Daily Archives: 19 April, 2008

How to learn a language – are any of the commercial products worth the money?

Phrasebooks (jay.tong flickr)There are some things we here at Oz Traveller are implacably in favour of – extended drinking hours and nylon-wool blend jumpers. To this list you can, as of five minutes ago, add language learning. After all travel and language learning go together like budget carriers and exhorbatant overweight baggage fees.

But where the hell do you begin? There are some fantastic resources available to teach you a foreign language – all you need is the motivation and time(!) In this post I’ll give my completely unabashed views on a few of the commercial options going around, but soon I’ll do a series of posts on my real love – free online resources for language learning.


The prince of audio language teaching

PimsleurPrice: Around USD$200 per lesson level containing 30 1/2 hour lessons. Up to three levels available per language.

The set up: Audio-based system which is fantastic at teaching even the most stubborn mind the basics of a language – the phrases get in your head. Major languages have three levels which should get close to an intermediate stage. You don’t have to learn grammar – you’ll soak it up.

Cons: It turns out you do actually have to learn grammar, at least beyond the simplest rules. Vocabulary gets less useful in the final level – I mean ‘My niece is studying a professional training course; what the hell IS a professional training course? Even all three levels will only teach 500-600 words, enough to get around but a LONG way from fluency. But the biggest drawback – it’s excessively priced. Try ransacking your local library for a copy.

Michel Thomas

Michel ThomasThe eccentric German with an outrageous accent cajoles and berates you into learning a foreign language

Price: USD$25-50 per level with 3 levels available per language.

The set up: another audio series, Thomas, a German who made a fortune tutoring in foreign languages in LA. His thick, impossible to place, accent and crackpot delivery provides interest despite relatively dry material. He teaches basic grammar in an uncomplicated manner and then suggests you guess the vocabulary – ‘if you are not understood’, he often jokes, ‘think of it as “net-ball” and have another serve’. Comparatively, reasonably priced.

Cons: Shorter than Pimsleur and with much less reptition. At times Thomas sounds like a dodgy hypnotherapist – ‘just relax, here the teacher is responsible for the learning, not the student’. Not all levels provide transcipts, but they are available online.

The Rosetta Stone

Rosetta StoneBecause learning a language is like playing Snap!

Price: Around USD$450 for three levels

Software program which requires the user to match phrases, written and aural, with the appropriate picture. Claims to immerse you completely in the target language – there is no English. Containing a range of speaking, listening and reading exercises, the system is particularly effective at teaching nouns and adjectives. It’s fun – a useful computer game.

Cons: While the new version 3 is an improvement the software is still far from perfect. There is a new emphasis on useful questions and more conversational material (as opposed to version 2 which memorably taught phrases like “the boy is under the plane”), but it is still much more effective at teaching nouns and adjectives. Version 3 relies heavily on multiple choice but often only two or three options are presented and the answer is frequently too obvious to make the exercise useful. When the program introduces new phrases it can occasionally be difficult (at least initally) to decipher what the new material means (i.e. is the man beside the car or getting into the car). Because it teaches exclusively in the target language there are no explanations of grammar. Price, the cost represents a huge amount of money if the system doesn’t leave you feeling fluent.


Mango Languages

Languages 2.0

Price: From USD$15 per month to USD$110 per course for an annual subscription.

Online language learning site. Sentences are broken down into phrases with are colour-coded and then drilled individually. The sentance is then tested and later revised. It’s quite a good system, covering quite a few languages (Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, French, German, Italian, Greek, Russian, Mandarin Chinese) with 100 lessons for each language. Mango LanguagesFirst fifty lessons of every lesson are available free with registration – very useful if you want to learn the basics of a number of languages.

Cons: Now a pay service. One hundred lessons are only enough the teach a tiny fraction of any language. I found it excellent for revision but I never had any faith the site on its own could teach a language in any meaningful sense. The pricing model is extremely expensive for a revision tool. If only they could find an advertiser supported model I’d love them. Lots.

Other Options

I’ve had a look at Routledge’s Colloquial series, Teach Yourself and Living Languages Ultimate Series all of which package a text designed for self-tution with a CD (or in older versions/more obscure languages cassette) containing some of the dialogue from the textbook. I marginally prefer Living Languages Ultimate Series – because it provides long passages of recorded audio – but it is available in much fewer languages than the other two series. I haven’t had the chance to use any of them extensively enough to give further feedback.

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[Photo jay.tong via Flickr]

Loose Change – A round-up of recent travel tips from around the web (19th of April)

Travel Tips of the Week

Tony Robinson’s Ten best train trips in BritainWestern Highlands Railway

Tony Robinson – Baldrick in Blackadder, host of Time Team, History’s Worst Jobs amongst many other great TV gigs – is a man in whom I live in awe. A train-nut, he shared his 10 favorite rail journeys in Britain with the Telegraph. A welcome reminder that Britain, despite it’s frequently disparaged rail services, has some of the most evocative (and most overlooked) rail journeys in the world. Is there anything this man cannot do?


‘Don’t hesitate, vaccinate’! Stress less about malaria and worry more about dehydration. Give those anti-malarials a run before you leave to roadtest side-effects. All this and more in MSNBC’s10 health pitfalls to avoid while travelling.

Vertigo Bar, Bangkok

Forbes Traveller counts down its list of the world’s sexiest rooftop bars. Because alcohol and great heights really do mix.

Luxury trains – who needs em? The Man in Seat 61 explains how the journeys on five luxury trains can be replicated on regular services for a fraction of the price.

MSNBC’s 5 common ticket screw-ups travellers make’ could be summed up in one: ‘don’t be stupid’. Read these tips and be stupid in your own original ways.

Get all zen with Bravenewtraveler which reckons travelling solo can teach you ten things about yourself. One thing it can occaisionally teach is how much you miss home, but Vaggabonding has five tips for dealing with homesickness. When you do head home, whether out of choice or necessity, bravenewtraveler has some tips for reconnecting with friends when you get home.

Luxury biking tours? I remain unconvinced by MSNBC claims to have tracked down ten of the best.Vespa

Betta getta Vespa – Rome by Vespa is one of the Guardian’s five best quirky city tours.

Free stuff always catches my eye and The Broke Vacationer has no less than 100 ways to get free stuff while travelling.

I spy with my little eye five games to pass the time while travelling at Vagabondish.


Reading Body in Motion’s 10 Things You Should Know Before Coming to Africa will guarantee you suffer no culture shock when arriving at Lagos airport. Okay, it may help. A little bit.

The Americas

Discover your inner Mickey – Fodor’s has 15 Tips for enjoying Disney at any age and Smartertravel will help you get around Disney World. The Telegraph has some budget (well sub £140 a night) hotel advice, while you’re there here are some New York recommendations from National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel.

Canada means Hockey and World Hum has some interesting and useful cultural background for neophytes (like me) interested in checking out a game.


The Crancky Flier gives the run-down on Heathrow’s new T5: would you be surprised if phrases such as ‘poor customer service’, ‘Someone tried to get way too clever’. ‘stupid’ and ‘Indifferent’ featured prominently? If not the conclusion ‘adequate but nothing more’ might even come as a pleasent surprise.

‘For a low-cost airline, AirBerlin’s service was very pleasant and efficient’ – Europestring.com enjoys a trip on German cheapie Air Berlin.

Even more free stuff to do in London from National Geographic and Europcheapo, while two contributors to The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget suggest Prague and Naples for Euro cheap eats and Belgrade for the best value nightlife in an interview with Budget Travel

Ian Walsh from the New York Times, recommends walking Rome by night. The article is accompanied with a map of a suggested route from Piazza Venezia to Lago Argentia with embedded audio commentry. HighCultureLowBudget’s regular ‘Ask A Local’ feature is off to Firenze this week with Florentine Katie who can make 10 euro go a long way.

The Guardian has posted an audio guide tracing the May 1968 Paris student protests, while the Flyaway Weblog suggests twenty ways to explore Paris like a local.

The Times has an extensive guide to Vilinus and The Chicago Tribune has some tips for Athens.


BoracayLet’s Go Phillipines lists some budget hotel options in Boracay.

Budget Travel will get you started if you’re planning a trip to China, and The Telegraph has a feature on Beijing; ‘it’s grim to look at and as grey as a Mao suit, its climate is generally awful, it’s built on the most inhuman scale imaginable…’. Arthur Frommer writes that Ctrip is the only place to purchase tickets to or in China.

Flaway has some brief recommendations for eating cheaply and well in Phuket and Khao Lak. Shopping in Bangkok? I didn’t know such a thing existed. Travelling Blogger set me right. Mike Smith meets mummified monk of Khao Samui.

VietnaminFocus tackles when to visit Vietnam. August to March comes a close second to anytime, while Vietnam Travel Focus suggests beating the heat in Hanoi at The Army Hotel where you can hang out at around a rather nice looking pool for USD$4 for the day.

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Royal Brunei Deals from Sydney to Asia unti 31st of May

Royal Brunei has some decent deals ex Sydney to many Asian destinations until 31st of May, its last day of service to Australa.



One-Way Fare Starting From

Return Fare Starting From



AUD 254

AUD 395

Kota Kinabalu

AUD 276

AUD 452


AUD 276

AUD 462


AUD 350

AUD 550

Kuala Lumpur

AUD 350

AUD 551


AUD 362

AUD 569


AUD 362

AUD 544


AUD 362

AUD 544


AUD 362

AUD 544


AUD 362

AUD 544


AUD 395

AUD 637

Via OzBargain

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