“ Editor: Inc. Berlitz International / Genre: Languages „
The Berlitz group are well known for their language schools, phrase books and learn-at-home language packs, and have been well established for many years. The pack I borrowed from the library was originally conceived in 1970 though this edition was produced in 1997. Spanish doesnt change, but lifestyles do, so be prepared for some phrases last heard in the good old days BZ (before Zoë), and of course lots of reference to the large numbers formerly needed when calculating prices in pesetas, no longer a necessity thanks to the launch of the Euro. The language pack comes neatly contained in a plastic snap-shut box, and includes three things:
1. A phase book
This is the same Spanish phrase book you can buy on its own in shops (priced at £4.99), and includes over 1200 phrases for any situation. These are colour coded into sections on basic expressions, hotels, eating out, sightseeing, shopping, banking and sending mail, seeing a doctor and more. In between the vocab there are lots of English explanations and reference is made to life in Spain, so you know to expect siestas, for example, and not to wear shorts or backless dresses when visiting a church. Useful stuff.
The phrase book is sold on both sides of the Atlantic so includes English and American terms, plus of course their Spanish equivalents. Theres also a pronunciation guide although I didnt tend to use it since Im not bad at reading Spanish aloud, and can usually manage most simple texts, even if Ive no idea what they say. Plus, the way they tell you to pronounce something never seems right to me is it really grahthyahss? That sounds more like something youd get if you sit down in your garden in white jeans (boom boom).
You could not complain that this phrase book is lacking in detail, and in my opinion, if anything theres too much information. In the shopping section, for example, youre taught how to buy clothes. The sizes are included (how Continental and American/British compare for example) and then youre told about fabrics. Do you fancy a suit or top in camel hair, corduroy, denim, felt, lace, leather, linen or taffeta? You can find the words here. How about terrycloth, tulle, tweed or velvet? Again, all here. Or do you fancy cambric, gabardine, pique or poplin? I dont know what any of those are in English, but I know now how to request them in Spanish. The same goes for food anyone for quince paste, or goose barnacles? Basically anything you wish to order, along with many things you never would, can be found in this book.
The only annoying thing about the books structure is the way the order in which languages are presented varies from page to page, sometimes Spanish-English and sometimes English-Spanish. Not a big issue, but I dont understand why they bothered mixing it up, and it can get confusing if you dont know either word (as per our cambric garments above).
2. An audio course
This is 90 minutes long and includes all the basics for getting by in a Spanish speaking destination. Essentially, it is a summary of the phrase book, picking out only the most frequently used phrases (no mauve and beige tarten crepe panty girdles here!)
The tape is interactive but that means nothing more than you have paid for them to record numerous silent points in each conversation where you get to fill in your bit. This is slightly problematic because, technology being what it is, theres no voice recognition built in to the system. Now I didnt expect there to be really, but the way theyve designed it, it would certainly be of benefit since they ask you to start a conversation and then wait for a pre-programmed response. Unfortunately if youve deviated even slightly from what you have just learnt, the responses you get from the tape during your chat just dont make any sense. Need an example?
Now you start a conversation
Learner: (short pause for you to start speaking)
Tape: a double room or a single room?
Learner: (short pause for you to respond)
Tape: with bathroom or shower?
See what I mean? If you had already begun to generate language at step one (the key to language learning being exactly that, generation, not parrot fashion repetition), you might have started the conversation with:
I would like a double room with bath and a sea view for 2 nights, please
making the rest of the conversation redundant. You learn what is expected of you after a few tries, but it seems to me it would have been simpler to skip these bits all together, especially since they dont (a) then tell you what you should have said or (b) correct any mistakes you make.
Something I did like about the tape, however, especially when compared to other courses, was their use of real live Spaniards. In the learning-and-repeating part of each section, you are introduced to words and phrases with one of the speakers saying it slowly, and then again at normal speech speed. Having the pronunciation and swiftness youre likely to encounter when trying to speak Spanish abroad just seems so sensible to me, but is lacking in some courses.
Its not a word Ive heard in a long time, but Manchester libraries seem to think thats what the final insert in this pack is. Unfortunately it was a bit mucky and dog-eared, and looked suspiciously like a set of verb tables, so I gave it a wide berth while I explored the other two items. It was only after listening to the tape once and realising I could really do with some transcripts that I realised what it was there for: it includes all the Spanish spoken on the tape, plus the corresponding English translation, in the order you hear it. Surprisingly not all audio packs include this, so it is a definite bonus if, like me, you prefer a well rounded approach to language learning and want to be able to read and write as well as speak and listen.
<><> Verdict on the language pack as a whole <><>
Although its not the most swish or unique pack out there, I quite like the Berlitz approach to learning presented here. I think the phrase book and cassette complement each other well, as you can learn the basics at home and then take the book with you for a top-up while away, or to learn extra vocab you may need (if you need the phrase where can I find an English speaking Rabbi with a temple in a fortress for example). The transcripts of the cassette dialogues are a definite bonus, and I like the sensible way the tape teaches you things you actually need to be able to say when holidaying abroad, unlike Mr Michael Thomas.
I like the way you dont learn bad Spanish (by listening to students on the tape make mistakes and be corrected) and the lack of repetition on the cassette its only 90 mins long so they try to pack a lot in, and if you do need to hear something again you can always replay a bit.
This product is available in cassette and CD versions and I would recommend the latter if you choose to buy simply because it is easier to skip back a track than it it is to rewind to just the right point. Prices range from about £10 - £15, available in all major bookshops and online.
* recognise the Friends episode quote?
This cassette and phrase book pack is designed for both business and leisure travellers. The audio cassette, recorded by native Spanish speakers, explores, reviews and reinforces the phrases, dialogues and vocabulary of the text. The book contains 1200 words and phrases.