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Good simple software, good variety of learning techniques, but terrible accompanying audio CDs
on 19 September 2011
I'd used the first version of Berlitz's Learning System before with other languages- the software remains the same, only the language you're learning changes. In this pack you get the updated version 2, and the language 'books' (data packs) for both Mandarian and Japanese, along with one audio CD for each. I find the fact that both languages have been bundled together a little bit confusing, as you learn them as entirely different languages- you could use this pack to teach yourself Chinese without learning a single word of Japanese, or vice versa.
Unlike other reviewers, I had no problem at all installing the software (on a Windows Vista 64-bit system), it worked first time. The hundreds of phrase learning MP3s dropped straight into my iTunes, all properly ID3-tagged, labelled and iPod-ready. All the language data gets installed on your hard drive- so conveniently you don't have to insert the DVD-ROM every time you use it, but if your hard drive is quite full you might find yourself a bit short of space.
The interactive interface is good. It's a clear and quite colourful point-and-click approach which even quite young children would be able to find their way around no problem. The main bulk of the teaching process is based on flashcards and simple learning by repetition at the beginning, but as you advance through the language (I concentrated on Mandarin) the software gets more advanced to match, such as interactive line-by-line videos, and allowing you to record your own speaking exercises (microphone required). Since version 1 of the software, Berlitz have added a much wider variety of games, such as crosswords, "Vocabulous!" (which word is missing?) games, and the slightly odd screensaver-like "Word Whirl". The increase in variety and challenge is a big improvement over version 1, and the Mandarin and Japanese 'books' are well thought-out.
On the down side, the two American audio CDs that are bundled in are both, frankly, poor. The Mandarin one is passable but the Japanese one is the worst I've ever heard. After introductions which claim that memorising phrases is not the right way to learn, they proceed to bombard you with learning by rote, at full speed, without care and attention to the learning process. Some of the 'memory bridges' suggested in the Japanese book are so bad they're hilarious. Here are two genuine examples:
- "when you want to apologise to someone, you can ask them to sue you. But you have to get them to sue you all the way to the end; the moss end. Drop the 'D' from 'end' and say 'sue-me-moss-en'"
- "to ask 'how are you?' in Japanese, ask again for the key to someone's feelings; substitute the 'O' sound for the 'A' sound in 'again', then imagine you are asking someone who is sitting at a desk saying 'ahh'. This will help you remember: ogen-key-desk-ahh."
Um... what? Perhaps some people revel in learning foreign phrases in such a convoluted and confusing way, but for me it doesn't work at all. On top of it all the Japanese disc is badly edited, with accidental repetition of partial phrases and some audio glitches on top.
I'd recommend the Berlitz software as straightforward, well-planned and deservedly popular, but the accompanying audio CDs are a let-down.