Transparent Languagues

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Catch Phrase
“Really learn a language!”

The Background
Transparent Language claims to have a large scholastic and government presence, with a clientele of more than 12,000 schools and universities, not to mention the Foreign Service Institute and the Defense Language Institute. Its classroom pedigree shows, and not always for the good.

The Approach
So you want to teach a language, and you have the full power of: a) the personal computer; and b) the Internet. What’s the logical thing to do with all that power at you fingertips? Make electronic versions of flashcards! Oh, that wasn’t your first choice? How about a textbook that “opens” when you click on it (and throw in a virtual blackboard for good measure). At least, that’s what the designers of this mess figured, because they know how fond we all are of learning a language from flashcards and textbooks! Okay, so there are lots of other features – word unscramble games, crosswords, and audio (poor quality, even scratchy on the CD version), and it does allow you to record your own voice and compare the waveform to the native speaker’s (a common and IMO useless feature) but did anyone at Transparent actually try to learn a language from this hodgepodge? When all is said and done, it’s simply another phrase memorization product, and not a very effective one at that.

You start out each lesson by studying the individual words for the lesson on their “Byki” flash cards (which you can download to a smartphone or tablet if you're an online subscriber), then you go to the virtual textbook where you can see and hear the words used in phrases. In other sections you reinforce what you’ve learned with word games and dialogs, but it all has a rather cheap, disorganized, and unsatisfying feel, especially compared to some of the slicker products like Rosetta and Fluenz. (The online subscription version has been spiffied up considerably.) Some the useful stuff, like noting that there are two ways to say “you,” are not part of the lessons at all, but are found in the “Reference” section.

As far as the audio goes, as bad as it is on the CD version, I will say that Transparent is the only product that allows you to compare the your “fricatives” against a native speaker’s, whatever the heck that it. They may be in 12,000 schools, but I imagine the product is used as a classroom adjunct activity than for self-study. There is some good here, especially in the online version; namely the emphasis of hearing French, but without speech recognition you may find yourself doing more typing than you'd like, even when you're speaking.

With flash cards at the ready, this product should be known as "vocabulary R us." Not as extensive as their competitors', but focused on the right words and organized by theme.

Hot New Feature
Online subscription with smartphone flashcards

The Skinny

  • Pros
    1. You will hear lots of French
    2. Reasonable price for CD version
    3. Online classes available (for a fee)
    4. 6-month return policy (which you may well want to exercise)
  • Cons
    1. Flash cards? Why bother with a computer?
    2. CD version looks (and sounds) dated
    3. Word- and phrase-memorization approach without any explanations (inferred or otherwise)
  • Available languages: More than 30 languages
  • Cost: $89.95 for Premium edition (10 units); Online subscription $149.95 for 6 months; $199.95 for 12 months
  • Verdict: Not recommended
Other Reviews

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