Monday, April 26, 2010

Teach Yourself Complete...

This weekend, I picked up Teach Yourself Complete Italian. I'd been looking at the program for a while, and wondering if it would be better than the more recent Teach Yourself courses. So far, I'm moderately impressed.

In recent years, Teach Yourself courses have sat astride the past and present. They weren't as grammar focused as before, and the dialogs were meant to prepare you for real life. But the learning itself was only a step or two away from grammar-translation. What changed was the meaningfulness of what you were learning the old way, not how you learn.

With Teach Yourself Complete, it feels like some real strides have been made. There seems to be more emphasis on content and doing something with it and less emphasis on puzzling things out by means of vocabulary lists. What I like best, though, is that Teach Yourself Complete Italian feels like the kind of course that is meant to use CDs, not the kind for which they were thrown in as an afterthought. This means, in my view, that you shouldn't buy the text without the CDs. This point is made throughout the preface and introduction, by the way, which makes one wonder why they sell the text without the CDs at all.

If you take up the whole package - text plus CDs - and load the CDs on your iPod, you wind up with a fairly handy program for learning Italian 5-15 minutes at a time. If you're short of time, you can do one dialog. If you've got half an hour to kill, you can make it halfway through a chapter. In either case, you should start by listening, then turn to the book to make sure you've understood. In this way, for the first time, you can really use a Teach Yourself course to learn a language by ear while having a text as a fallback, instead of the other way around.

They're planning to roll out this course for Mandarin, Korean, Japanese and Russian in the fall. It looks as though Teach Yourself wants to offer a much cheaper but pretty good alternative to Living Language's Ultimate series. I'm just hoping it takes off enough that they'll upgrade some of their other exotics, starting with Turkish.

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