Monday, October 12, 2009

That's All She Wrote

Class 30 (the final class) has come and gone. I didn't know what to expect from the final review class, but it didn't disappoint. Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish was able to seamlessly touch on all of the highlights of the course from reflexive verbs, to food vocabulary, to slang. They even found time to introduce some new vocabulary about airports - all of this built upon the framework of David and Jimena's last conversation. Their carefree discussion quickly evolved into a bit of role-reversal with the newly-single Jimena doing everything in her passive power to woo David. It was a made-for-tv soap opera at its best, ending with a cliffhanger that attempts to give the listener another reason to buy the next level of Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish. After some less than stellar classes, the folks at Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish again did what they do best - providing a storyline that makes learning buckets of new vocabulary anything but monotonous.

Now that I have completed the full Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish course, I feel that I have quite a bit of perspective to compare it to Rosetta Stone. Overall, I think that, for the money, Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish is a better deal for those traveling to Argentina and/or for those looking to master the basics of conversational Spanish in a short time. The biggest advantage Rosetta Stone has over Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish is its interactive nature. A active learner may not be engaged enough in Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish to reap all of it's benefits, but this must be balanced with the mind-numbingly monotonous and seemingly infinite material of Rosetta Stone.

Throw out Rosetta Stone's voice recognition system - it's a waste of time and money. Remember though, that the lower price of Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish only gets you through the present tense, with a hint of the future tense, whereas the pricier Rosetta Stone includes it all.

The bottom line is that, with either program, the key is practice. You need to find a way of using your Spanish on a daily basis to reinforce what is taught in the classes - there aren't any programs out there besides private tutoring that provide this. Get out there, make mistakes, live outside of your comfort zone, and you will see your Spanish improve by leaps and bounds. Now if I could just practice what I preach...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Redemption Song

For all that I have complained over the past few days about Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish dropping the ball with regards to introducing new material, I was happy to see them redeem themselves with today's class (#29). No, they did not introduce a new verb tense, but they did fill the class with new verbs and vocabulary. The general theme of the class was travelling, and we learned things from sea wildlife to pool accessories. Words like antiparras (goggles) and malla (bathing suit - woman's?) will, at the very least, come in handy when I bring my son to his weekly swim classes. We also learned about the different regions of Argentina and how to describe the geography.

I would also like to say a little more about the subject of my recent rants - verb tenses. What was redeeming about today's class was that it acknowledged and addressed the lack of the past tense, saying that it will be taught in the next level of classes. It would have been nice to know this up front (maybe a table of contents for example) though - appropriate expectations are often the key to a learner's happiness and fulfillment. Past tense or no past tense, I'm still not excusing the lack of content over the last few classes. I was nice to see Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish go out on a high note because I really have enjoyed the course.

One of my favorite parts of today's class was the discussion about meat, one of the staples of daily Argentine life. There was an interesting tutorial that covered how animals are called by different names when they are alive and when they are dead. For instance, a living fish is called pez but fish on your dinner plate is called pescado, and a sheep is oveja and lamb is cordero. All of my kids' farm animal books now make sense.

Although today was supposed to be the last "official" class, it sounds like there is one more "class" tomorrow in which we listen to another of David and Jimena's phone calls. And for those of you who care, Jimena revealed that she had been dumped by her boyfriend - David might just move in for the kill tomorrow.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Another Missed Opportunity

Streak continued - another class that came and went without more complicated verb tenses being taught. Today's class (class 28) dealt mainly with lodging vocabulary. Different types of lodging were discussed (hotel, hostel, inn, etc) as well as types of rooms a person can reserve (single, double, etc). David and Jimena attempted a bit of role playing to demonstrate how an interaction between a hotel manager and a disgruntled guest might play out. It touched on how to complain about your room in a polite manner but didn't really discuss anything new.

It seems as though Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish has gotten sucked into spending more time developing the storyline of David and Jimena than teaching conversational Spanish. Today's class played up the pseudo-jealousy Jimena has for David when it could have instead taught us about the past tense. The soap opera between the program's main characters has been a nice diversion at times throughout the course but should not be a substitute for content. Dense content interspersed with comic relief allows the listener to learn while having fun at the same time. Comedy without content can be obtained from much better media than language learning software.

Enough of my ranting. Let me tell you a little about the feedback I've been getting on my Spanish lately. I met with a new partner this week to practice my Spanish and got some really nice feedback. There are a still a lot of vocabulary I don't know and verb tenses I struggle with, but overall I am getting much more comfortable with what I know and am unafraid to attempt that which I don't know - learning a language comes much faster when this milestone/mindset is reached. Yesterday I travelled to Colonia, Uruguay with my family for a quick day trip. Using my Spanish I was able to navigate my way through renting a vehicle (souped-up golf cart), and even talking the rental car agent into giving us the special exception of dropping the cart off at a different rental location near our point of departure. The conversation actually went pretty smoothly, and made me happy with how my Spanish has progressed.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

This is the first class that left me not knowing what to write in my blog. I feel like Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish basically wasted a half-hour (the entire class), and at this point in the course with four classes left, it is disappointing. Over the past few weeks I felt like the classes really flowed together and built on one another, starting with basic conversational Spanish and slowly introducing more complex sentence structure and vocabulary. The last two classes, however, have been flops in my book. For all intents and purposes, we are still not formally out of the present tense, and are now covering very basic concepts that should have come much earlier in the course. I see classes 26 and 27 as real missed opportunities to hammer home previously taught concept taking me to the next level of Spanish conversation. One of the wonderful things about the Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish program is how quickly it ramps up the teaching, throwing you into conversations with a native speaker from class 1. It would have been nice to see this accelerated learning continue, but instead it has stagnated.

What was taught? Well, we learned vocabulary for bachelor parties and hangovers, and how to invite people to events (in a simple way). The only concept that had even a hint of complexity to it was when obligations were discussed - tenés que + infinitive (you have to...) and no tener que + infinitive (you don't have to...). The latter can also mean you mustn't depending on the context, which could lead to misunderstandings for a non-native speaker who may miss some of these subtleties. Good concept for week two, though, not week five.

I still have high hopes for the final three classes. Despite what I posted yesterday in today, the course has exceeded my expectations to this point and I hope it finished strong. I trying not to fall victim to the "what have you done for me lately" viewpoint.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pearls of Wisdom

The main theme of class 26 was around-the-home vocabulary: furniture, rooms, decorations, etc. Much of the vocabulary was already referred to in previous classes, but I did manage to learn the verb for turning on the TV (prender). The folks at Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish did manage to spice up this dry topic a bit by having David and Jimena admit to whether or not they had ever had sex on a particular item of furniture. Of course David beat the prude Jimena by a landslide (I'm assuming that, unlike golf, more is better in this game), however, she was a bit sheepish when discussing the bookcase - Hmmm, interesting.

There were also several digressions to discuss what I thought were terribly basic concepts for this point in the course: definite/indefinite articles, possessive pronouns, contractions. Again, these topics have been covered informally since the first class - taking time to cover them formally here seemed unnecessary.

The section on adverbs used to describe the placement of objects was quite useful and appropriate for class 26. There are still several that I need to think about before saying, so the review was much needed and helpful.

All-in-all a very lackluster class without much meat (unless you count the oysters).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Consider Your Mind Blown

I may be overstating this a bit but one of the concepts from class 25 totally blew my mind! It was the concept of the feminine noun having a masculine article - I know, crazy, huh? The general rule is that masculine nouns carry the article el while feminine nouns (usually ending in "a") carry the article la - pretty straightforward. Extrapolating from this, I always assumed that a noun that was preceded by an el was masculine and by a la feminine, regardless of whether or not the noun ended with an "a." For example, I assumed el agua (the water) was masculine and therefore would be paired with a masculine adjective like frío (cold). Today's class taught me that there are several feminine nouns that are paired with a masculine article because they start with an "a," such as agua (water), azúcar (sugar), and alma (soul). I know for certain that I've been saying el agua frío instead of el agua fría. Learning this was like discovering the world is really round after being convinced it is flat. My concentration was thrown off for the next several minutes so I don't remember much about what was presented after this segment.

My magical epiphany, however, wasn't the only thing overstated about class 25. If you remember, the teaser from the last class was that we were going to be learning some "hard-core verb tenses" - not so much. The "hard-core verb tense" we learned was the future using the structure ir (to go) + a + infinitive: "Voy a comprarlo (I am going to buy it)." This is a very simple was to express the future and did not teach any new conjugations. There is a unique future tense, however, I learned in today's class that it is not really used in Latin America. Given my preoccupation with conjugating verb tenses, this is something I would have like to have know much earlier in the course. Rosetta Stone has it's students practicing conjugating the future tense for weeks, and never mentions that it is not used in much of Latin America. I feel like there are several things like this that I spent a lot of time practicing with Rosetta Stone that are absolutely useless here in Buenos Aires. For the price of Rosetta Stone I would expect these details to be included. To expand on this concept of "what you get for your money" I've included the following comparison chart:

One other segment of the class really had me puzzled as well. There was a rapid-fire segment presenting Argentine sayings that don't directly translate to English (think "by the skin of my teeth" in English). The phrases were presented out of context in rapid succession without any time to digest the material. Even if there had been extra time to fully understand them, I think presenting isolated phrases that people learning a new language will likely never use is a complete waste of time, energy, and brain power. For my money, I would prefer to learn high-yield vocabulary that I will need on a daily basis. Weave some colloquial sayings into the dialogue but don't waste a whole segment on them.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Stalkers Exposed

We've finally reached the end of week four, therefore, class 24 was the standard end-of-the-week review. Don't be lulled to sleep though - Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish worked its usual magic by introducing many new concepts, even more than they generally do. In addition to reviewing por vs para and ser vs estar, we also learned how to express opinions. I learned some of the subtleties between creer (to believe) and paracer (to seem/opinion), and also learned how to say that I am in agreement with someone/something more formally.

Another thing that was particularly apparent today was that the speed of conversation has increased drastically. Jimena seems to be talking at the speed of the native speaker she is, and David's Spanish is improving enough for him to be holding his own. I found myself needing to read more of the dialogue as I was missing small details when only listening. It's nice to see the class kicked into another gear with one week left - they're kicking us out of the nest and telling us to fly.

Despite the abundance of teaching, Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish still found time to provide comic relief. The class started with Jimena telling David she was following her boyfriend through the mall to see if he was cheating on her. This was followed by David confessing to Jimena that he was trailing his mother in Mendoza to see how she was behaving with her new adolescent boyfriend. There were several times I actually found myself laughing out loud at the dialogue - kind of embarrassing, but I think this says a lot about how fun Bueno, entonces... Learn Spanish makes learning a new language.

I'm super-excited for tomorrow's class where we will supposedly be covering "hard-core verb tenses." I'm not sure what to expect judging from prior topics, but I hope we delve into the past and future.