Any experience with home-study language courses?

I’m thinking of trying to learn a little Spanish on my own. There are a quite number of home-study programs that promise quick progress based on unique teaching methods. Has anybody had any experience with the Pimsleur Method, Rosetta Stone or Lozanov (which apparently is an instructional approach rather than a specific program)? For that matter, how are the more traditional courses from Audioforum and Linguaphone?

Nothing fancy, but when travelling to Europe, we have borrowed from friends or the library some “learn Italian” and “learn German” CDs. They did give us a smattering of language, by no means fluent, but enough to be able to understand a train station announcement like “The train to Palermo is 10 minutes late”.

Since you’re looking more for personal experiences and opinions than straight facts, I’ll move this thread to the IMHO fourm.

moderator GQ

I have the Rosetta Stone French for Travellers (at least, I think that’s what it is - it’s French and not their really expensive edition) and IMO it’s really good. The drills are fun to do and you really learn stuff. I used it as a refresher before a trip to Quebec. Of course, France-French isn’t Quebec-French, but I did OK.

Nothing but immersion has ever worked for me. I doubt you’d get fluency using only a program like that, but you’ll learn something. I’m just not enough of a self-starter. The tapes or cd’s or whatever would just lie around, and I’d silently curse them for not teaching me anything.

Has anyone ever used the Michel Thomas language courses? They had a piece on him on the radio the other day; he just died at age 91 and was a fascinating and controversial figure. I listened to one of his Spanish CDs, once, actually for about 20 minutes (although not in 1960 or whenever) and much of it has stuck with me.

Sorry, didn’t mean to kill this thread.

I noticed the other day that my library has a huge supply of langauge tapes and software. It might be worth checking it out before you invest.

I’ve used language tapes to get a quick grasp before traveling. I personally doubt there’s much difference between the different ones - my father and I had several different ones before we went to Portugal, and they all taught us some Portuguese. But I really wouldn’t count on them for a real education. You can get enough to take a vacation, and perhaps enough to make self-study with textbooks more worthwhile, but the bottom line, at least in my experience, is that any method that doesn’t involve lots of work - rote memorization in particular - is not going to really work.

If you’re on a longer time frame, I recommend some tapes, a book or two, and lots of Spanish-language television. Most cable providers provide one of the Spanish networks, and you’ll learn more from watching a few telenovelas than any set of language tapes.

Now if you’ll excuse me, “Corazón de piedra” is on.

I’ll endorse Rosetta Stone for Spanish. I have the $$ version and my husband has the $ version which he hasn’t yet opened. It is flexible and easy to use.

I’ve also used Transparent Language for Polish. It’s also simple to use, and gives great feedback on pronounciation which I found especially useful for such a difficult language.

Be careful with that. Last year, I checked out language software from the library. I didn’t look too carefully until I got it home, looked at the install instructions, and found that it had been designed for that newfangled OS, Windows 3.1

I used the Pimsleur method for Russian (volumes 1 and 2), and thought it was really good. (Of course that was a few years ago and I’ve forgotten it!). I would definitely recommend it for learning conversation (not abstract grammar).

I’ve been working on Japanese for several years now, both self-study and the occasional community college class. It’s tough to stay disciplined enough to learn a lot on your own. Pimsleur is the gold standard of the speaking based courses but it’s also the most expensive. You can probably get some used sets off Ebay tho’. And they also have a relatively cheap 8 lesson intro course you can try to see if you like that form of learning. FWIW, I tried a demo of the Rosetta Stone course and didn’t like it. I don’t have any experience with the others you listed.

I’ve been on the look-out for a good self-study Spanish course. I can’t remember the name, but the one I got was a total immersion, and this didn’t work at all for me. I’ve had friends tell me that the sink or swim total immersion is best: You’d listen to a dialog, then get asked questions about it. Unfortunately, I didn’t comprehend one word of the dialog, and so couldn’t answer any of the questions (I took 3 years high school and 2 semesters college Spanish).

I know immersion is supposed to be the best method for fluency, but I’m trying to get back some of the Spanish I used to know. What seems to have worked best for me is the repitition method:

Suzy goes to the library.
Suzy is going to the library.
Suzy went to the libary.
Suzy went to the shoe store . . .

. . . over and over again.

You get the idea. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

I tried the French CDs a few years ago and found them to be pretty useful. There’s no reading material and not much memorization. He teaches you to form sentences around words which have common lingustic roots with English (cognates?).

He does Spanish ones as well, and several other languages. Don’t expect it to give you any more than a basic appreciation of the language but I did feel like I was up and running quickly.

Slight hijack but having checked out ShibbOleth’s link I must say that is one hell of a syrup on M Thomas. Now that he’s gone I wonder if Beavis is going to ask for it back.

Yeah, that’s one of the reasons I brought it up. I hadn’t realized what an “amazing” person he was (allegedly) until I heard the piece on NPR. His biographer says that all of the stuff he is supposed to have done was highly documented. It’s either that or a huge Walter Mitty-esque fantasy life the guy lived.

I just listened to one or two of the initial Spanish CDs. That’s the only Spanish training I’ve ever had, although I also lived a good portion of my life in Florida, which has a lot of Spanish language influences, plus travelled for work a bit to South America and Spain before I ever tried to really learn Spanish. It gave me enough of a construct to at least be partly understood by some of my non-English speaking employees. If I can find it for free I’d be interested to listen to the whole series, particularly as I have a 40 minute or so commute each way every day, plus can spend a lot of time just driving around the area for work.

I should clarify by saying that the “syrup” reference was pointing out his horrible toupee. (Rhyming slang “syrup” = “syrup of figs” = “wig”)

But yes, the website’s biog was incredibly flattering and, what’s more, they don’t seem to have realised that he is dead yet. On the Contact Michel page you can still sign up to have a course taught by him personally. Could be interesting…

To return to the original topic, the BBC website is offering free language courses at

Okay, Cockney rhyming slang is bad enough when it uses references that I understand. Since I’ve never before heard “syrup of figs” that one was off the charts. Britneys and Bristols I get. As for the piece, it did look like some sort of marmot had taken up residence on his head.