Expensive, superlative foreign language instruction?
February 11, 2008 1:37 PM   Subscribe

Pay lots of money, follow instructions for a couple hundred hours, know a new language?

Because http://www.bilingualamerica.com/ has a 45-day money back guarantee, and they essentially claim the ability to conduct business and socialize in Spanish after following their program, I'm thinking about going for it.

My question is, are there any other companies like this for Spanish or other languages? The key elements are:

1) students reach near-fluency
2) less than 365 hours spent learning,
3) phone-tutoring with a native speaker
4) even advanced material is highly structured

Chinese? Japanese? French? Also, has anyone had an experience with this particular company?

posted by zeek321 to Education (13 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Haven't tried it, but you might try Mango first, as it is free.
posted by jbickers at 1:43 PM on February 11, 2008 [10 favorites]

Oof. I learned Spanish as a second language. At this point I am fluent, and taught it at the middle, high school and university levels for almost 10 years. Looking at the website, their claims don't look possible. One hour each weekday for a year and reaching 85-90% fluency of a native speaker? No. Way.

I'd put myself a bit above that level right now, so either I'm extremely stupid and slow, or this Ricardo Gonz√°lez guy is gifted with a magic second language acquisition wand.

Too good to be true, would be my guess.
posted by Stewriffic at 2:23 PM on February 11, 2008

Not a good claim. Some people simply aren't born to be good at languages. I took French for more than 7 years (and could easily understand my American, vocabulary-limited, slow-speaking teacher), watched movies, finally went to France and couldn't have a conversation more than "I can't find my sweater". They would be on the 25th (unfamilliar, colloquial) word, and I'd only be on the 4th. My brain is just not wired for fluency in anything else but Yanglish. You have to be naturally good at languages before a claim like that can be accurate.
posted by Melismata at 2:52 PM on February 11, 2008

Guarantees are a funny thing. Sellers don't guarantee something because the product does that, but because that's the issue that scares off potential sales. e.g. Remington shavers "shave as close as a blade or your money back." Well, they don't shave as close as a blade but that's what blade-shavers worry about when they consider making the switch -- once they've switched, they found the benefits of the shaver over a blade to be enough that they wanted to keep the shaver, even though it didn't shave as close as a blade.

I'd say that if they have such a guarantee, then the vast majority of their customers must be satisfied. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they actually achieve what was promised.
posted by winston at 3:25 PM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: " C. Results. The average person who invests 5 to 6 hours weekly is able to achieve a minimum of the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages superior rating within one year. Our students are able to conduct business effectively and professionallly upon completion of this course."

"Superior" is pretty spectacular, if you look up the definition. I guess the claim is either true or false. :)
posted by zeek321 at 5:03 PM on February 11, 2008

Have you considered the Pimsleur audio method? Helped me relearn the French I forgot from school and prepped for a vacation to France. Made my morning commute more productive, for sure. Most languages have three levels of 30 lessons, each lesson being about 30 minutes in length. Each level is around $345 (list) or cheaper at Amazon.com (example). There's no phone support, the lessons are done by natives speakers, and I think the thing that improved most for me was aural comprehension and my own pronunciation, as a result of hearing good French and the repetitive practice that is a big part of the method. Fluency is a hard thing to gage. But you'd certainly suck less at any language if you did all three levels (i.e. 90 lessons).

If you go this route, get the "comprehensive" set (i.e. the 30 lessons per level one). They make lots of cut-down, introductory rate ones that contain a subset of the lessons.
posted by wheat at 5:22 PM on February 11, 2008

This is probably not a suggestion that you want to hear (there really needs to be a worst answer check) - but do you have vacation time, and could you travel to a Spanish speaking country on your own instead of this class?

I took 4 semesters of French as an undergraduate in university, and similar to Melismata, after 4 semester/3 hours in class per week - I couldn't understand more than 3 spoken sentences (although I could read, write, and speak).

The only thing that helped was when I was dropped off in a french speaking country as a peace corps volunteer - everything was in french (the radio, asking directions, basic conversations, etc.). Within a month, I was able to understand people.

Anyway, I think you would learn much more by going to a country and immersing yourself in the culture and language. Don't go with another person that speaks your first language.

Listen to the music there, read books there, etc. Make learning the language a big part of why you visit the country you select.
posted by Wolfster at 6:02 PM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can access Rosetta Stone free online at some libraries - I ordered a library card online from a library in another part of the state in order to do this. Although I think the claims on the commercial are exaggerated, it's not a bad program.

There are also several PBS series' available for free online Destinos Spanish, Fokus Deutsch, French in Action.

For both programs there are workbooks available if you would like to reinforce what you're learning with written work and tests.
posted by caroljean63 at 6:09 PM on February 11, 2008

Here's the link for the PBS series'

posted by caroljean63 at 6:12 PM on February 11, 2008

Best answer: It's all how you define functional in a language. At one time I spoke almost perfect Russian-- great accent, comfortable is most social situations and culturally appropriate. I had been taught to say everything I needed and was an excellent parrot. But when I began to develop a personality and a backbone and actually began saying what I wanted to say, I took a huge step backward. I'm now fluent, but it took years of reading, socializing and relearning. It was humiliating, and I wished that I had worked at it more systematically.

This guy is teaching you survival skills, which may actually help you learn, but that won't be the same as actually functioning in Spanish. You will know a lot of phrases, but not really understand the grammar. Actually learning a language-- understanding what you are saying and exactly what people are saying to you, takes time and work.

The big question in language acquisition is how much grammar can and should be taught. It's not an easy question to answer. Without really learning grammar, you won't understand precisely. But if you only study grammar, you will be so self conscious you'll be too shy to speak.

Personally, I think there is more than one way to learn a language, but a bad foundation and a bad teacher can make things more difficult in the long run. I'd look for a middle ground. Don't go too long without finding an experienced teacher who is honest about how much work it is to learn a language.

I hope that I don't sound discouraging. Learning a language is a lot of fun. YOu'll understand your own language much better, and you'll have lot's of adventures. But if you want to really learn Spanish, you'll need to make it a labour of love.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:36 PM on February 11, 2008

Okay. I read the guy's website. "Understanding a culture" is a dangerous idea. How easy do you think it is for foreigners to understand your culture, your idioms, and your country? Hint: it's not easier to understand anyone else than it is for them to understand you.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:42 PM on February 11, 2008

I'm working on learning Spanish now. I had 3 years of it many years ago and have recently been using the Pimsleur series of recordings. As another said, they do help with pronunciation and understanding, but I'm skeptical they help with the ability to "think in the language". Their method is great and better than simple speak-and-repeat but I don't know that there is a perfect instruction method. I also use LiveMocha since it is a free resource and there are many people willing to help you out on the site.
¬°Buena suerte!
posted by mcarthey at 6:45 PM on February 11, 2008

You definitely have to team the Pimsleur up with something that focuses on writing. The little written exercises that are at the ends of some of the lessons are fairly rudimentary. What Pimsleur is good for is aural comprehension, basic vocabulary, and working on your pronunciation. Team that up with some sort of workbook that touches on grammar and adds more vocabulary and you've got a winning combination. Nothing beats immersion, of course. But a solid foundation before you dive in will really help.
posted by wheat at 6:53 AM on February 12, 2008

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