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How to choose the right product for you

Most people think of language products as being “good” or “bad.” In fact, language-teaching products come in a variety of flavors. Before purchasing a product, you should understand how the products vary so that you can buy the one that’s right for you.

Language products vary in not only what they teach you, but also what they demand from you. If you pick a product that demands more from you than you can offer, the product will not be effective.

Knowledge, Discipline, Skill

As anyone knows, Chinese 1 must be learned before Chinese 2. What you learned in Chinese 1 is knowledge.

As most people know, language studies require not only a lot of time, but regular time. Scheduling 30 minutes each day for a couple months is discipline.

Anyone can read a dictionary. But it takes skill to memorize a hundred words a day. The ability to retain and use knowledge from a set of lessons is skill.

Every language lesson requires differing amounts of knowledge, discipline and skill. For example, a dictionary may be a useful product for learners who have a fair amount of grammatical knowledge, reasonable discipline, and a lot of memorization skill.

Phrases, Vocabulary, Fluency

If you can greet, thank, apologize, and order food in a foreign language you have phrases.

If you can translate every word in the dictionary to a foreign language, you have vocabulary.

If you can say what you want, when you want, without thinking about it, you have fluency.

Each of these concepts is independent. A person who has vocabulary but no fluency will be unable to speak a complete sentence. A person who has fluency but little vocabulary will make long explanative sentences. For instance, a fluent person who has not learned the word “rainbow” may say: “look there, when the light comes through the water it makes many beautiful colors.”

Every language product places different priorities on each of these goals. A typical “phrasebook” for instance, teaches only phrases. A dictionary teaches only vocabulary. Most conventional full courses teach a combination of phrases, fluency, and vocabulary, often with a stronger emphasis on vocabulary than fluency.

How many hours of audio do you need?

Some programs offer forty-five hours of audio, while others offer eight. Sometimes, the programs that offer forty-five hours actually teach less material than the ones that offer eight.

The reason for this relates to skill.

A good eight-hour fast pace course may expect the student to read an accompanying text book and memorize the vocabulary by themself, then use the CD to listen to the dialog and do the audio exercises, and finally go back to the text book for the written exercises.

A poorly designed eight-hour fast pace course may expect the user to repeatedly pause and skip back in the CD until they are comfortable with the material. When all is accounted for, the student has spent at least hundreds of hours to learn the material, if he has the skill and discipline to learn it at all.

On the other hand, a forty-five hour course may move at a leisurely pace, requiring no skill on the part of the student. The student need only use the course daily, and his skills will develop naturally.