Saturday, April 17, 2010

Learn Spanish Online -- If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

If you Google for sites to learn Spanish online, you'll be overwhelmed by the number of sites that make all sorts of promises. Some guarantee that you'll be speaking Spanish "like a native" in ten days. Others assure you that you'll be saying real Spanish sentences within minutes. Others give away a lot of free resources, good stuff to be sure, only to keep leading you through lots and lots of sales pitch text until you discover that they want you to buy their CD program. Still others will say they have discovered the way to learn and developed -- surprise! -- just the software or online program to help you learn.

Even the most reputable program, Berlitz, makes most of its profit from beginners who usually study in groups large enough that the profit margin is good (especially since they pay the teachers so little).  The class sizes at Berlitz, just like in universities, goes down rather quickly after the first couple of levels. They offer options about class size preference (something universities can't do), and they can deliver. Adults who work diligently with Berlitz for about two years can acheive respectable levels of proficiency, depending on their language background and the affinity of the target language with respect to their own.

Other sites offer overseas intensive, total immersion opportunities. These are great, and appeal to conventional wisdom but this route is not the best for total newbies. The culture and linguistic shock will be the first things on their minds and coping mechanisms will take precedent over conscious cognitive efforts to learn the language.

What is the solution? Realism. Adults learn a second language best in a one-on-one setting, where the teacher is explaining, guiding and focusing explicitly on the nuts and bolts: the writing system, pronunciation, basic grammar and vocabulary.

Let me set the record straight. Learning any language means committing yourself to hard work. Software programs, such as Rosetta Stone are good for beginners, but their utility drops off quickly. At some point, real human interaction is necessary.

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