Fluenz Spanish 1+2 Windows, Next-Generation Spanish Language Learning Software
I had high school Spanish more than 50 years ago, but never managed to say anything more complicated than "Where's the bathroom?". I've averaged one lesson per day for the past 19 days since receiving Fluenz and last night ordered, commented on and paid for an entire meal - in Spanish - at a Mexican restaurant.
Fluenz is a little different from other language programs I've read about: There is no formal vocabulary building, no verb conjugation or memorization, no rote anything. Typically, one lesson will concentrate on one scenario: shopping, airports, restaurants, etc. Real world situations. Dialogue will be exchanged between two participants, then your personal tutor, Sonia, will dissect everything. Following Sonia's explanations will be exercises wherein you type responses, match columns of phrases and sentences, and record dialogue (as a conversational participant) into your microphone. It's pretty much effortless if you're willing to put in the time.
Sonia is perfect for the job of tutor; she is personable, accent-free in English and is a native speaker of Spanish.
The screen organization is tasteful and focused; the "beat" music, which I find distracting, can be toggled off.
There is one mis-cue: Some of the columns of Spanish sentences do not match completely their English equivalents. I first regarded this as a minor flaw, but eventually became annoyed that these mistakes had not been caught before finalyzing the program.
Although a microphone is recommended, its use is of marginal importance and whether or not you have one shouldn't be a deciding consideration for or against this program.
If there is one caveat here, it's the importance of being able to touch type accurately and speedily. Although you can toggle off the requirements for correct Spanish punctuation marks, the program does not allow spelling errors. I'm a reasonably fast typist and am typically able to complete a session in something like an hour and a half. I can easily picture a slower typist requiring two and a half hours to do the same work.
Further notes: The spoken portion of the sessions becomes more and more rapid-fire, just as it is spoken by native speakers. I have a substantial hearing loss, and though I am certain that more acute hearing would make it easier to comprehend, even students with normal hearing will find it a challenge to understand some of what some of the conversationalists say (I have my favorite speakers and also those I wish weren't in the dialogues. That, though, is what the real world offers, also.) I do use a high quality set of earphones for the lessons, and with them I am able to comprehend everything, even if it means sometimes having to have a sentence repeated. This is itself a handy program feature.
An on-screen resource, WORDS, provides a nominal sampling of Spanish-English translations keyed to the current lesson. I purchased a good Spanish-English dictionary to supplement it because the program version has so few words and because it does not contain clues to accenting syllables. A good number of written dictionaries have no accent guides, either, so be careful with your selection. Also, if you buy a dictionary be certain both the accenting and the translations themselves are appropriate for the country/region you are interested in.
November 25, 2008
P.S.: Several months have passed since I wrote this review. I took a weeklong trip to South America after working about halfway through the second disk. Thanks to Fluenz I was able to make myself understood in every situation including airports, taxis, shopping and an extended stay at an estancia in Argentina. Unhappily, because of my hearing disability, I was rarely able to understand what was spoken TO me. This in no way reflects badly on Fluenz. I was repeatedly complimented (by my hosts and a party of guests from Costa Rica) on my vocabulary. If there is any final comment here it is that carefully listening to a lesson on good earphones is not the same as dealing with real people in a noisy world.