Learning Spanish (or Any Language)


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Learning Spanish (or Any Language)

Copyright © September 27, 2015 Douglas W. Jerving.
All Rights Reserved.

I recently began a 3 month subscription to the Babbel Spanish (online courses), and I'm about 10 days into the first month. I probably will not renew it. I am learning from it, but it is frustrating. I spend an inordinate amount of time clicking back and forth through the material. That is time that could be used immersing myself in the language rather than the web pages. Almost nothing is explained as far as how to use the site, so you have to learn it by trial and error.

A larger problem for me is that Babbel is designed around a learning system that is a throwback to older high-school secondary language studies (circa 1970ís). Almost immediately they get you into verb conjugation, so you're stuck memorizing first, second and third person masculine and feminine verbs and pronouns. Not real intuitive. That approach never helped me with the French or German I studied in the mid-seventies. Maybe I didnít apply myself as well as I should have, but Iím pretty sure I would have done better if the languages were immersion based rather than grammar based.

Babbel emphasizes reading and writing the language from week one. I find this counter-intuitive as well, for reasons described below this paragraph. But first, letís consider the following facts.

Most people who want to learn a second language intend to use it for communicating with native speakers, either because they are traveling abroad or because they are regularly in contact with that language at work. In either case, the spoken language is the most important. If I go to Spain and am not sure about something on a written menu, I can still ask and understand the server even if I do not understand the menu. If I ask the Mexican machine operator what fault she saw on the machine she runs she replies to me vocally and in person, not in email.

I have also spent a fair amount of time Ė valuable time Ė studying Spanish using the Pimsleur method. Pimsleur is immersion based language learning. It teaches you the language the way a child would learn his native language. The essence of it is Listen and Repeat.

The Pimsleur Spanish course makes the language so much more natural. I learn a lot faster. (I learn a lot a lot faster!) So far, for me, Babbel is just supplemental material. Pimsleur insists on learning by listening and repeating. At least at first, Pimsleur discourages reading and writing, because it recognizes that, scientifically, languages are learned best without the addition of reading, spelling and grammar.

I don't learn very well when I get frustrated with memorization and grammar. That is true for most of us. Those things are fine for Intermediate language studies, but they do not work well for beginners. That's not how children learn languages. They donít learn by memorizing verb conjugation and grammar. They listen and repeat. Listen and repeat. Listen and repeat. Later they learn to read and write, and after that they study the rules of grammar. After they are already fluent in the language they study the rules.

So far, I rate Babbel Spanish at *** 3 stars for ease of learning, and ** 2 stars for value to cost ratio. I rate Pimsleur Spanish at ***** 5 stars for ease of learning and **** 4 stars for value to cost ratio. I will rate this again at the end of my three month subscription to Babbel.


Doug Jerving is the publisher of the NewEdisonGazette.com. You may contact him at dje@newedisongazette.com.


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