Monthly Archives: August 2009

Rosetta Stone: the method behind the hype, a spelling bee with a twist, and Hillary’s Congo adventure

rsThis week, the rise and rise of Rosetta Stone. With big government contracts and a huge advertising campaign, Rosetta Stone is now America‘s #1 language teacher. It offers software-based language teaching programs in 31 languages (their assumption — perhaps well-founded — is that British English and American English are distinct languages, as are Castillian Spanish and Latin American Spanish). The company went public earlier this year, so with the money raised from that, expect to see and hear plenty more of its advertising.

If you learn the Rosetta Stone way, you’ll absorb a language the way an infant does. Well, that’s the theory. Can you really turn back the clock and re-create the conditions of babyhood and infancy on adults who already speak one or more languages?  Rosetta Stone says you can in certain key ways. ichineseThis infant method means that you learn through images and conversation, not grammar and translated vocab lists. Not everyone agrees, including many classroom-based language schools. The advice from Georgetown linguistics professor Alison Mackey is to use Rosetta Stone as one tool among many. And these days, there are plenty of tools out there. Me, I’m learning Chinese right now. I take classes at a small institute in Boston’s Chinatown, and I supplement that with podcasts. I’m struggling badly with Chinese characters, so I’ll probably download this iPhone app.

spellAlso in this week’s cast, non-native English speakers from around the world take part in an English spelling bee in New York. The backers of this competition, seemingly without irony, have christened it a “SpellEvent.” Not a word you’ll find in the dictionary. We hear from the winner and from other competitors.  Finally, a note on Hillary Clinton‘s not-so-lost-in-translation moment in Kinshasa, Congo.

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New rhetoric on Israeli settlements, an international libary of children’s books, and faux French in France

settlersIn this week’s podcast, Israel’s Likud-led government tries out some new words to describe its West Bank settlement program. One particularly explosive term that some Israeli politicians are now using is the German word “judenfrei.” It means– literally– Jew-free. The argument goes like this: the West Bank should never be allowed to be judenfrei. Therefore, Israel should not withdraw its settlements. “Judenfrei” was first used by the Nazis to designate a part of Europe that would be free of Jews. The fact that some Israeli politicians are reviving the term can’t help but recall the Nazi usage, and so it associates Palestinians with the Nazis’ extreme anti-semitism. Our report looks at this and other rhetorical attempts in past decades to justify Israel’s expansion into Palestinian territory.

Next, a conversation with the University of Arizona’s Kathy Short, who oversees a collection of children’s books from around the world. She says that in recent years American publishers have taken a second look at foreign books, even if sometimes in the translations, they become so Americanized that they cease to be, well, foreign. Here’s a gorgeously illustrated book from China that Short talks about in our interview.

culottes2Finally, an update on Brooklyn’s finest fake French band, Les Sans Culottes. (That’s  singer Kit Kat Le Noir above) After more than a decade together, the band is finally performing in France.

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