MICHEL THOMAS ITALIAN LANGUAGE BUILDER REVIEW

michel-thomas-italian-language-builderAn independent language course review by Andrea Martins

BUONGIORNO!!

Having learnt Italian to GCSE level a few years ago, I felt that although I wasn’t exactly a beginner anymore I needed to revise what I had learnt and practice speaking it again. Using the Michel Thomas Italian Language Builder pack would ‘refresh rusty Italian’ and ‘quickly boost your confidence to speak everyday Italian’. This sounded just what I needed!

The pack comprises of two CDs and is a two-hour Language Builder course that caters for those who have either done the Michel Thomas 8-hour course or for those who have never done one of his courses but want to revise what they have learnt. I had already been exposed to Michel Thomas’ method of teaching via the Introductory French course and so felt comfortable using his same method to build on my Italian.

I had already been exposed to Michel Thomas’ method of teaching via the Introductory French course and so felt comfortable using his same method to build on my Italian.

The pack also comes with an accompanying booklet and nothing else. That’s to say that you are not meant to study anything or write anything down or memorise anything. Michel teaches the Language Builder course just by helping you to create your own sentences and phrases and build up vocabulary like building blocks. As opposed to the Michel Thomas French beginners course, Michel is the only person to be heard on the recording. There are no students learning with him this time, so you don’t feel that you are part of a study course.

Instead, we can listen to him creating sentences and phrases and building on them to create new sentences. We can also follow the booklet at the same time, but you don’t need to do this if you are on the go. We are encouraged to pause the CD after each new phrase so that we either repeat what Michel has said or anticipate what he is going to say. This is how you learn.

I found this way of learning much more intensive than when I studied the Michel Thomas French Beginners course. It is not as entertaining as the beginners’ pack and far more challenging. As I was using the pack on the train, in the car or lying on the sofa at home, I had to go back to certain places on the recording and without specific points on the CD to go back to, it was difficult to find my place again. We are supposed to make a note of the time on the CD player but this is difficult if you are not able to do this! I found that I had to repeat several areas … which is no bad thing I suppose!

The Michel Thomas Italian Language Builder begins with some easy words and phrases and then jumps suddenly using idioms that I don’t remember having learnt at GCSE level. Verb endings and gender terms are quickly introduced and then revised over and over but in different ways throughout the course. The past, present, and future tenses are all reviewed as well as the conditional (I would like to), gerund (-ing) and adjectives. These grammatical terms are not explained in great detail but are highlighted in shaded boxes in the booklet to signify that you need to learn these well before moving onto the next item.

What I found useful is the way that Michel associates many Italian words with English words. You feel that you know a lot more Italian than you thought you did. It’s very self-motivating and boosts your confidence!

Again, what I found useful (and I found this also in the beginners French course) is the way that Michel associates many Italian words with English words. Throughout the whole course, he uses sound or cultural recognitions to help us remember certain endings or words and some of these are highlighted in the booklet. For example, ‘comic’ in English is ‘comico’ in Italian; ‘capable of’ is ‘capace’ and so on. By highlighting these comparisons between the languages you feel that you know a lot more Italian than you thought you did. It’s very self-motivating and boosts your confidence!

There is the usual GSCE and introductory level content here: learning how to ask for things, how to talk about yourself, how to complain about things, how to ask for directions etc. But there is a lot more everyday conversational content on this course too. I found myself saying things like, ‘I had much to do’ (…avevo molto da fare), ‘I don’t have the time to do it’ (non ho il tempo di farlo), ‘I can’t bear the heat’ (non posso sopportare il caldo), and my favourite ‘Although, I’m sure that I will have many difficulties’ (comunque sono sicuro che avrò molti problemi)!

I feel a lot more confident in what I know of the Italian language and felt that I could really get stuck into a conversation with a fiery Italian!! Si diverta!

There is a lot more grammar and more difficult phrases, but not enough to be confusing. Certain phrases are repeated in different ways helping us to build on what we have already learnt. That is the point to Michel’s method of teaching; that the learner works out and creates their own sentences to build a whole conversation by themselves. This is a practical and functional way of learning spoken Italian. By using the booklet as well you can improve your spelling, reading and writing too. I feel a lot more confident in what I know of the Italian language and felt that I could really get stuck into a conversation with a fiery Italian!! Si diverta!

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MICHEL THOMAS GERMAN 8-HOUR COMPLETE COURSE REVIEW

michel-thomas-german-foundationAn independent language course review by Lisa Zealey

The Michel Thomas 8-hour German course really gave me a head start when I tried it a year ago, before spending a week in West Germany on holiday. Michel’s technique of ‘audio only’- i.e. no books, pens or paper – is a far more flexible approach to language learning than most people are used to, simply because you don’t need to have any materials to do your study. I listened to these CDs on the train on my way to work, sitting in the bath and lying in bed! Michel gives the advice right from the beginning that you should be in a completely relaxed situation and have no tension in order to absorb the language taught so this is an ideal way to learn, especially for those like myself who find there are not enough hours in the day – no excuses now!

To someone who is thinking of buying this course, I think it is important to know that it is not like a phrase book and leaves out a lot of the ‘get-by’ vocabulary that you may need in Germany. What it does do though is give you a strong knowledge of the language grammatically so you have a good understanding of the ‘backbone’ of the language on which to build more and more vocabulary. Once you have the basic mechanics, you are over half way to communicating!

Michel Thomas gives you a strong knowledge of the language grammatically so you have a good understanding of the ‘backbone’ of the language on which to build more and more vocabulary.

So, how does it work? Michel Thomas’ technique is to record himself teaching two complete beginner students and for you to imagine you are the third student in his class. On these CDs he has one male and one female student in a classroom situation and I personally found it a very interesting and successful method. He starts off by introducing the language and usefully focuses on the similarities between English and German right from the beginning, talking about how many of the words we have already in our vocabulary are linked to German so in fact there is a lot we already know – definitely good news to a beginner! I found it a little confusing during the introduction when he started to talk about different sets of ‘pronunciation strings’ because it was hard to retain until put into context. His main point however, was that there are so many ways to ‘work out’ German words from English rather than have to remember them, eg, ‘to give’ is ‘geben’ because a ‘v’ in English often becomes a ‘b’ in German and verbs end in ‘-en’. He mentioned many other similar rules which certainly started to make sense and helped as time went on.

I found I could pick things up quite quickly by listening to him but it was useful to listen to each CD at least a couple of times before moving onto the next one. That way you really feel confident with what you know so far. Sometimes you can have the answer to something before the students and be ready to move on before they are but other times they can rush ahead and leave you feeling a little confused. This isn’t a problem – when you listen again it all becomes clear!

I’m sure your German accent will be much more convincing than that of the two students but Michel does a lot to correct pronunciation and is not happy until he hears each sound of each word! It’s just a case of practice, practice – no cheating allowed!

Michel insists that it is very important that you take time to think of your sentence grammatically and ‘work it out’ without rushing it. So the use of the pause button is essential for thinking it through. After listening to just the first few CDs you realise that you really can start to make your own phrases. His teaching allows grammar to be learned in a flexible way and completely avoids learning phrases by heart.

To assist you with retaining vocabulary, Michel often translates expressions literally into English or makes links through word association to help you remember some things. One example is the German word ‘bald’ meaning ‘soon’ (to be ‘bald soon’) and ‘heute abend’ meaning ‘tonight’ (literally ‘today evening’) – so no surprises there! Breaking expressions and sentences into their components avoids any mystery in the language such as when he introduced the phrase ‘es tut mir leid’ which is the equivalent to ‘I’m sorry’, but literally – ‘it does to me sorrow’.

The word order in German is something that can seem a little confusing at first but with practice becomes second nature and just starts to ‘sound right’. Michel constantly revises grammatical points so if it’s not quite clear immediately there’s no need to keep rewinding – he will come back to it!

The word order in German is something that can seem a little confusing at first but with practice becomes second nature and just starts to ‘sound right’.

By the end of CD 1 (only the first hour) your longest sentence will be “I don’t know where it is, I can’t find it”. Not bad going for the first lesson!

By CD 3 things get a little more tricky grammatically, but it is certainly worth persevering. Michel jokes with the students and talks them through their mistakes. By the end of CD 3 you will move onto expressing the future and make phrases such as “Will you please bring it to me” and (on CD 4) “I am going to stay at home today because I am very tired” covering some crucial German grammar points without you even realising it. By the end of CD 8, however, you will be combining all kinds of points of grammar covered throughout the whole course and you will certainly have achieved a lot, including a variety of different tenses. You can even move on to do a further two hours as a follow up if you are really keen – the Michel Thomas German Language Builder.

As I mentioned at the beginning there is a lot of vocabulary that you may need when visiting Gemany that is not covered in this course. From experience I would recommend combining this course with the Teach Yourself Instant German. They complement each other very well because Michel Thomas is more structure based, while ‘Instant German’ covers a lot of essential vocabulary to give you the confidence you need for your visit. With these two courses fully completed and a small phrasebook and dictionary to take with you for those tricky situations it is the recipe for success in Germany!

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MICHEL THOMAS FRENCH 2-HOUR COURSE REVIEW

michel-thomas-french-introductoryAn independent language course review by Andrea Martins

French is still one of the most popular languages to learn in the UK today. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t really like French at school and didn’t use any French until a few months ago when I met my French boyfriend’s parents for the first time! My almost forgotten bits of ‘school’ French from all those years ago, were just not enough to hold a conversation with them. So I set myself the task of learning some French phrases, using the Michel Thomas French 2-hour Introductory language pack. It is available on CDs and on cassette.

My pack is made up of two tapes – it’s a two hour introductory course to the longer 8-hour Michel Thomas French course. It prides itself upon its mantra of ‘no books, no writing’ and ‘just confidence – in hours’. Having always learnt languages the academic way, by going to classes and studying grammar books until dawn, I was very curious to know how you could learn a language using this seemingly very unacademic way!

The first side of tape one begins with Michel Thomas talking about how languages are ordinarily learnt (via studying books with grammar and verbs and so on). Michel claims that you can build up your knowledge of a language just by breaking things down and thinking everything out step by step. He also encourages us to listen and learn whilst in a relaxed state, as stress or outside influences will detract from our learning.

Michel claims that you can build up your knowledge of a language just by breaking things down and thinking everything out step by step.

So I spent the two hours listening to the course and making my own notes now and again. Although you are not encouraged to memorise anything or write anything down, I felt inspired to write down interesting comments or ideas that Michel mentioned during the tape.

After Michel’s introduction we are then introduced to his two learners who are both at the same level as us: the beginner. As the tape went on I felt that I was there with Michel and the other two learners, which made me feel more involved in the learning process.

Michel teaches us words and then phrases by building on them step by step. He treats the words as building blocks to phrases. Before you know it you are saying an incredibly long sentence purely based on the words that you have learnt and built on. On the first side of the first tape, we are encouraged to pause the tape after a bleep. This is so that we have sufficient time in the early stages to repeat the words and phrases at our own pace. Later though, the bleeps are gone and we are left to pause it if we want to.

What I found particularly helpful was the way that Michel associated many French words with English words. Throughout the course, he would use sound and cultural recognitions to help us remember certain endings or words. For example, English words ending in ‘ance’ or ‘ence’, he says, come from French, such as ‘difference’ or ‘importance’. By changing the pronunciation we are suddenly speaking French! How easy is that?!

English words ending in ‘ance’ or ‘ence’, he says, come from French, such as ‘difference’ or ‘importance’. By changing the pronunciation we are suddenly speaking French! How easy is that?!

Or he would use French words that are currently in our everyday English such as ‘soirée’, ‘alley’ (from aller – to go), ‘encore’, or ‘au revoir’ which helped build up my confidence because I realised that I actually knew a lot of French without even knowing it!! This word association really helped me to remember the French words. It would also help me in the future to recognise the similarities between English and French. I thought this was a particularly useful way of learning a language.

Throughout the course, there is a gradual introduction of verbs and verb endings, as well as pronouns, adjectives, word gender and question words. However, Michel does not want to bog us down with the grammatical side to French. He is more interested in ensuring that we build phrases and understand the links between English and French words.

Everything is broken down into bite-size pieces which make it a lot easier to understand and to build long sentences. I learnt how to ask for a glass of wine or coffee to suddenly asking ‘what impression do you have of the political and economic situation in France today?’. How impressive is this for a beginner?! Nothing is forced and nothing is really difficult to remember because all the word and phrase learning flows really well and that’s why you find yourself saying long sentences without much difficulty.

Even my French boyfriend was impressed by how much French I had learnt in such a short space of time.

After having completed the two hour tapes, I felt that I had learnt an awful lot of French and would be happy to continue studying French as I now feel quite confident in what I have learnt so far. Even my French boyfriend was impressed by how much French I had learnt in such a short space of time. The Michel Thomas 2-hour introductory course is just that: an introduction to the language. It’s great for complete novices or beginners who want to get a feel for the language.

A bientôt!

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DON QUIJOTE SPANISH COURSE IN SALAMANCA, SPAIN REVIEW

An independent language course review by Lisa Zealey

My stay with don Quijote was much more that just a two-week Spanish course. Under the hot Spanish sun there’s something for everyone … flamenco classes, day trips, Spanish singing lessons and not to mention the Latino nightlife!

I will always remember my two weeks with don Quijote in July 2001 as a most amazing and eye-opening summer break. I chose to go to their school in Salamanca and really would recommend it to anyone! I was fortunate enough to win a place through a competition arranged by don Quijote at the annual London Language and Cultural Learning Show in Hammersmith, London. Having entered the competition I had almost forgotten about it as I never expected to win!

I was delighted to hear I had won an all-expenses paid place and was asked to choose my destination. To choose between two weeks in Barcelona, Madrid, Salamanca, Malaga, Seville or Granada … was a difficult one! Although I had barely heard of it before, I chose Salamanca based on the fact that the brochure said it was big enough for plenty of socialising but not a huge city; the fact that it is said to be a place where the most pure Spanish is spoken and also because of the flamenco and singing classes which I knew I would love!

 

I had the choice of staying in a host family or a student flat. I chose a student flat because I was more keen on being around other students and I decided by being in a flat I would be with other young people. Both options have their advantages though because with a family you have to speak Spanish all the time – in our flat (as often happens) – the common language was English.

My stay with don Quijote was much more that just a two-week Spanish course. Under the hot Spanish sun there’s something for everyone!

It was actually the first time I had flown by myself and I was really excited about getting on the plane and not knowing what to expect at the other end! I had received instructions of how to get to Salamanca and I felt a sense of adventure. When I arrived in Madrid I got a taxi to the coach station and then, in the days of pesetas and rusty GCSE Spanish, managed to find the coach to Salamanca. All was going to plan so far and after a relaxing (3 hour) coach ride I arrived in Salamanca where the fun would begin!

It’s hard to sum up such an influential two weeks in a short review – I learned far more than just Spanish; I reminded myself how easy it is to just go out there and do something great for myself.

Having been met by don Quijote on my arrival in Salamanca, I was taken to my flat, given all I needed for my classes and wished ‘Buena Suerte’ (good luck)!

As soon as I got to my flat, I met a couple of guys who were already there (one from Germany and one from Taiwan). They were great and took me out to show me the way to school and watch the local jazz band. I hadn’t even had time to unpack and straight away I felt like a good time was ahead! A thing that I loved about it was that almost everyone (in my flat as well as in my class) came from a different country. Such a variety of people was great and everyone got on so well together.

My first day at don Quijote was a long and very event-filled day, starting with a level test at 8.00 in the morning followed by a newcomers’ tour of the city while the staff determined which level groups we would go into. My classes were 3.00 – 7.00pm – ideal for someone like me who is not a morning person and likes to check out the nightlife! It had been a while since I spoke any Spanish and what I knew was only basic. I soon started to remember what I had previously learned at college and by the second week of the course I definitely felt like I was progressing well.

On our first night we had a newcomers’ welcome dinner hosted by don Quijote in their own café next to the school. This was a great idea and it was lovely to get chatting to people. I had been told that July was a good time to go and I could see why. There were so many people there and such lovely weather all the time! I think that going on your own is the best way to do it – not one minute did I feel like I was by myself. It’s really what you make of it. I had not imagined that it would be such a task to find another English person there! I met two guys who were English but out of the seven people in my class we had people from Poland, Germany, USA, Switzerland and Holland. This was such a great experience and made the lessons much more fun and diverse than if it was all English people.

I was 20 when I did this course and was pleased to find that the majority of students were my sort of age. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I found that most of them were on their summer break from university and filling in the time with some study abroad. I was simply taking two weeks off from my job in London. There were some older students there but most were between 20 and 26. The tutors were a mixture of ages. We had two separate teachers – one for each two-hour block. This meant we covered different topics with each teacher and it was like two separate classes. All the tutors were native Spanish and all instructions in the class were given in Spanish which was great for learning the everyday expressions. After all, with students from all over the world, not everyone would understand the explanations in English! There were never more that 7 or 8 in a group which meant that our abilities were more or less the same and we could learn far more than if we were in bigger, mixed ability groups.

don Quijote Salamanca holds Flamenco and singing classes once a week. I met a great girl from Croatia who also loved it! The songs were sung with songbooks around a big table with a Spanish teacher playing the guitar and teaching us. I really enjoyed learning them!

Salamanca is certainly a student town, so I would only recommend it to people who like to party! Almost every night of my stay the students met up in the evening and went out. People generally seemed to behave more like they were on holiday than on a language course!

Activities are arranged every weekend and for the one weekend I was there I went on a coach trip to the mountains – that was such a lot of walking (which I hadn’t prepared myself for!) It was a lovely (but very tiring) day. The views at the top of the mountains were amazing and it was really worth all the walking to reach the top.

I was very happy to have done this course for many reasons. It gave me a real incentive to do something like this again (which I’ve now done in France and Germany). It gave me the confidence to travel alone and meet new people. I met some great people on this course – several of whom, over a year later, I am still in touch with or have even visited. The Spanish classes made my Spanish very conversational even after two weeks, and this was incredibly exciting! I look back on Salamanca as a place where everyone is having fun – the atmosphere was really relaxed and I would love to go back someday.

I would definitely recommend a course with don Quijote if you want to become more confident in your Spanish and have a great holiday at the same time.

I would definitely recommend a course with don Quijote if you want to become more confident in your Spanish and have a great holiday at the same time. Here’s to the next one!

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BBC TALK PORTUGUESE ON-LINE REVIEW

An independent language course review by Sarah Maddocks

Talk Portuguese is an on-line introduction to Portuguese set in Portugal and Brazil. It is divided into 10 short sections with slideshows, video clips, useful phrases and quizzes. The course covers 10 subjects such as your typical topics i.e. greetings, introducing yourself and others, describing yourself, in a cafe, directions, food shopping, accommodation, getting around, in a restaurant and hobbies). The website suggests that you also try out (alongside the course) the TV series, a book and audio cassettes and also if you are a tutor to look at the tutor notes with added activities. To be honest, once you’ve done the on-line course you don’t have to buy the BBC Talk language pack, unless you want to do the above away from your computer if you’re on your way to work. The TV series might be good to see what you can understand though. The internet course is in a step-by-step layout and easy to navigate around, although one thing to be aware of is you have to double click on the arrows otherwise you will be waiting 5 minutes for it to load (don’t want to own up to doing that as looking back it does sound like a very stupid thing to do!)

I think the best thing for me to do is to get the negatives out of the way (there’re not many so please don’t stop reading here and not try out the course because it sounds bad!!). I found that the most annoying thing about the on-line course is that you can’t see the dialogue from the slideshows in both English and Portuguese. You can see them side by side in the useful phrases section, but I would have liked to hear and read the phrases in both languages at the same time. The quiz is sometimes irritating as there are an assortment of answer types (that’s not the irritating thing) and some of them are fill in the blanks. This is especially difficult seeing as the word is not actually in the useful phrases (i.e. vocé is you – sorry have just told you one of the answers!) and so you are not told how to spell this beforehand. The only way you would know what the answer is would be to sit down, take notes from the slideshow (which would be easier if both languages were on the same screen) and then learn the notes (I know I sound like I’m moaning on a bit too much about this but it has annoyed me, plus if I wanted to do a course where I had to write things down then I would have chosen to do a paper course and not an on-line one!).

I think this is a great way of really learning the spoken accent and knowing what to expect if (or when) you visit the country.

Right, I think I have done enough ranting and raving on the bad parts,so it’s now time for the good bit. I found that the video clips were good because they used native speakers, so at first it is hard to understand the accent but once you have listened a couple of times you can really hear and understand what is being said. I think this is a great way of really learning the spoken accent and knowing what to expect if (or when) you visit the country. I thought the quiz was good as it allows you to fill in the blanks without having to worry about accents on the words, it accepts the word without accents typed in, this is very handy as it often takes me about 10 minutes to find the right accent for certain letters (this is also unusual for online courses to do this, instead they just flash an incorrect on the screen with the correct version of the word – of course with accents!).

Another great thing about this course is that the sections are short and fun. I seemed to absorb more vocabulary and information by doing one unit a day rather than cramming them all into one session. Each section took me around 15-20 minutes which I found was the right amount of time to actually remember what I had learnt the next day. This is fab especially if you work, you can just come home, turn the computer on, do 15 minutes of Portuguese a night (time that would be spent watching half an episode of Neighbours!) and hey presto in about 2 weeks you would have completed a beginners’ Portuguese language course (the miracle of modern technology never ceases to amaze!) The course needs Flash in order for the video clips to work. The BBC website offers a link to get this downloaded for free, and it is worth doing this as it is good to watch the video clips with sound.

One thing you should remember if trying this course out is that it is better to have a fast internet connection as it could take a while for each screen to load (this however is not a must have but if you are like me and slightly inpatient it is probably better to have a speedy one). The site also mentions the fact that you may have problems connecting to the video course if the internet is too busy. I’ve tried this site at various times of the day and so far (touch wood) have had no problems, so don’t let that put you off!

And did I forget to mention this? The on-line Talk Portuguese course is free. Yes, you pay nothing … thank you BBC Education.

Overall I would recommend people to try this course. At the end of the day, it takes 15 minutes to do one session which is hardly a lifetime – and in exchange you get to speak a little Portuguese from doing it. And did I forget to mention this? The on-line Talk Portuguese course is free. Yes, you pay nothing … thank you BBC Education. All I have to do now is track down somewhere I can go and speak to people in my newly acquired language!!

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BBC SUENOS WORLD SPANISH 1 REVIEW

bbc-beginner-suenos-world-spanish-1An independent language course review by Sarah Maddocks

Suenos World Spanish is a beginner Spanish course, complete with 4 cassettes and coursebook. The pack is £39.99 which I think is reasonable as you are getting a traditional coursebook as well as real Spanish on cassettes.

The coursebook has 20 units each with a language learning section divided into three parts, a cultural section, and a review and revision section. At the end of each unit there is a checklist so you can record your progress. After every five units there is a set of revision exercises so you can make sure you can practise the Spanish language you have already learnt.

I found it best to concentrate on five units at a time, as I could re-test the knowledge I had gained in the revision exercise. I didn’t want to try and do anymore that this, as I thought I would be learning too much at one time. The great thing about this course is that you can do as much or as little as you want to do.

The units in the book work alongside the audio tapes. There are exercises where you have to listen to the dialogues and then answer the questions. I found this helped me to really do the course, as with the question and answer sections you learn the language and don’t get bored as you are reading, writing and listening all at the same time. I find the courses that are just reading or just listening hard to complete as there is nothing to ‘engage my brain’.

There are exercises … which … helped me to really do the course, as with the question and answer sections you learn the language and don’t get bored.

In the coursebook, the BBC introduce cultural elements by using songs, or facts about certain Spanish-speaking countries. This is fun, as it gives you a break from the course but you are still learning important and interesting things to do with Spain. At the back of the book you have the answers to the questions, so you can check on your progress and see what you are getting wrong and how to correct it. There are also transcripts of the tapes, which again helps as sometimes I found it hard to fully understand the tapes (so I used the transcript to see what it was I didn’t understand and then listened to the tape again). In the section ‘word groups’, you have a list of words grouped into different topics to act as a very handy reference point, in case you have a memory block whilst doing the course (I had a lot of these!). Finally, you have the common English-Spanish glossary (in other words a dictionary). There’s a lot there!

The tapes are 75 minutes long and can be used separately as well as with the book. I found it easier to work along with the units in the coursebook rather than just listen to one full tape at a time. But as I mentioned earlier, the great thing about this course is you can do it exactly how and when you want to (although I think the book is slightly too big to be able to take on a bus!).

I just love how the BBC give you music at the start of each course. You can almost guarantee that you will hear flamenco or maracas when you switch on a BBC Spanish course (thankfully this one didn’t fail). The tape has a man and a woman who go through the steps of Spanish with you. They give you the words in Spanish and then repeat the same sentence in English. You then have pauses in the tape so you can repeat what you have learnt. I found the pauses to be the right length of time and so there is no need to stop or rewind the tape. You are asked questions for example “are the speakers well?”. You don’t actually answer the questions, it’s more to make you think and then the narrators on the tape answer for you and go on to give you other examples of words you could use. I think I would have found it more helpful if I could have answered the questions and then got their answer. In order to do this, I stopped the tape and then pressed play once I answered to see if I had the correct answer. The tape also provides you with a basic grammar section including, for example, the use of tu and usted. I found this useful as I learn more when I hear it rather than read it, so I found I learnt these grammar sections faster and could remember them easily. The tape is so easy to use alongside the book – it’s great. They also explain cultural things such as two surnames, or certain dates important in Spanish culture.

As you get closer to the end of the cassettes they do get harder (as expected), and on the fourth cassette there are more paragraphs of spoken Spanish instead of a Spanish sentence and then an English one. You don’t have to answer any questions on the paragraphs but it is good practise for your listening skills.

The tapes combine learning new Spanish with learning other areas of Spanish, such as history or culture. For example in Unit 15, you have a listening exercise where you have to match the dates to the events that are said on the tape. This is really good practise for your numbers and you are also learning new things about Spanish history.

BBC Suenos World Spanish doesn’t give you just the basics, it gives you much much more and is definitely worth a go.

This course is for beginners and gives you a good solid level of Spanish, as it really tests you and makes you work. The BBC know how to do language courses and they have not failed with this one. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to learn Spanish in a more traditional way, but who also want to carry on their Spanish language studies after they have done this course. It doesn’t give you just the basics, it gives you much much more and is definitely worth a go.

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BBC STEPS ON-LINE REVIEW

An independent language course review by Sarah Maddocks

The BBC ‘Steps’ language course is a free beginner language course available on the BBC website in the language section, where you can choose from four languages; French, German, Spanish or Italian.

The website is easy to navigate around (even for someone like me who is not exactly up on all the new whiz technology) and has a simple layout. The content of the course is 24 parts, divided into six small sections. I know this sounds like a lot of time sat at a computer, but it’s really not as the sections are short and easy to do. The syllabus of the course follows the Common European Framework Level One which seems more or less like the equivalent of the UK GCSE examination content.

The site offers many extras on top of the course, such as learning logs where you can record your marks from the various end of session tests, grammar tips (very basic grammar tips) and a pronunciation section. The pronunciation practice was better than I thought it would be, as I wasn’t really looking forward to hearing a robotic voice attempt to speak the language. However, on this site they actually use native speakers, so it sounds exactly like what you would hear people using if you were in the country.

The site also offers the chance for people who have already studied the language to do a fast track session, which is essentially a test where you complete the questions on-line. If you get everything right, you get a pat on the back and if you are wrong, you get offered a revision session.

This BBC Steps courses also has a fact file section. In order to check that this was useful and accurate, I went into French Steps and checked it out as I’d spent quite a bit of time in Paris and know what there is, how to get around and so on. Most of the information here was correct, although some of it was slightly off i.e. it said that you could easily walk around Paris. This comment made me question whether the writer had even been to Paris and if so, had actually tried to walk around! But then it made me question whether it was just me and I was lazy when i went there!?

I found everything on this site so straightforward and self-explanatory that I think even my mum could do it (she nearly sheds a tear when she has to use a computer!).

I could pick and choose what I wanted to learn. This was fab as it was as though I was choosing what I wanted to learn and not what someone wanted to teach me.

The layout of the course was great, as I could pick and choose what I wanted to learn. This was fab as it was as though I was choosing what I wanted to learn and not what someone wanted to teach me.

I would recommend these BBC Steps on-line language courses for people who want to literally ‘step’ into a language (hence the name of the course!). It is a fab beginner guide and the sections take hardly anytime at all to do. Depending on whether you want to do a quick refresher course or to really learn simple vocabulary, you can do the sections as and when you please and from anywhere that you can get onto the internet. I found this worked really well for me, as I could come home from work and do one section a night and woohoo in 24 ‘steps’ I can speak (well beginner-speak) a new language.

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BBC QUICKSTART SPANISH REVIEW

bbc-quickstart-spanishAn independent language review by Sarah Maddocks

BBC Quickstart Spanish is a 140-minute audio language course on 2 CDs, designed to be an all listening, little reading, no writing kind of course. It’s aimed at people who want to learn the basic ‘holiday’ vocabulary and who don’t want to know the ins and outs of the grammar. The Spanish CD follows three friends, Susana, Miguel & Alex for 24 hours around Madrid. The 24-hour ‘language adventure’ is split into sections, each one dealing with a different situation that you are likely to come across when travelling.

When I first plugged my headphones in I couldn’t wait to get started as I hadn’t studied Spanish for a very long time and wanted a refresher course before booking a holiday. As soon as I pressed play I decided that maybe I should have waited! The CD greeted me with the typical language learning music, supposedly from the country whose language you are learning (cue the flamenco guitar playing!!), and the corny joke of “Susana & Miguel, two friends, purely platonic” (cue fake laughter). It really made me think that this was going to be a tacky learning course which I wouldn’t be able to listen to for one minute – let alone 140 of them! But I’m pleased that I didn’t press stop and give up. I managed to learn to block the music and the bad jokes out of my head long enough to learn some new Spanish and refresh the old Spanish that I already had.

The CDs each have seven episodes with two conversations on each. The episodes are split into four separate sections, “time to listen” (listening to the conversations), “time to reflect” (explaining the conversation) “time to kickstart” (practicing pronunciation & language) and “time to recap” (seeing what you have learnt). These sections are overall well-structured and useful when learning the language. The only thing that does get irritating is the repetition of “right, now it’s time to kickstart your Spanish” (by the way it’s a play on ‘quickstart’. Pure genius!).

The subjects of the sections are typical day-to-day topics which will be needed when in the country, i.e. CD1 covers everything from “hola (hello)” to buying postcards & stamps, while CD2 covers going out and dealing with any problems you might come across.

… they don’t overload you with the grammar, but they give you enough to get by if people ask you something that isn’t included on the course.

In the “time to reflect” section, there are often very basic grammar tips. This is ace as they don’t overload you with the grammar, but they give you just enough to get by and adapt what is on the CD if people ask you something that isn’t included on the course. By the end of episode two, you already know two of the pronouns and verb endings for one of the most commonly used verbs. But don’t get too excited, as you still have the corniness of language learning CDs shining thorough in this section (“now do you think you’ve got a few greetings under your belt” is just a little taster of what you have to come)! Obviously the grammar isn’t a huge part of the course, as this is primarily an audio course. It would defeat the object if you had to write down all the grammar. I think this is a fab way of doing grammar, as I always used to get unbelievably bored doing verb drills. This way you learn the most common verbs without having to do the boring bit.

The course is accompanied by a small phrasebook and a transcript of all the conversations. This is very helpful when doing the course as you can also learn to recognise the Spanish words written down, rather than just recognising them from speaking. Some phrases are a little obscure if you’re only spending 24 hours in Spain. For example the BBC have included “te quiero” meaning I love you – I’m not 100% sure if this is the BBC implying that you will find love if you know Spanish and are on holiday!

As far as the speaking on the CD is concerned, the Spanish is not too fast and not too slow. There is a slight change in the speed of the Spanish after Episode 1, but the narrators do not jump straight into reeling off Spanish so fast that the only words that you get are the first and last ones. On the contrary, the speed is slow enough to hear the intonation and the way the individual letters are spoken by native speakers. Each episode also gives you the chance to repeat what has been said straight after the native speaker. This is good, but I couldn’t help thinking that maybe I was pronouncing it wrong (but to me it sounds exactly like the CD!). I suppose the only way I could try this out was to go to Spain. So I’ll let you know how it goes and if people understand my Bristolian turned Spanish accent!

Overall I think this course is an effective and fast way of learning basic touristy Spanish. It also gives a starter block to go on into more in depth Spanish (bear in mind this may be more grammar!!). The course is available in other languages such as French, German and Italian and I will definitely consider the Italian CDs. I’m not sure how well a Bristolian accent would sound trying to be Italian, but I suppose there’s only one way to find out.

to buy BBC Quickstart Spanish [UK]>>
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BBC HINDI URDU BOL CHAAL REVIEW

bbc-beginner-hindi-urdu-bol-chaalAn independent language course review by Sarah Maddocks

The BBC’s Hindi Urdu Bol Chaal is a beginner’s course in spoken Hindi and Urdu.
The book provides material for approximately 100 hours of study and covers topics including simple greetings, family, jobs, health and education. The book is sold separately but can be accompanied by a set of two cassettes which contain conversations, listening exercises, pronunciation guides and listen and speak practices.

I must admit I was slightly apprehensive about learning Hindi and Urdu, because up until now I have only ever learnt the romance languages such as French and Spanish, whose grammar and vocabulary are kind of similar. To attempt to learn Hindi and Urdu meant that I had to learn a whole new system of language (I suppose that comes with learning a new language and culture though, it’s all about broadening horizons!)
The book has 10 units, each with different sections, including dialogues and notes check up (just to check that you’ve understood the dialogue), keywords (pretty self explanatory I think!), sound systems (pronunciation hints), how the language works (grammar), exercises (a chance to practice what you have learnt), background (history of Hindi and Urdu – I know sounds tedious but is actually very interesting), and review sections. The exercise section is absolutely ace, you can do crosswords using the new vocabulary you have learnt and also fill in speech bubbles (it felt like I was back in school again which without sounding too much like a geek was actually fun).

The exercise section is absolutely ace – you can do crosswords using the new vocabulary you have learnt and also fill in speech bubbles.

When I first played the tapes, I felt like the course was too hard and I would never be able to pronounce the words. But I just rewound again, told myself I could do it and carried on. It did take about three plays of the same conversation before I felt I could say the words correctly. At the end of the day the course is designed to be used however you want it to be used and as long as you are learning, it doesn’t matter how many times you repeat the tape.

The tapes are used with the book; you know when to play the tape as there are small tape signs by the text. They are designed to be played with the book, and you will not get any value if you listen to the tapes without the book. You simply learn the words you have looked at in the section and hear them being pronounced. There is a man on the tape who sounds like an English-speaker but has a different accent on some words (perhaps he is bilingual!). Unlike most language tapes where you have to stop the tape, this program allows you to answer in the pauses provided and surprisingly these are long enough to answer (even with added thinking time!)

There are exercises where you have to listen and answer questions. In unit 1, they were short conversations; you have to answer the questions: “Are the greetings Hindu Sikh or Muslim? What are the names of the two people? How are they?” These may look like simple enough questions but they really help you to learn, especially when it is a language completely unknown to you. I liked the fact this tape asked you questions and you had “fun things” to do – it made learning this language a lot easier to do for me. I think even if you had some prior knowledge of the language through family and community ties, you’d still find the course useful and fun.

As mentioned above the tape is meant to be more of listening practise than actually learning new language from the tape. It is the book which provides most of the information to learning this language and the tape is kind of a back up so you can get used to hearing the language being spoken. The idea is to listen to the dialogue to get yourself familiar with the sounds of the dialogue and then to read through the book and look at key words. Then you are meant to return to the tape to listen to it again so this time you can understand what you are listening to. To me this was slightly exhausting, as I prefer to have language courses where you can listen to the tape as the main part of the course and then use the book as a back up. But then again, this was all new to me because I haven’t done a course like this before.

The tape is aimed at beginners, so the level does not change throughout. A good thing I found with this approach was that instead of recapping what you had already learnt with faster dialogues, you actually ended up learning more content. I found this better as I prefer to have more knowledge of lots of subjects rather than have knowledge of one subject but be able to speed through it so fast hardly anyone would be able to understand me anyway.

I even managed to surprise one of my friends by asking her how she was and what jobs she had done.

I really enjoyed doing this course – it really was something new for me. I live in Birmingham in the UK where there is a big Hindi-speaking population, so found this very handy. I even managed to surprise one of my friends by asking her how she was and what jobs she had done. It was only when she replied with a very long answer that I realised maybe I should go and buy an intermediate course so I can have a proper conversation with her in Hindi!

to buy BBC Hindi Urdu Bol Chaal [UK]>>
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BBC GET INTO SPANISH REVIEW

bbc-spanish-get-intoAn independent language course review by Sarah Maddocks

Get Into Spanish is apparently the ultimate interactive learning experience from the BBC. It certainly seemed to be that way – the language pack contains 2 PC CD-ROMs, a book, audio CDs and access to online learning resources.

The CD-ROM is the main part of the course. It has two CD-ROMs, with CD1 being the installation CD and CD2 being the language course. The CD-ROM has eight language units which include animated dialogue, interactive activities and learning support which gives you the opportunity to listen, speak, read and write the language. You have to download the program onto your hard drive and this took my computer around 10 minutes to complete which isn’t very long at all (since it’s three programs altogether) and while you are waiting for this to load up it is the perfect opportunity to have a flick through the book.

Once the CD-ROM is loaded you can create a character which will be you in the program. You can choose your hair colour and clothes, and all this helps you to really feel like you are involved in the course and that it has been made just for you. The CD-ROM is easy to use and pretty self explanatory but there is a “how to use this CD-ROM” section just in case.

You can choose which areas you would like to learn through navigation via a map of the town. You click on the different places to take part in the different role plays, for example, I clicked on the hotel and took part in role plays about checking in/out, booking a room and making a complaint. You can choose to learn some things about the situation first such as vocabulary, or you can enter straight into the “have a go” section. The “have a go” section is listening to the Spanish speaker and then recording your answer. In this way, you can interact with the program and compare your answer to that of a Spanish speaker. This helps as you can hear what words you are pronouncing correctly or incorrectly and it gives you an incentive to improve. You can also choose to “zoom in” on certain areas of the screen. I clicked on a price list on the wall which was then enlarged for me and I could then choose to translate the text. This is a fab way of learning new vocab and it’s not forced upon you, which makes you want to learn even more.

The only thing that was annoying with this CD-ROM was that you needed a microphone to be able to complete the role plays. If you haven’t got one built into your computer or laptop, then you are advised to buy one which would cost even more money on top of the course. But the CD-ROM does have a wow factor and personally I absolutely loved it. The BBC really have found a fun way of learning a language and have made it very modern and funky. It felt like I was playing a computer game like “The Sims” rather than actually doing something educational.

“You can choose your own hair colour and clothes for your character in the course. It felt like I was playing a computer game like The Sims rather than actually doing something educational.”

The Get Into Spanish book is designed to help you to refresh and revise the Spanish already learnt on the CD-ROM. It has 10 units and covers the GCSE areas of the language such as eating and drinking and asking for directions. The book is a handy size which meant it was easy for me to carry in my bag and read on the bus. I found it very useful that it was a standalone book so you didn’t have to sit and do the CD-ROM at the same time.

The book has 10 units and each is loosely connected to the CD-ROM. In each unit you have a CD-ROM box section (there’s a little picture of a CD-ROM so very straightforward to know when to refer to the CD-ROM if you need to), then there’s the cultural rule bit, where they tell you when to use certain tenses, pronouns etc; for me this was a plus to this language course as the last thing I would want to do in Spain is be rude to someone within the first hour of arriving. You also have a key vocabulary box which makes it easier. The book is very interactive and gives you exercises to complete. This is a good way of getting people to practise what they have learnt. I don’t know about you, but when I read a book and there is nothing interesting to do I often don’t take in what I have learnt. This book allows me to practise my newly learnt Spanish and helps me to remember what I have learnt.

At the back of the book, there is a grammar section with basic-intermediate grammar information. I found this great as when I learn a language, grammar is the hardest part for me to learn as its boring (at least I’m being honest!). But with this book, all the grammar is laid out in small chunks and it doesn’t go into too much depth and so is not boring to look at and learn. Throughout the book there are ‘have a go’ sections and luckily the book provides the answers at the end. In the past I have had to buy answer books to accompany certain language learning courses, so this way I can see if I have got it right without having to buy a whole new separate book.

Finally, the audio CD is a way to develop your listening skills and improve your level of learning. As usual, you have the token English tourist trying to find their way around the town. This time it is a British web designer called Simon who travels to Alicante.

The audio CD comes with a separate book where all the conversations are written down, so if you so find it hard you can look at the words as they are being said. At first it is hard to concentrate especially when Simon’s London accent comes out when he speaks Spanish but after the first couple of sentences you get used to it. The speed of the Spanish is at a level where if you are a beginner and have completed the other parts of the course you will have no trouble understanding it. This is also good for people who have previously done Spanish and want to refresh it.

The telephone calls that Simon makes to his friend and business partner are slightly annoying as they are like telephone calls on a soap opera when it is obvious there is no one on the other end! The conversations are quite fun, without giving too much away it turns out that Simon helps the police with a problem they have been having. Unlike other CDs I have listened to they add in fun conversation and words that you would be unlikely to learn otherwise, even the words “you look like a gangster” are thrown in.

You can buy the CD-ROM separately to the audio CD and book. But to be honest I think the best way to “get into” Spanish is to buy the whole set. All of the parts were so helpful and it never got boring, which for me is a huge thing.

“You can buy the CD-ROM separately to the audio CD and book. But to be honest I think the best way to “get into” Spanish is to buy the whole set. All of the parts were so helpful and it never got boring, which for me is a huge thing.”

In my opinion the BBC were correct to describe this as the ultimate interactive learning experience – it certainly is that. With all the material and resources given in the pack, it is definitely an ace way of learning Spanish thoroughly. They seem to cover every basic situation and give you lots of information but keeping it fun at the same time, so it doesn’t feel like a chore to sit down and do the course. I would recommend this 100% to anyone who wants to learn Spanish in an entertaining and different way.

to buy BBC Get Into Spanish [UK]>>
to buy BBC Get Into Spanish [USA]>>
to find out more about BBC language courses>>

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