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October 22, 2015

Recommendations Thread

Anything you're doing or that you've bought that's worth mentioning, please mention.

I have two things. First, if you need a lap-pad, or "lap desk," sometimes they're called, I got the Logitech N550 with built-in speakers.

It works. It's only around $25. The speakers are about what you'd expect them to be, as they're built into a lap-pad. But they're better than computer speakers.

You just plug the USB cable into your laptop and they should work. (Um: sometimes you have to turn off a certain power-saving setting, which turns off power to USB devices when lower on power, in order to get them to work -- but it's not a defect with the device, you just have to go into your power saving settings and turn off "USB Selectivity Sensor" or something like that).

For $25, I'm pretty pleased.

Major Caveat: The $25 one is only for computers up to 13.3 inches or so. It says 14.1, but a computer that size will largely cover the speakers.

Anything bigger than that, it just won't fit.

If you're interested in a language, I'd get the Michel Thomas tapes (actually, now on CD's, of course). They're great. You pick things up quick.

He's a great teacher.

Here are few drawbacks, which I don't think are drawbacks, really, but, here they are:

1. It's expensive. Okay, this one really is a drawback. He divides his course into four parts, but really, you only need two. I think.

The four parts are Starter [French, or Spanish, or German, etc. -- he teaches a bunch], Total [Language], Perfect [Language], and Master [Language].

I think the "Starter" package is just a trial, and it's given a low price for a low buy-in, so you can sample it. But I imagine you could also skip it and just go to the "Total" level.

The two I imagine everyone needs are the "Total" package, for beginners, and the "Perfect" one, once you finish the other one.

I have heard bad things about the so-called "Master" level classes being a waste of money.

I got Perfect French and it was fantastic. A lot of drilling with some of the difficult bits of the language (pronoun placement, subjunctive mood).

Basically, his idea is to make you think about what to say, instead of just repeating stuff. He tells you the English, you supply the French. The fact that this is an active process (as opposed to passive repetition) makes it actually enjoyable.

You need the "Total" package for beginners, and when you're done with that, you go on to the Perfect. Again, not sure I'd bother with the "Master" level.

But even so, it's going to be $60 to $100 for the Total one (Spanish is cheap at $60, French is expensive at like $100), and then like $50 to $80 for the Perfect one (again, French is the most expensive... maybe it's the most popular? I don't know).

So it will be, for both parts, somewhere between $110 or so to $180 or so.

2. The CD's are short. He only provides about four and half or five hours of instruction on the Perfect French CD. I really wanted more. The packaging says something like "20 hours of instruction!," but only 4 1/2 or 5 hours are him; the other hours are some other instructor, who frankly isn't very fun to listen to. I don't know why -- it's the same basic technique. But I found the vocabulary-centered drilling to be boring and tedious, and precisely what I didn't like about learning a language.

The CDs he does, on the other hand, while short, are replayable. There's no way anyone's picking this up in one or even three goes, so you can (and in fact must) replay these guys four or five times. So it's not like you only get 4 1/2 or 5 hours of his instruction.

3. You must pause the CD after each prompt because they have not inserted any time for you to respond in. He is actually teaching two people, right in the room with him, who answer his prompts, and you they answer somewhat quickly -- so you really have to hit pause after each prompt to give yourself time to answer yourself.

On the French tape, the male student is pretty fast in answering. You'll never beat him.

This means you cannot use these tapes when driving, unfortunately.

4. His accent is not that good (though he knows how to speak French properly -- it's just that he's obviously a non-native speaker). He was a Hungarian Jew who taught himself a bunch of languages as a survival skill after WWII, so his accent is not native.

I don't think this is a big deal because anyone learning a language is going to hear the language from a lot of native speakers, too, and can adjust accent accordingly.

His gift is really breaking down how to learn a language, and demystify it, and cut through all the rules to just state the rules a simply as possible. In a lot of cases, he really cleared things up for me. There are rules in French which appear complicated for the order of pronouns in a sentence, when you use multiple object pronouns; he gives you three simple rules and takes care of 90% of it.

5. One more drawback, on that, is that some of his rules are really of that "90%" variety, and he either doesn't mention the other 10% or just glosses over with a sub-rule that sounds simple but is in fact hard to implement; but... I gotta say, for a learner, a slightly-incomplete rule which is correct 90% of the time but which is easily memorable and executable is ideal.

The other 10% of it is detail and nuance, which can be worked out later, as one progresses.

His 90% rules really give a learner what he needs: Confidence, and ease of application. Yes, as I was listening to him, I saw little things he was glossing over, but still, the scheme he presented was just so useful and empowering, I really can't hold it against him that he skimmed some complexities here and there.

Anyway, worth your money, if you're interested.

But, one caveat: I've only done one of these many, many packages. I assume his Total Spanish is as good as his Perfect French, but I'm not sure.

(But I should also point out that other polyglots recommend Michel Thomas and cite him as really, really gifted at breaking down a language into what you need to know to start speaking it.)

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posted by Ace at 08:01 PM

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