capsule review

LanguageNow 8

When travelling in a foreign country, there are two phrases that everyone should know by heart: "Where can I get something to eat?" and "Where is the bathroom?" For those who wish to broaden their range of cultural experiences, however, Transparent Language's LanguageNow series offers a very handy crash course available in 14 languages.

LanguageNow lets you a choose between two radically different approaches to learning: step-by-step and immersion. Are you not afraid to dive right in? The Successful Immersion approach allows you to select one of four chapters, varying from general topics such as "Survival Phrases" to country-specific topics like "A French Surprise Birthday Party." You follow along as native speakers read the text aloud or watch short videos of everyday situations. LanguageNow shows the text in translation, by both individual word and the entire phrase, and each word is highlighted as it is spoken. Unfortunately, this approach can be frustrating for those who don't already have a grasp of grammar in the language. Although it's easy to pick up individual words, you'll find yourself spending a lot of time clicking back and forth, scrambling to figure out if there's a pattern to the unfamiliar word order.

For those who prefer a more traditional route, the Step-by-Step approach utilizes much of the same material but begins with alphabet and grammar lessons.Instead of listening to dialogue at conversational speed, you click on each word, hear it pronounced, then view its definition. The standard listening and dictation drills ask you to type in your answer and select any necessary accents. Once you feel confident, you can take advantage of one of the program's notable features: its fill-in-the-blank games and crossword puzzles that test grammar as well as vocabulary.

Beyond vocabulary and grammar, how does your pronunciation compare to that of a native speaker? Language Now can track your progress somewhat: by speaking select words and phrases into the microphone (included with purchase), the program will compare your pronunciation to that of a native speaker. However, voice recognition utilities are imprecise, and LanguageNow's are no exception.

LanguageNow is best suited for those who want to get a solid grip on practical language usage in a relatively short amount of time. Because it emphasizes dialog and pronunciation, the program isn't ideal for learning how to read and write. Additionally, because the material aims to teach you everyday conversational skills, from talking about the weather to ordering in a restaurant, there are few examples of how verbs are conjugated in different situations. Although a bonus CD is included for learning grammar, it isn't interactive and only contains a list of examples and brief explanations. Finally, those eager to learn languages with different writing systems (such as Chinese or Japanese) should be warned that with the exception of its alphabet reference tool, LanguageNow only shows text in its romanized form.

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