your portable electronic device, but really, the best environment for learning is not on-the-go. If you want to learn a language, you really need to sit down and pay attention to what it is that you are doing, otherwise you end up with a course like this, that doesn’t really teach you the language.
While you are much better off spending your money elsewhere, there is a potentially positive point to be made here, which is that the Berlitz package is a very reasonable price compared to other. To be fair, this is clearly reflected in the quality of what the learner is receiving, with many aspects such as the packaging and instructional booklets clearly being hastily thrown together with very little sense of structure.
Still, if price is the underlying factor in making your purchasing decision, then that’s all that can really be said. It certainly isn’t an expensive program to undertake, but after a few lessons you will probably wish that you had decided to opt for a more expensive package, especially if you are a beginner. And if budget really is that important of an issue to you, perhaps if you’re already spending a lot of money on a holiday, then this reviewer advises simply buying the phrasebook.
There are certainly some positives to be noted with this product, specifically the cost, and in addition to that, the use of genuine Spanish accents on the CD-ROM. Not only is that much more useful than having another American voice teaching you the wrong pronunciation as is the case with far too many of these courses, but it does help you to immerse yourself a little more in the cultural conveyance of the language itself. Warning: This package is for learning Castilian Spanish, and NOT Latin American Spanish. This is worth noting here, as it isn’t particularly clear on the packaging.
However, the course is certainly geared towards either those who already know a little of the language (regardless of how it is marketing itself, you would have a very difficult time being a beginner on this course) or those who are taking it solely for the purpose of going on holiday. The detail in the individual lessons is either far too much or far too little, and the package as a whole is very definitely geared up towards more tourist customers. To genuinely learn Spanish in a way that is of practical and personal use, then this is not the foreign language package to choose. There are far better courses out there that give you a much more comprehensive grasp of a language, and this is certainly more of a supplementary course than a primary source for language-learning.
Pro & Contra
|cheap||…but not worth it|
|no structure at all|
|not good for beginners|
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