Rosetta Stone Language Software

A Little Latin, A Little History

Book Review:
Columbus' First Voyage
Latin Selections from Peter Martyr's De Orbe Novo

Constance Iacona and Edward George
Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers

Every junior Latinist knows that Gaul is divided in three parts. And every junior historian knows (we hope!) that "In 1492 / Columbus sailed the ocean blue." But there might be more to learn.

In the typical Latin class, one learns the Latin of the Golden Age - Ovid, Vergil, Cicero... What isn't so widely realized is that at different times, the language of that age was taken up again by men of learning and sophistication (or at least those who wanted to appear as such). This means that from time you'll find a writer from another era whose prose won't be that different from Caesar's. One such man is Peter Martyr, who just happened to be hanging around the Spanish court when Columbus went on his first expeditions. Martyr wrote back home to former senior associates and the letters were such a hit that they were distributed all over.

Were Martyr famous, it would be for the phrase "The New World." His "De Orbe Novo" is probably the first reference to the idea. But Martyr was not a starstruck fan of Columbus. He called 'em as he saw 'em, making for interesting reading as an intelligent observer gives one man's view of the living, breathing Cristopher Columbus, both from personal observation and based on chats with the Columbus' crew and numerous others.

In Columbus' First Voyage, the authors take a handful of excerpts from Martyr's writing, put in extensive glosses to help the beginning student along and include copious notes on what others were writing, as well as what the historical literature has turned up. What results is not quite a Latin primer and not quite histori(ographi)cal scholarship, but a mix of the two that should remind high school and college students - and other readers of Latin - that they have special tools for approaching and understanding the past that others might lack and that are worth developing.

Columbus' First Voyage is not a comprehensive look at Martyr, Columbus or the implications of the discovery of "A New World." But it is an excellent starting point for those seeking an often overlooked perspective about the explorer - that of the people of his own time. In Columbus' First Voyage, less advanced students have a relatively authentic bit of prose to work through with interesting subject matter. But more than that, general readers with some Latin have a nicely assembled source book dealing with a historical matter often debated in 20th/21st century terms but rarely considered from the vantage point of those who lived through the period.

A Horace Workbook

Book Review:
A Horace Workbook

David J. Murphy and Ronnie Ancona
Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers

After fading from the general consciousness and disappearing from the standard curriculum, Latin is starting to make a comeback. However, for Latin to catch up, it's not enough to brush off the old grammar-translation textbooks from the days of old. At the same time, T(otal) P(hysical) R(esponse) is probably not going to become the mainstay of Latin instruction either. What will?

For introductory prose, there is some fairly good stuff on the market, notably the Oxford and Cambridge series. And if you're just looking for fun with Latin, the adventures of Paulus and Lucia in Teach Yourself Beginner's Latin are a delight. But...

The place where Latin has always gotten difficult is the poetry. Horace, Ovid and Vergil thought with declensions and even they, we presume, sometimes must have wondered where the phrase they were working on was going to end and whether it would fit together. With its theoretically flexible word order, Latin allowed the Roman poet to do wondrous things to pair concepts and make it work with the meter. But for the non-Roman Latin student, this makes life very difficult. Until now.

A Horace Workbook is exactly the sort of book I wish I had had when I was first starting to decipher Latin poetry. And again, when I was reading Horace in graduate school seminars. In the middle? I found the whole thing rather difficult and stuck to Catullus and Ovid's Metamorphoses, which are at least a little more transparent to the modern American reader. A Horace Workbook, however, has just about the right touch: it uses grammar and other exercises to help you understand the poem, not to test your mastery of minutia.

In a typical A Horace Workbook presentation, you are given the poem, followed by leading questions that make it easier to see how it fits together, as well as prompting the occasional a-ha where you might have otherwise missed what was going on. The whole thing is very user-friendly, taking you by the hand and leading you through the things you ought to notice before you start getting quizzed on them.

After the first exercise for each poem, there are a few activities meant to dovetail with what students need to be able to do for the AP exam or, in real life, to more fully appreciate Latin poetry at a time when the knowledge is there but the feeling isn't.

Finally, there is a section on scansion (for each poem) where the student can work on developing a Latin ear to go with the Latin brain. This may seem tedious to some, but we could rearrange word order to the language of choice for reading these poems if we were indifferent to the sound, to the voice, that brought them alive for their first readers and hearers. Scanning the poems lays the groundwork for bringing them alive and for understanding just what it is that makes the intricate part come together in sound, however jumbled it may look when diagrammed or parsed.

There are, of course, great books for capturing all the subtleties, all the nuances, that went with the glory that was Roman poetry. But they're above most of our heads. Unless you spend a lot of time wondering if there weren't more exciting ways to employ the ablative absolute or deeper, darker unheard implications in the use of future passive participles. In A Horace Workbook, we have a Latin poetry reader for the rest of us, helping to bring the Latin alive in an understandable and meaningful form. Anyone struggling in AP Latin, and, indeed, anybody who has struggled through Latin verse and wished they'd gotten more out of it, should give this workbook a look.


Dr. Blair's Magical Mystery CDs

Japanese and Mandarin

Dr. Blair's programs are based on the premise that you'll learn more and faster if the language you're learning is presented in an interesting context. To that end, Dr. Blair offers up scenarios in which you're in a foreign country when some cataclysmic event arises and a hero is needed to save the day. The hero is you. The problem is, you don't speak the language. But by working with a local helper, you pick up the snippets you need to get through a series of challenges until, before you know it, you're using the language on your own. already took a look at the Spanish version of this program. It was a quick and easy adventure, but Spanish is an easy language. The question was, can this be applied to more difficult - and more innately foreign - languages?

Running through the first disc of the Japanese program, it appears that the answer is yes, this does work for difficult languages too. It is definitely more challenging than Spanish, and you may need to repeat some of the exercises. Nonetheless, by the end of that first disc you'll be able to introduce yourself, make the barest of small talk, ask a few simple questions and even find the restroom! Two discs later, you may not be fluent, but you'll have a good headstart on using the language and be able to navigate any number of everyday situations.

Impressed by the Japanese program, I ordered the Chinese program through the local Borders. I was especially eager to see how the program dealt with a tonal language. Miraculously, the program arrived in two days. I say miraculously because it had been on back order since its release in March and had apparently only arrived at the regional warehouse a few weeks before. The copies the store had on order came in at the same time as the special order. So, how's the program? We don't know.

All five copies that the store received were defective. I know from waiting half an hour while the staff tried them on one of the store's players, just to make sure it wasn't my CD player that was the problem.

It is not clear whether Dr. Blair/Power-Glide sent out an entire run that was defective or how widespread the problem may be. But it appears that in a fair number of the Mandarin Chinese packages, disc one does not contain the actual tracks indicated on the program sheet, just an admonition to pop the disc in a CD-ROM drive. Where the actual content of disc one went is a mystery. will be contacting the company to find out what has happened and will let you know what we find out. At this time, unfortunately, we cannot offer a review, and based on the Borders experience, we're leery of going out hunting for a working copy or ordering online.

Bottom line: Dr. Blair's programs are well conceived and well executed from the point of view of educational methodology: they work. But weaknesses in the production and distribution channels make us wary of giving too enthusiastic a review. These things do happen, of course, but until the problem is taken care of, can't recommend purchasing the product in a venue where it can't be easily returned if defective. We hope this changes soon, as the Dr. Blair programs fill a real need and fill it well.


Update: The publisher, GildanMedia, writes:
[We are] aware on the defective CD#1. If you need a replacement, please forward me your address and within a week, we will send you a replacement.

The replacement arrived in just under a week and proved to be very similar to the program for Spanish, though the learning tricks are trickier since there are very few word connections to build on for English speakers learning Chinese. Still, for all-audio Mandarin, Dr. Blair's program is one of the better ones out there.

Seeing the light - 8 color words with memory tips

1. Color: color, couleur, colore
In Spanish, color is just color, but in French, colors are cooler - couleur. In Italian you might say, "Nice color, eh?" - colore.

2. Red: rojo, rouge, rosso
In French you redden your cheeks with rouge. In Spanish: Oh ho! Now they're rojo! In Italian: Oh so red is rosso.

3. Blue: azul, bleu, blu
In France, the skies are bleu. In Spain they're almost azure - azul. In Italy, you have your pick - blu or azzuro.

4. Green: verde, vert, verde
Like verdigree and verdant spaces, green is vert in French, verde in Spanish and Italian.

5. Yellow: amarillo, jaune, giallo
Imagine Amarillo is the yellow rose of Texas. Don't be jaundiced against learning that the French for yellow is jaune (sorry for that mental image). Finally, the Italian is giallo - imagine yellow jello - it's giallo!

6. Brown: marron, brun, marrone
It looks like maroon, but really it's brown - Spanish and Italian for brown are marron and marrone. In French, it's brun, like brunette. And note that Italian also has bruno.

7. Black: negro, noir, nero
Nero fiddled while Rome burned and the whole city turned black with soot. Sounds like the subject of a film noir - dark movie. Connecting negro and black should be as easy as the interplay between the two words in English has been complex.

8. White: blanco, blanc, bianco
Drawing a blank? Picture Mont Blanc - the snowcapped White Mountain and go from there. Spanish and Italian both have a blank-o: blanco and bianco are almost the same, but Italian usually starts with bi- when Spanish starts with bl-.

An exception to the bl-/bi- rule is blu, which the Italians got from the German blau, not from Latin, hence the unusual (for Italian) letter combination.


Teach Yourself One-Day French, Italian or Spanish

Teach yourself One- Day Italian

Teach Yourself One-Day Spanish
Elisabeth Smith showed up on the language scene some time ago with a series of "Bare Bones" language books. In an age when nary a grammar point was left undiscussed in the typical text, her books provided a refreshingly clear view of languages and what they are for: communicating. Smith's "Bare Bones" books taught four or five hundred words, which is usually enough to help you get through day to day life before you start to pick up the local tongue. You can still use Smith's "Bare Bones" approach with the Instant French, Italian and Spanish books below.

However, in an age of "less is more," now there's something better: One-day courses. In these courses, Smith is on the plane next to someone who doesn't know a word of the language in their destination country. In seventy-five minutes, she teaches him 50 words and a dozen basic sentence constructions that will see him through as a tourist.

This is the greatest thing since Pimsleur, and at a fraction of the cost - ten bucks! I'd give the discs two or three listens before heading out - one listen isn't enough. And if you want to become proficient, you need to look elsewhere. But if you're looking for a cheap way to learn enough to stay out of trouble and even participate in what's going on now and then, this is a great program. Also recommended if you're studying a foreign language but just can't make it come alive. As for the "Instant" books, they'll teach you a little more - not a lot - and are worth a look if you're staying more than a week but not long enough to pick things up on your own. But with all due respect they're just not as marvelous as the quick and simple "One-Day" programs.
- Geoffrey Barto

Deep Learning

Deep Learning:
Enhance Memory & Concentration
Kelly Howell

If you read the back cover, this product suggests it stimulates "theta brain waves," physically preparing the mind for learning. This may well be true. Or not. I don't know enough about the science to know if there's anything to this.

On the other hand, this cassette isn't like any you've likely heard. In many ways, it's like listening to a melodic refrigerator hum. The overall effect is to keep you alert while tuning out what's going on around you. Whether this constitutes brain wave stimulation for concentration or just creates a learning environment where distractions are minimized I cannot say, but the effect is not undesirable.

For memorizing lists and for reading through the kind of material that leaves you thinking more about what might be on television, this cassette has its value, provided you're willing to buy into its premise enough to just read and let the noise run in the background. If you're highly skeptical, however, you're likely to mostly think about how it's not working.

Bottom line: For those who need a little help concentrating and are open-minded about how to manage it, it's worth risking the $10.00. Also available on CD.

Subliminal learning?

Here's an idea whose time has come. And, just possibly, passed. The premise is a good one, the research in the introductions sounds good and the claimed results are impressive.

Here's the way it works. With old programs, you listened, then repeated, and your brain was supposed to assemble the mishmash of sounds sequentially and link them up. With Aaron's subliminal learning, on the other hand, you mix foreign words with suggestion. That is, you hear the foreign word in one ear, while the English word is just barely audible in the other. The idea is that if something in the back of your mind indicates "potatoes" while you're hearing, loud and clear, "papas," that will do more for you than trying to consciously associate the Spanish word with the English word you just heard, but which proceeded it in time for a reason that doesn't make any sense unless you're in on the game.

Having tinkered with the Japanese version, here's what I found. On the one hand, I think my results were better than with, for example, Vocabulearn. On the other hand, if this is such a space age idea, you'd think they could do better than to try to transfer 1970s analog audio to 21st century CDs. If the English is barely audible, that's good. If it's garbled, that's not so good. If the Japanese word has changed, it needs to be fixed on the tape, not just in the accompanying booklet. And as for track division, there are things that could be done to make it feel more intuitive, starting with better differentiation of reviews from new sections and including a renumbering so that the section you were studying was the same as the track number on the CD. Bottom line, if you're looking for a relatively cheap way to pick up a fair share of Japanese or Spanish vocabulary, this isn't bad, but it isn't great. For Spanish, I'd more likely recommend the By Association books. For Japanese, though, this may - unfortunately - be the best audio vocabulary program out there.

Product Review

Dr. Blair's ... in no Time sets

These little kits seem like an ideal approach. In lieu of the traditional listen and repeat approach, there's an effort at creating actual content. The premise of the Spanish program is that the evil James Corp. has taken over the radios and is playing annoying music with subliminal messages to buy their products. The premise, though a bit hackneyed (are there educators - even who run large businesses - who don't just write off business as evil?), isn't the problem. The problem is that while there's a light-hearted premise with deliciously stereotyped characters, there are too many exercises that are in the old-style, just with unusual introductions.

Dr. Blair's main program is the Power-Glide method, which takes the ideas of the "In no time" sets a lot further. However, the cost is a bit prohibitive - certainly too much so for the sites to investigate (they're welcome to donate a copy for us to review). As for the "In no time" sets, they strike me as a fairly good investment, cost-wise, for true beginners who want to pick up a little bit of the language. However, if you had a year in college and are just afraid you've forgotten it all, you're probably better off with Michel Thomas.

By Association books

Dr. Michael Gruneberg, who is actually a memory specialist, not a language teacher, has put together a series of books for getting started in a foreign language. These books are not adequate for actually learning Spanish, French and Italian. Language is both words with which to say things and grammar for organizing them, and the grammar part of these books is rather sparse. But if you're learning grammar elsewhere and need things to talk about, these books are an excellent resource for picking up a few hundred words that you'll actually remember.

Warning: the gimmicks can be corny and for this to work, you have to buy into them. Check out the "Snippets" on the vocabulary page for a rough idea how this works. The method, incidentally, is known as linkword.

Penguin phrasebooks's first pick for phrasebooks is usually Lonely Planet, but we'd like to put in a word for the Penguin phrasebooks. These are only available for a few languages, but if they're available in your language they're not bad. Most notable features: Clearer type than most phrasebooks and a lot more complete sentences to model real communication.