Transparent Language – Learn Italian Now review

and other languages, for that matter
Photo of Transparent Language – Learn Italian Now

Once you reach the age of 12 or so, learning a new language becomes progressively harder. Various techniques have been employed to help make the process easier, including audio and video tapes and structured evening classes, but usually the most effective method is simply to go and live in the relevant country for a few months and force yourself to learn.

But if that’s a bit extreme (Italy in summer? Doesn’t sound too extreme to us…), then this piece of software offers a practical alternative. It uses the tried and tested method of dumping you in at the deep end – real conversation – without messing around with grammar rules and construction first. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s how we learn our first language, so it makes sense. After all, we start using verbs, nouns and adjectives years before we understand their classification.

What you get in this package, then, is a selection of videos built around the theme of two people who are creating a travel guide to Italy. The videos show them travelling around the country, talking to each other and to other people. The transcript of their conversations is shown underneath the video window and there’s a translation below this. You can skip forwards and backwards, repeat sections of the passage, concentrate on the meanings of individual words and phrases and so on. The acting’s not great but the conversation is mildly amusing at times.

While you investigate these videos, you’re picking up knowledge about the language. That’s the idea, anyway, and it seems to work. Words start to stick in your mind after an hour or so, although it’s a long way from recognising a few words to full sentence construction. That will take much longer, and to get to that stage you will have to understand clauses, tenses and the practicalities of sentence construction. Learn Italian Now does include this information, but many of the language’s nuances, especially exceptions to the masculine / feminine / singular / plural rules will only come with experience and practice.

As well as watching the videos, you have the chance to practice your pronunciation using a microphone. The software will show how accurately you can repeat words as they’re pronounced by a native speaker. There’s also a selection of games and puzzles based on language (the scoring system for these is a little strange), plus a multi-lingual word-processor in the box. And, once you’ve progressed far enough, you can take part in virtual conversations, playing the part of one of the participants in the videos.

If there’s a drawback to this kind of learning compared with actually being there, it’s that you miss out on the social aspects of language; much of Italian conversation is conducted with the hands. But with a bit of effort and a fair amount of time, you should at least be able to find your hotel room, take a taxi to the restaurant and order beer and pizza. Mi piace pizza…

Company: Transparent Language

Contact: 020 8805 1000

This is cheaper than most 'tape and book' language courses and arguably it's as least as effective. But the one thing that's not supplied is dedication, which you'll need if you're going to learn any new language. Don't expect to be able to speak fluent Italian (or Spanish, French, German, Swedish, etc. - there are loads of other languages available) within a week, but a couple of months of hard graft should make your next holiday a little more enjoyable.