Category Archives: Resources

Reviews of online resources for language learning.

Brief Review of “Take Off In Spanish”

I thought I would share my thoughts on some of the language books I have bought over the years, starting today with Take off in Spanish.

While I have always liked the Teach Yourself series for its comprehensive teaching, the sad fact is that these books are expensive – in South Africa at least – and I have never been able to afford one with the audio. Needless to say, the Colloquial series is way beyond my budget. Which is why I was so pleased to discover the Take off in series – the whole pack cost less than a Teach Yourself paperback, if I recall correctly.

The pack consists of a book, 5 audio CDs, plus a little bonus book with lists of vocab divided by topic with example sentences. I believe the audio could also be downloaded.

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I must admit, it has been a while since I bought and used the book. I also don’t think I finished it, and I do intend to go back to it when I get back to Spanish.
But I will say it was a book I was happy with. One of my pain points with Teach Yourself is that it is actually quite a steep learning curve. You really need to have time to sit down and work through even just the dialogue at the beginning of each chapter, never mind the rest of it. A major plus point for this Take off in Spanish book is that it’s broken into bite-sized chunks. Every two-page spread is a self-contained section. So if you work full day and can only manage a short study session at the end of each day, it works well for that.

It includes little dialogues with audio, short grammar points with examples, reading comprehension, and listening comprehension. So I think it’s a decent all-rounder.

I have included a few pictures of sample pages from the books, because I hate to buy language learning books without seeing sample pages. It helps me get a sense of whether or not I would enjoy learning from the book. I hope this helps if you are looking for a book to learn a language. I would recommend it.


Why I’m taking a break from Vietnamese

I recently posted a video of myself speaking Vietnamese. These few sentences came after quite a fair amount of time. And now I feel like I am going nowhere slowly. There are a few reasons for this. 

Firstly, Vietnamese is a language that is vastly different from other languages I have studied. So I’m finding it quite difficult to retain vocabulary. Secondly, I don’t have a lot of time for learning in the evening, and at the moment an additional burden on my time is that I am nursing my very old pet rat who cannot do too much for himself anymore. Sadly, in a month or so he may not be around any longer, but for now it’s an added pressure on my schedule as well as being a bit emotionally draining at times. The third problem is that I am currently only learning from Duolingo. I’m trying to maximise what I get out of it by writing down the sentences. But here’s where the time issue comes in: I am only getting through one or two lessons per evening and I am finding it a slog with not much to show for it.

The good news: I made the decision to buy a Vietnamese book to learn from, along with some other Asian language resources, with some a virtual currency I get through my bank’s rewards program. It will probably be a few weeks though before I have these in hand though. I think having a book will allow me to see things at a glance and hopefully speed up my progress a little. Whereas Duolingo is pretty linear. I think the two resources would probably complement each other.

But until then, I want to enjoy my language learning. So I am going to pursue a language I think is fairly easy (I am already part-way through the Duolingo tree), and which I am also really keen to learn: Swedish. I am going to use Duolingo, the FSI course text, and a website I just discovered which looks great:

I will still continue reading the Italian novel I mentioned. But my Kanji learning was pretty much already starting to take a back seat to the Vietnamese, and I am ordering a Japanese book as well in the same batch, so I will put that aside for this month too.

So, a brief Swedish interlude… I am looking forward to it. I hope I don’t forget too much Vietnamese. But I think once I am a bit better equipped with resources, I will be able to make better use of my time and progress faster.

Beginning the new year with Korean

Well, it has been a long time since I last posted here. It’s been one of those ‘figure out the meaning of my life’ breaks – a life-long thought process to be sure – but I might be ready to do a bit of blogging again.

Over the christmas holidays, I dabbled a bit in Chinese and Korean, and I think I would like to focus on those two and work more on my patchy Japanese knowledge this year. I hope I can continue to focus on that goal and not have my head turned by the next language that walks by.

Inevitably, it turns out that finding a truly awesome free resource was what got me excited about Korean and so now I am focusing on that first and keeping the Chinese for later…

TalkToMeInKorean is just fantastic. The lessons take the form of an audio file with an accompanying pdf. The people who present it do so in a fun, engaging way (to be honest their reparté reminds me a bit of two deejays who do the afternoon show on a local radio station in my city), the lessons are short and digestible, and I feel they give a nice amount of vocabulary along with the grammatical concepts. They also say sentences slowly as well as at normal talking speed. These are my impressions after completing level one of the lessons.

There is a dialogue based on level 1’s lessons, so I am taking a break from doing more lessons this week to try and review and memorise everything I’ve learned in level one – then I will listen to the dialogue and hopefully understand it! Wish me luck.

TTMIK meosisseoyo!


I am beginning to struggle with this Nablopomo thing. Today I am not even in the mood for blogging. Heh. But Maliki is worth blogging about.  Maliki is a french webcomic. The art is really good. For the most part, I can’t really tell you what it is about. I don’t understand french (particularly colloquial french) that well. But there are cats. And some odd characters.

I do check it out every now and then and try to read through a comic. But for the most part, I don’t really know what’s going on. But some of the strips, where the joke is more visual, are very enjoyable.

I see the website looks a bit different at the moment, and seems to have some reference to manga. I’m ashamed to say I have no idea what that is about. My only hope is that your french is better than mine and you can appreciate this gorgeous web comic better than I can.

No word on the job yet. If I don’t hear by tomorrow, I think I will begin to lose hope.

Online Newspapers

It is quite common today to be able to get up to date on international news without buying a single newspaper. I am not trying to suggest that anybody buying newspapers should stop doing so. But chances are, you cannot buy much in the way of foreign newspapers anyway.

Reading newspapers in foreign languages really is good practice. The language of the news seldom gets too complex, so while you may have to look up many words, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about weird and wonderful tenses.

You can find online newspapers from anywhere in the world at this site. Just select a country from one of the drop-down boxes and go for it.

Meanwhile, I had a job interview this morning. The job is at a bookstore (heaven). It went pretty well I think. Now I just have to wait and hope they choose me! Please please let them choose me.

The Japanese Page

Just a short (or shorter than usual) post today. Today’s resource is The Japanese Page. This is a community website for people learning Japanese. There is a variety of lessons, cultural information, and of course the community.

I started teaching myself Japanese a while back, but then I stopped after a while. I’m not sure why, I was probably too busy. Of course, I generally practise my language knowledge by reading, and Japanese is difficult to read if you don’t know the Kanji. They have a syllabic alphabet writing system consisting of about 50 characters (if I remember correctly) – actually there are two versions of this same set of syllables, which basically just doubles the number of characters you have to learn, but they use the different versions for different purposes.

Then there is the Kanji, which is the same as the chinese characters – each of them has a specific meaning and there are thousands of them. Unfortunately, Japanese combines the two systems of writing. The Kanji character is used for the root of a word, and modifiers are added in Kana (the syllabic system).

I am speaking from my limited knowledge, but I do know that even in manga you will come across plenty of Kanji. If you are going to tackle the Kanji, good on you! Ganbatte! In fact, they have downloads of lists of Kanji by level based on the standard testing system – as far as I know ‘level 4’ is where you start and ‘level 1’ is the top.

The Japanese Page is not a structured system of lessons; as I said, it is community based, so I would use it as an additional resource to a structured course. As such, it seems very interesting and useful.

A Good Online Dictionary

Online translations can be dodgy. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend it. Even trying to find the meaning of a foreign word online can be difficult, depending on what site you go to. If you come across a verb you don’t know (and don’t realise it’s a verb), you might type it in all unconjugated and goodness knows what you get back, if anything.

I’m sure there are quite a few good references for the popular european languages, though. I’m just recommending one I have found, which works quite well – Their main dictionary languages are French, Italian, Spanish, German and Russian, but they do seem to have support for further languages. I have mainly used it for the romance languages.

When it comes to the languages with different alphabets, you may have a problem. With Greek and Russian, you could still go the long, painful route of ‘inserting characters’ in MS Word and the copy-pasting to your browser, but what about Korean and Japanese? I really would not know.

However, what I have seen of this site, from my use of it with Italian & French, is pretty impressive.  It knows a conjugation when it sees one, and can generally provide you with a conjugation table for the verb. It also gives many usages of a word in context. So, as far as I’m concerned, this is a solid, useable online dictionary that won’t leave you more confused than when you started.