What Tools Are Available to Help With Learning a New Language?

rocketspanishLearning a new language can prove challenging if the right tools are not available. However, not all tools meet the needs of learners in specific situations. Before worrying about learning tools, look carefully at all the different learning options offered to make sure you select the one best suited to your learning style. Tools that work well as supplements for audio courses, for example, may not be ideal for individuals using Rosetta Stone or some other computer-based learning system. While some mixing and matching may work, examine the different options before purchasing anything.

Traditional courses through a university or a tutoring service generally use a specific text or series of texts to guide learners through step-by-step processes designed to build skills in a logical order. The tools that go along with the text generally include written handouts and exercises designed to build written and oral skills. While some language learners thrive on this type of material, many do not. Other options, with other tools, are becoming more common to meet the needs of today’s learners.

Audio courses have also been around for many years. These courses generally focus more on spoken language. While they may offer a minimal amount of written material, the lessons are designed primarily to provide anyone with basic skills necessary to understand and communicate orally with native speakers. Audio courses work well for tourists, but do little to provide written skills. However, there are many written exercises that a learner could obtain to help with written language. The downside is that there is no real integration between the audio and written portions.

The most recent trend in learning a second language is based on computer programs. There are several different types of programs available to help meet a variety of learner needs. For those who need only a rudimentary knowledge, minimal computer-based programs can be easily obtained. For those who really want to develop a deeper grasp of a language, much more in-depth programs can be obtained. It is important that learners go over each offering before deciding on a program, as the learning methods differ sharply between programs like Rosetta Stone, Speak From Day 1 and Rocket Languages.

Any one learning technique may be lacking in materials to develop specific written or oral skills. Accessory materials are available to fill most learning gaps, but care must be taken to avoid frustration when using materials from different sources.

Remember Mad Cow Disease?

madcowRemember when mad cow disease was ravaging the world, causing panic and fear?  Well Britain was no stranger, according to this article from a 1990 issue of Science

“To change the whole structure of the feed industry here we want more evidence,” says Lonnie King, veterinarian and deputy administrator for veterinary services at the USDA. King concedes that the epidemiological evidence that BSE came from scrapie is “pretty compelling.” But those who worry about it infecting U.S. cattle, he says, make two unproven assumptions: that what happened in Britain to enable scrapie to jump from sheep to cattle will happen in the United States and that the scrapie agent is the same in Britain and America. He sees no reason for alarm and expects no change in U.S. policy until certain “data gaps” are plugged. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

While other countries ponder the public health implications of BSE, no country other than Britain has yet had to deal with a secondary epidemic related to the disease: public panic. In banning from human food any organs known to harbor BSE, the British government followed the advise of its scientists in trying to make an unlikely event – transmission of the scrapie agent to people – even less likely. But, instead of honestly reflecting scientific uncertainties, MAFF has always insisted that British beef is “completely safe.” Many Britons – including scientists advising MAFF – simply don’t believe that.

Daphne Barrett, a director of the London public relations company Infoplan, describes MAFF’s handling of BSE as “inept.” Barrett masterminded Perrier’s response to the benzene found in its bottled water, which “was never a risk to health…. But it was a risk to the brand.” Just so with BSE. “It may be a slight risk to human health,” says Barrett, but “it is a far greater risk to MAFF’s credibility.” She says MAFF should have responded more quickly and with more responsibility, informing people rather than nannying them.

At issue is public faith in government Scientist working with spongiform encephalopathies are disappointed, though not surprised, by the desire for certainty. “It’s difficult to explain to people that we don’t know some things,” says Savey. “If you are an optimist, you say the risks are so small they do not matter. If you are pessimist, you say we must act as if the risk were big. But it is not a scientific position.” Scrapie has existed in sheep for at least 200 years without spreading to people or worrying consumers unduly. Its leap to cattle provoke panic. That response bothers the scientists.

“Nobody worries about scrapie, so I don’t see why we should worry about BSE,” says Michel Brahic at the Pasteur Institute. He pauses. “Or maybe we should. If we worry about BSE then we should worry about scrapie. There is a lack of logic.”


Cherfas, Jeremy. “Mad cow disease: uncertainty rules.” Science 249.4976 (1990): 1492+.