Three Cool Tools for Learning a Language

PHOTO: Travel in a foreign country need not be difficult if you take the time to learn some of the native language first.

Even if Macaulay Culkin had made it to Paris with his family in "Home Alone" those many years ago, his cheek slapping and eye rolls would only have gotten him so far.

Travel in a foreign country requires a certain level of commitment to communicate in the common tongue. According to the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State, a new language's difficulty can be determined by a variety of factors, such as how closely the language resembles one's own, how complex the language is, how much time is devoted to learning and one's motivation.

For native English speakers, closely related languages such as French, Spanish or even Norwegian can take 22 to 23 weeks to achieve proficiency. The time required increases for more complex languages, such as Arabic or Japanese.

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But what if you're just looking to order a meal, hail a cab or make chitchat? The good news is that there are myriad ways to learn a language these days, making it easier for even the most reluctant linguists or time-pressed among us to rally. Here are three tools to try.

Pimsleur Language Programs For 50 Years, the self-instruction method established by Paul Pimsleur has helped people learn how to speak a foreign language. Through listening to and repeating lessons that are downloadable via MP3 or on CD, students quickly learn how to organize sentences using a base of common conversational words. A companion book, "How to Learn a Foreign Language" provides tips for perfect pronunciation and body language cues to anticipate outside the U.S. Available in 50 languages, the Pimsleur school is very comprehensive.

Mango Premiere If you love movies, you can now combine that pasttime with learning a new language. Mango Premiere is a new extension of the online language resource that allows students to absorb words, culture, pronunciation and grammar while watching popular films in their chosen language. Currently, six films are available, including "Kung Fu Dunk." But the company will be adding 20 more by the end of the year.

WayGo With roughly 1.2 billion native speakers, Chinese is one of the most compelling languages to learn. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most difficult because of the use of tonals in the spoken word and complex characters required in the written form. If you don't have time to immerse yourself in study before a trip to the Great Wall, a new app can make at least some of your travel more fluid: WayGo translates Chinese characters into English text by using image recognition, finding the relevant corresponding text and then creating sensible phrases. Just pass the viewfinder of your mobile device over the characters you need to read and a translated version will appear on the screen. The best part? It doesn't even require an Internet connection.

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