I don’t usually do a lot of ranting.
At least not publicly. I don’t really wish to be seen as an angsty person and most people stop listening when I start complaining.
That little empty disclaimer aside – I’ve been spending a while now checking out new (and old) language learning products, apps, software, and the like. Some of them are tons of fun, some of them are pretty horrible…
…but so far almost all of them really want to get me drunk.
If you’ve done the whole foreign language self-study program thing before you probably know what I’m talking about.
Thanks to The Pimsleur Approach and its like minded brethren, I can now order alcohol in more languages than I can ask for directions to the nearest restroom.
…Or count to ten.
Clearly our priorities are in order.
I know I was learning Russian at the time, but really, aren’t there more valuable things for me to be learning, even in Eastern Europe? Aren’t there any better Slavic stereotypes that we can feed?Asking how to order beer, or wine, (or vodka) is almost always one of the first things Pimsleur, or Rosetta Stone, or the vast majority of phrase books, online language games, or audio courses – think I need to know to survive in a foreign land.
This total lack of practical application is where most language products fall short of making my day – and I’m really not just talking about the alcohol thing but the seeming lack of all contemporary, real world application.
It’s difficult to stick with a language course, or whatever it is, when it doesn’t teach you things that you find applicable to yourself. You become bored, and lose interest. When you lose interest, things become hard, and then you stop.
That’s a problem.
The issue seems to be that many of these products and programs were created during a time when the majority of people interested in learning foreign languages were well paid, middle aged businessmen who had to occasionally fly overseas and attend “summits” or “conferences”.
They weren’t made for “global citizens” or students or expats or people who just want to learn a language and maybe never even visit the countries) in which they are spoken.
People’s reasons for learning languages vary dramatically, but I’m willing to bet that most of us aren’t just looking to get hammered in Copenhagen, sloshed in Bangkok or wasted in Rio.
Okay, maybe Rio.
Anyway, has anyone else noticed that major language programs seem to have this formulaic structure:
- I do/do not understand [insert language].
- How many children do you have, where is your wife, where do they live, and does your house have a white picket fence, a Jack Russell terrier and a church next door?
I understand that these language companies can’t create personalized learning experiences for everyone – that’s why we created flashcard apps and other cool things that don’t make me sad – but an up to date generic version of tried and true products wouldn’t go amiss and wouldn’t be exceptionally hard to make.
Just rearrange the priorities.
Knowing how to order a drink, and what to order, is an important part of traveling – especially in certain places where the culture is deeply tied to its food, its alcohol and the traditions surrounding them, but there’s no reason that these things can’t wait until I know my shapes, colors, numbers and understand time.
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