on January 30, 2010
I went on a vacation to Costa Rica, and resolved to learn Spanish. I studied French in high school and college, and I enjoyed it for the most part. I've NEVER had an opportunity to actually use my French, as I've found that everyone who speaks French usually speaks English. So, I thought I would try to learn Spanish, and maybe I could actually use it.
I found a website which reviewed many Spanish Learning Software packages, and many of them are only PC compatible. The two highest rated Mac compatibles were Fluenz and Rosetta Stone, #2 & #3, respectively. I had seen the Rosetta Stone commercials ad nauseum, so I thought it would be a good starting point. The "no drills" and "no memorization" aspects sounded great, so RS was my starting point.
I started out with Rosetta Stone 1, 2, & 3. RS is a beautiful program, with lovely pictures, and an intuitive interface. There were many, many times when I was clueless as to what to do, so I would just click until I got it right. RS would sense this, and would present the material again until I scored 90% or better. However, there WERE times when I would figure out the answer through the process off elimination, without truly understanding what I was saying/doing. For example, "comprar": did it mean "to shop" or "to buy"? I couldn't tell. Also, the speech recognition on Rosetta Stone could prove to be very temperamental. There were some words, some ONE-SYLLABLE words, that RS simply couldn't accept. I would record them with my iPhone, and play it back into the microphone, and it STILL wouldn't work. These occasions were rare, but troublesome. There were multi-syllable words or phrases that I had to use the iPhone trick for. I could repeat it one hundred times into the microphone, and it would NEVER NEVER accept what I said. After a while, I felt like I was getting great practice on how to record phrases with my iPhone, but for learning Spanish, my progress was slow. Also, I wasn't learning anything practical for use as a tourist. I want to learn how to bargain a little bit: "I will give you fifty, OK?" I wasn't getting that with Rosetta Stone. I think I completed Disc 2 of RS. Again, it was good, but there were many things that I wasn't sure about.
I heard about Fluenz from that website, and decided to give it a try. I ordered 1+2+3+4+5. A bit ambitious, but, like anything, the unit price goes down when you buy in bulk. I just finished up the first disc, so I'm not at any kind of expert level, but I liked what I've seen so far. I feel like I've really nailed the present tense conjugations of the following words: To Be (both Estar and Ser), To Go (very useful for meatball future tense), To Want, To Need, To Eat, To Drink. These words will get a tourist through a great many situations.
Fluenz's approach is different than Rosetta Stone. They start with Sonia Gil giving an intro, then a simple conversation between two or more people. You can listen to it without subtitles, with Spanish subtitles, or with English and Spanish subtitles. You should listen to it three times, once with each subtitle option. Sonia comes back, and breaks down the dialog, explaining what each word means, and how they relate to each other. There are then various drills, many of which involve typing down what you hear. These are challenging, and fun for me. I pride myself on my spelling, and these can be hard but satisfying to complete.
Fluenz does NOT use voice-recognition, which simply and effectively eliminates the frustrations I had with RS. My accent may not be as polished as it might be with RS, but at least I'm not fretting about getting stuck on a certain passage, wondering if it is me or the computer that is at fault. However, Fluenz DOES make use of the microphone. The aforementioned conversations are repeated, with you taking the role of one of the characters. You say the line that is shown, and click 'stop', and the conversation continues. You then play back the conversation, so you can hear your own voice. At that point in the lesson, you can tell if your accent is crap or not. And this works for me. I want to be a tourist, not a Telemundo newscaster. If I can crack a joke in Spanish, and make a senorita laugh, then this whole language thing will have paid off.
One thing I've found to be kind of humorous: Sonia Gil is very attractive. Sometimes my mind goes blank, as I'm just staring at her face, and I miss what she said completely. Doh!
MacBook users: Both Rosetta Stone and Fluenz work beautifully with my 2009 MacBook. No external microphones needed. RS adjusts the sensitivity of the microphone automatically, Fluenz does not. You will have to go System Preferences/Sound to adjust it. Once you do, it is done. No problem.
I recommend Fluenz over Rosetta Stone, especially if you are an adult who wants to 'speak tourist'. Rosetta Stone is good, but the little snags proved to be frustrating for me. Fluenz is more real world oriented, with expressions like: "We are going to the store together, would you like to come?", whereas Rosetta Stone had expressions like: "The car is in front of the house" or "the dog wants meat"
The people at Fluenz are great as well. I ordered 1+2+3+4+5, but I only received 1+2+3. I contacted Amazon, who said "Because Fluenz's inventory is constantly changing, we can't replace items sold by them that are Fulfilled by Amazon." I could either return the whole thing, or they could refund part of the money. I let Fluenz know about this, and they promptly sent me the missing discs 4+5. So Fluenz's customer service is great. Over educated young college grads.
Follow Up: 5/17/10: I've been using Fluenz, off and on, (it's hard to remain focused), but to address my previous statement: "For example, "comprar": did it mean "to shop" or "to buy"? I couldn't tell. " Comprar means both "to shop for" and "to buy". Doh!
I trade comments with Sonia on Facebook, she's the best! Nothing wrong with Rosetta Stone, but Fluenz is the real deal, in my opinion.