In the Bag: Language Learning Systems

Your fantasy is finally coming true. Not only have you made it to Nafplio, a romantic Venetian town on the Peloponnese peninsula of Greece, but now the hot bartender at the Palamidi Café is giving you eyes over ouzo cocktails. He whispers something and slides a napkin over. It’s a request for a date, but you’ll never know – just looks like Greek to you!

Avoid this unfortunate scenario before you go by brushing up on your foreign language skills. BN has reviewed a number of options on the market so you can get primed for succeeding in the purpose of your travel – whether it’s becoming fluent for a job relocation, getting around easily, getting to know locals or having a foreign fling.

Rosetta Stone

We’ve all seen the commercials boasting it’s the top language learning system (with a top-shelf price to match), so BN jumped at the chance to review the course. There’s no doubt about it, Rosetta Stone is the motherload of interactive language learning, with one caveat – we’d recommend it for those looking to really delve in and become fluent in a language, not the casual traveler looking to learn a few key phrases (especially if you’re learning a language with a new alphabet, like Russian). The total immersion technique the software uses mimics the way we naturally learned our first language using visual and aural cues to increase comprehension and offering reading, writing and speech recognition exercises. The first courses will be mostly pronunciation and seemingly random vocabulary words (like girl, boy, car, apple), though they are set in an amazing interactive format that makes learning almost feel like a game. That’s the true plus of this system – it’s highly addictive and using it is fun and rewarding. If the cost of the system is a deterrent, they offer less expensive but temporary online versions where you can access the same materials found on the software.

Oxford’s Take Off In…

Oxford’s Take Off In… language learning kits are compact little courses that come with four CDs and a course book. The course is a good pick if you’re looking to learn fundamental words to make your trip easier because the first chapters deal with restaurants, food and drink and accomodations, reservations and transportation. If you want to go further you’ll continue to learn more about grammar and conversational phrases, but if you don’t, you’ll have the basics you need for more convenient communication abroad. Tests at the end of each section and a full mp3 version of the course is available to make studying on the go a breeze. The course book is small enough so that you could easily pop it in your carry-on for reference along the way, you’ll have access to online interactive material and the price is beyond reasonable.
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Auralog’s Tell Me More Performance Edition

This software program claims to be comparable to Rosetta Stone – and it is, with interactive content, speech recognition and in price. Tell Me More starts with more dialogue than Rosetta Stone though, and could make it more efficient for quick learning of key phrases than its competitor. While not as polished looking as Rosetta, it offers an online advisor, and immersion in culture and language through 10 hours of video. Users can also play a character in a role playing exercise.


Livemocha was launched in September of 2007 as a web-based interactive language learning community. Through the site, you can practice reading, writing, speaking and listening skills in a number of languages with interactive content similar to expensive competitors. There are two amazing features – the site has users from 190 countries, so you can practice your skills with native speakers through video chat, and the site is totally free to use.

Instant Translation

If you’ll be toting your laptop or can access these sites with a cell phone, they can save you when you’re in a translation bind:

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