Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Learning a new language

No, I do not mean computer language like C, Visual Basic or Java which of course can be easily learned with the hundreds of thousands on the internet. I am talking about learning a real language, a spoken language like French, Spanish of Chinese.

I used to work for a Japanese outsourcing company as a software developer. Being a non-Japanese, my Japanese colleagues were some of the nicest people I have ever met. They were always very polite and gentle. But the problem with that company was that the owner was a traditional Japanese – does not speak English and pressured (although not required) the staff to learn Japanese (we also learned that he goes to an exclusive and very expensive bar in Japan that still has geishas).

I scoured the internet for Japanese tutorials. My friend recommended me to using Pimsleur language studies. Pimsleur’s approach is the language student is being made to listen to many audio clips. These audio clips consist of many instructional materials as well as real life conversation in the desired language to be learned. The idea is that language can be learned easily if it is being listened over and over. Each night before I would go to sleep, I would listen to at least 2 modules. In the morning while having breakfast, I listen to another module or two. And while commuting, I listen to my iPod. Indeed, this has proven to be very effective and I was the top in the non-Japanese staff to be able to learn the language in a few months.

But Pimsleur’s approach is not totally interactive. The only interactivity is that I can repeat the words, phrases and sentences uttered by the person on the audio clip.

Now, with Broadband and other fast connections becoming more common, there is a much better way to learn a new language. Skype, the famous software that makes possible computer to computer communication using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), has become the main medium in real online language learning program.

Irishman Ken Carroll, British Steve Williams and Canadian Hank Horkoff founded Praxis, a company that provides language lessons. Currently, the company mainly handles Chinese lessons. It has 35 employees in the Shanghai-based office. All of these employees are the best language teachers around and are paid $500 a month which is already a good salary by Chinese standards.

The method is a combination of downloading language lessons in audio clips which the student can listen to anytime and anywhere. Then there are actual conversations with native speaker instructors.

This is a very efficient way to learn without spending much. One will not need to go abroad in order to learn the language from native speakers. All one has to do is log on to the internet and talk with someone miles away.

Other language services are on the way. The most immediate might be Spanish as the next service disclosed is called SpanishSense. I am interested in learning French and I am sure that it won’t be long before this service opens.

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