Language Anxiety

Andre Cramblit andrekar at NCIDC.ORG
Tue Apr 5 19:20:42 UTC 2005

Language anxiety? Try immersion therapy

Thursday, March 31, 2005 Updated at 9:35 AM EST
New York Times News Service

Technology has not yet produced an effortless way to learn another
language, but it can lend a helping hand.

Advancements in multimedia and the growth of the Internet have led to an
assortment of language tools that can complement academic studies or
enable studying on your own schedule.

Software options offer a variety of technological features and
instructional materials, and can range from straightforward
drill-oriented tools to interactive programs with speech recognition
and 750 hours of learning. On-line offerings can range from free
self-tutoring websites to live virtual classrooms with instructors for
groups or individual instruction.

The options also have different philosophies behind their teaching
methods, enabling users to choose a delivery mode best suited to their
style of learning. Some choices can be expensive, though, so
understanding what a program promises to teach and the features it
offers can be worth some initial research.

A program called Rosetta Stone (, from Fairfield
Language Technologies, based in Harrisonburg, Va., offers study
software that uses an immersion technique. The program strives to
replicate the way children learn their native language; all of the
instruction is in the foreign language, and nothing written or spoken
is translated to English.

To emulate this childhood learning process, the program displays a
series of photographs combined with audio and text. For example, at the
beginning of the first lesson of German, the user is presented with four
photographs along with the text and spoken words of "ein Hund." The user
must then select the photograph of ein Hund, or a dog, to advance to the
next screen.

As you advance through the screens, each displaying four photographs
from which to choose the correct response, the materials become more
complex, building on what was previously learned. By the final screen
of Lesson 1, you are asked to choose the correct photo for phrases like
"ein Junge in einem Flugzeug, " or a boy in an airplane.

A critical element in the Rosetta Stone approach is deductive reasoning.
Through an intentional juxtaposition of the photographs that encourages
you to discern the correct response, often through a process of
elimination, you are developing deductive reasoning skills that can be
transferred to real life situations, according to the company, enabling
you to think and learn on your feet.

"For us, that skill, the skill of learning how to learn language, is
probably the most important thing we do, because ultimately it is the
skill you need when you finally get away from the computer," said Duane
M. Sider, director of training and marketing for Fairfield Language.

For example, while you may not understand every word when you hear
someone speaking the language you are learning, Sider said, you can
start with what you do know, then add clues from facial expressions,
body gestures and your surroundings.

"You begin to deduce the meaning," Sider said. "Since you are doing that
at every screen on Rosetta Stone, it is a skill we feel is crucial to
develop and reinforce as you move along."

Rosetta Stone has other features and is available for 28 languages, from
Arabic to Welsh, and runs on PCs and Macs. Prices vary depending upon
the level offered for a particular language ($195 U.S. for Level 1;
$225 for Level 2; and $329 for Levels 1 and 2 combined, are some
examples). On-line versions are available on a subscription basis.

LanguageNow!, software from Transparent Language (,
based in Nashua, N.H., takes a different approach. The program's
objectives are to provide fast access to reference materials and to
make learning enjoyable.

"You learn a language, or frankly anything, by having frequent
successful experiences in that language," said Charles McGonagle, a
vice-president and general manager at Transparent Language. "We provide
all the help reference right on the screen. When you come to a word you
don't know, you can just look down and see the translation of it."

In one of its main features, the program plays video with
native-speaking actors acting out scenes in the foreign language, while
at the bottom of the screen the dialogue is displayed in the foreign
language and in English. This is useful for beginners; you can pause on
a word to explore its meaning and hear it pronounced by native speakers.
You can also pause on a sentence and replay it to translate each word or
to listen to it in the native language as many times as you need to
understand the concepts being taught.

In the Italian version of the software, for example, the characters in
the video, Gabriella and Piero, are travelling through Italy to gather
information to publish a travel guide. At times people they encounter
may speak quickly for beginners to understand; having the option to
pause over those sentences, to break them down word by word, is useful.

There are also ways to practice speaking the language. Using a
microphone, you can play the parts of characters in the video, then
replay your lines to hear how you sound. The program has grammar
reference materials and includes quizzes and games like crossword
puzzles, fill-in-the-blank and unscramble. The pricing for
LanguageNow!, available for 16 languages, is $40 for most languages,
including French, Russian and Spanish; $90 for others like Irish Gaelic
and Portuguese; and $130 for Latin and Arabic.

Tell Me More, a program from Auralog (, based in France,
takes another approach. The premium version of the software ($195)
includes three CD-ROMs with instructional material, a headset with a
microphone and 750 hours of instruction. The program uses speech
recognition as a central teaching tool. For example, in one section the
user listens to questions and must speak answers to continue.

There is also a sentence pronunciation section. You can practice
speaking sentences and compare the results against native speakers, and
the program highlights mispronounced words. And in a section of phonetic
exercises, the program demonstrates how to pronounce sounds by using 3-D
animations of lip and mouth movements and analyzes your pronunciation.

Another program, called Instant Immersion, from Topics Entertainment
(, based in Renton, Wash., offers many languages and
several types of programs.

Options are available for children as well. Transparent's KidSpeak ($30)
offers lessons in French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.
JumpStart Spanish ($18), from Knowledge Adventure (, is
another option for children.

websites with free lessons are plentiful. A free site offered by Barbara
Nelson, an assistant professor at Colby College in Maine,
( has interactive lessons for
Spanish that include audio, video and exercises. Many of the lessons
provide immediate feedback , Nelson said, which is one advantage
technology has over textbooks. A list of free and commercial on-line
resources is at

For on-line instruction with teachers, Berlitz, the language teaching
company, offers a distance-learning option for 32 languages called
Berlitz Virtual Classroom ( The teaching method
is the same as in conventional Berlitz classes, an immersion technique,
and users can learn in groups or have individual lessons with a Berlitz

The on-line instruction employs Web conferencing software from
Interwise; a student speaks and listens through a computer, writes on a
shared whiteboard and can record the lessons. Videoconferencing is not a
part of the program (neither the teacher nor the other students are
visible). The cost for the group classes is $799 for 10 sessions (2
hours 15 minutes each). For individual instruction the cost is $1,975
for 18 sessions (90 minutes each).

Sifting through such an array of language-learning tools can seem
daunting. One rule of thumb, according to Jessamine Cooke-Plagwitz,
assistant professor of German at Northern Illinois University, is to
look for options that cover the four main language modes: listening,
speaking, writing and reading. "Most of them do not work on all four
areas," said Cooke-Plagwitz, who is working on a book about
technology-enhanced language learning. "But the best ones do."

Cooke-Plagwitz also says programs that include video of native speakers
carry an added benefit. "You can read a lot just by the way a person
moves their hands, or their facial expressions," she said. "There is a
lot more comprehension that can go on if you can actually see somebody
speaking your target language."

Translation tools

An assortment of language translation tools is available for people
studying languages and for travellers, options that run on computers
and also on hand-held devices like Pocket PCs and iPods.

Google ( offers a free Web-based option
to translate text and website content. You can insert text from
applications like word-processing programs to translate content from
many languages to English and vice versa. You can also translate the
text of a website by typing in the address.

Mac users will find a translation tool inside Sherlock. Called
Translation, the feature can translate text among many languages and is
powered by Systran (, a provider of translation
products. Sherlock is located in Applications in Mac OS X.

Desktop translation software is also available. A program from Babylon
(, called Babylon-Pro ($49.50), and one from Transparent
Language (, called EasyTranslator ($49.95), include
many translation features.

Mobile software is available for devices that run the Pocket PC and Palm
operating systems, and also for iPods and cellphones.

MobiLearn's Talking Phrasebook (, for Pocket PC devices,
translates common phrases for travelers using audio. Talking Panda's
iLingo ( runs on iPods, and Ectaco ( offers
solutions software for Pocket PC's, Palm OS devices and cellphones.
Additional products can be found at

[note: some text is missing in the original article.  pcc]

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