This afternoon I visited the Iranian market near my home, where I heard Farsi spoken. While there, I heard the butcher speaking Spanish; one shopper speaking Hebrew; another, Russian; and another, English. The checkout clerk conversed fluently in both Farsi and French. As I walked home, I passed two men speaking Hindi.
I live in a region where election ballots are printed in a dozen languages, including Vietnamese. My HMO offers translators in a half-dozen languages.
While waiting to check into a flight last week, I heard Polish the way my mother spoke it. A newspaper printer I once worked with spoke Ukrainian. The man behind me was speaking Hungarian, and as I inched my way forward I caught snatches of Norwegian, the language most of my friends' parents spoke back in North Dakota.
And every day I hear languages on the street that I can only guess. Korean is easy to figure out, as are Japanese and Chinese; but would I know Punjabi or Swahili?
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Now I can pick out those, too, thanks to an excellent program called 33 Languages Deluxe. A previous version came on 33 CDs; mercifully, this version (2.0) comes on one DVD.
Each language has multiple lessons and drills that cover basic words, phrases, numbers, body parts, telling time, shopping and food – things you need to get by in places where English isn't understood. As you navigate through the languages, two tutors appear on each side of the screen. They lip-sync the words and phrases and tell you in no uncertain terms when you get a word or phrase wrong.
As you learn words and phrases – spoken by natives – you can take either easy or hard tests, record your own feeble attempts at Swahili, and even load the tutorials on your iPod. Word lists can be printed out.
The languages on this DVD include Arabic, Bengali, Portuguese, Chinese, Dutch, English (for foreign speakers), Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Norwegian, Polish, Punjabi, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Thai, Tibetan, Ukrainian, Vietnamese and Zulu.
Words and phrases are displayed in the actual written language as they're spoken, but the emphasis here is on speaking. You're not going to be able to carry on a university-level conversation with these lessons, but you will learn how to get what you want, go where you need to go and see what you went all that way to see. And you'll have the satisfaction of picking out languages in airport lines and Persian markets.
The 33 Languages Deluxe 2.0 DVD will run on Windows Vista, XP and 2000 and Macintosh OS X 10.4 or higher. To order, send $29, plus $6 for shipping, to WashingtonCD, PO Box 351531, Los Angeles, CA 90035, or online at www.washingtoncd.net.