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Arguably the Best Computer-Based German Learning Program Out There...Here's Why...
on April 27, 2013
Prior to coming across Fluenz, I have been using, at one time or another, the following language-learning software programs to learn how to speak, read, and write German: Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, and Rocket German.
This program wins hands-down over its competition. Why do I believe this? Read on!
Unlike Rosetta Stone, whereby you are essentially using glorified flash cards to assemble sentences that will do little for you in your day to day dealings [I.e. "The cats are large", "The sky is blue"], with Fluenz, you are actually learning usable phrases and terms. In time, you see patterns amongst the sentences and can form you own. Yes, you will learn a LOT of vocabulary words from Rosetta Stone, but no sense of sentence structure, usage of the German noun articles and how they are applied and when.
Pimsleur, to some extent, helps you detect patterns in sentences as well, but good luck on those articles I mention [i.e. den, das, die, der, etc..] In Pimsleur's case, you are left to your own devices, for the most part, on why certain words are placed where in the sentence. This is a BIG deal when using the German language, and cannot be overstated. They will give you a crumb every now and then, but Pimsleur is counting on you to discover the patterns on your own, without understanding the WHY.
Rocket Languages gives you a dialogue scenario, and dissects it for you, line by line. You are to repeat the phrases [provided you pause the program - as the instructors speak very very fast] and for the most part, again left to your own devices to figure out the nuances.
Fluenz, on the other hand, uses a more personable approach. The lessons are provided in a video format, followed by intense exercises called workouts. Do these two or three times, and you are likely to have all the material down pat. Another nice thing is that Fluenz [like Rosetta Stone] reinforces the material in different formats [i.e. written, spoken, visual and audio], but in a manner that reinforces the key points of the lesson that was in the video. Key points are not necessarily focused on new terms [although you DO get to learn new words with each lesson], but most important, the nuances that are so important to understand in order to effectively speak, read, and write German.
Ease of Learning:
Rosetta Stone, with their flash card approach, in my opinion, is pretty easy, but gets pretty boring pretty quickly. Not being able to apply your new found words in a practical situation makes it pretty tedious and works against you.
Pimsleur arguably gives you a lot of bang for the buck, but the hardest to learn from, especially if you do not thrive on audio-based instruction. You will learn many words and phrases in a relatively short amount of time. The program is ingenious, to an extent, but given that it is strictly an audio program, with no visual cues, nothing anecdotal to enhance your enjoyment, it can be downright tedious at times. I really had to drag myself up so get myself through Pimsleur I, II, and III. I'm glad that I did it, but it was really a test of wills at times.
Rocket German is probably the most humorous of all four, peppered with tongue-in-cheek humor. And having a written transcript of the lesson was very helpful. Arguably, it may be the simplest to learn from amongst the others, but then again, if you cannot establish patterns in the dialogue in which to build upon, what's the use? Again, you are merely memorizing and translating dialogue, without necessarily understanding the sentence structure. There is supplemental material on their webpage to accompany said lessons [and somewhat helpful at that]. But this is the core of their program - memorization.
The Fluenz program was relatively easy to adapt to, as they use a linear format and each lesson builds upon what you have learned previously [like Pimsleur]. But the personable approach, via video, as well as the workouts makes it easier for you to learn the German language.
Fluenz is not without its issues. It has been said that one's strength can also be its weakness, and in the case of Fluenz, one may say that this applies as well. Should a video have had errors in it [i.e. mispronunciation], you will know right off the bat, because there are little gaps here and there. In the case of the German instructor, she butchers some English words as well as she clearly reads off cue-cards.
For me, like another reviewer echoed, this is not a deal-breaker. I can still tell what the instructor is trying to convey, and the lessons are excellent in themselves. You can tell a lot of time and effort was put into the instructional portion of the lessons. Besides, she speaks far better English than I do German, no doubt about it. I would rather have the video lessons forsake clean production in the interest of accuracy, and these guys strive for it.
Second, it really would be nice for Fluenz to develop a smaller, downsized version of their program for a portable device, such as the iPad. True, they do provide you with podcasts and flashcards, but they are not as effective or convenient as the Rosetta Stone offerings.
But one has to remember that this is a relatively small company, with limited resources, and the main product is what you are going for.
Finally, some will be off put by the cost of the program, on par with Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur. But in hindsight, had I known this was around at the time I purchased Rosetta Stone, I would have saved my money and bought Fluenz instead. Pimsleur is effective in its own right [again, if you thrive in an audio-only based environment], but pretty costly for just audio files. Rocket Languages is the cheapest of the lot, far cheaper, in fact, but again, basically memorizing dialogue and getting a chuckle or two in between.
For myself, Fluenz's program makes learning German [as much as it can be!] actually fun to learn, while providing you with a solid foundation on how the language is used properly. I found myself plowing through the lessons, as I couldn't wait to go onto the next one after completing the previous one. A program that can generate that level of enthusiasm only makes it easier to learn from.
I hope you found the above helpful. If you have any questions, I will check the comments section from time to time.