Review: Can You Learn 101 Languages From A Four-CD Tutorial?

While the claim of teaching you 101 languages may be a stretch, this set of CDs can be as entertaining as it is helpful.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

May 1, 2006

4 Min Read

The advent of CD-ROMs made many uses of a computer possible and practical. One of them was learning a foreign language, which previously required disk space that most of us could only dream about. Soon thereafter -- about a decade ago -- you could choose among quality products of three or four software publishers. How the world of language learning has changed since then.

For many who need total immersion in computer language training, the obvious choice is one of the many Web-based courses. But for others, learning at our own speed and focusing on personal goals is key. CD-ROMs still excel at this, and these days one top-dog publisher remains in the ring: Transparent Language.

The company offers a variety of products, and you’ll want to visit its Web site to find the one that best fits your needs. For example, in-depth learning of any of several languages is well met by the publisher’s Complete Language Learning Suites.

But Transparent Language also offers the unique, inexpensive, four-CD set, 101 Languages of the World, which is available for Windows (which I tested) and Mac operating systems. While the claim of truly learning more than 100 languages may be a bit of the stretch, the software can be as entertaining as it is helpful if you travel to far-flung locales or simply want an introduction to several languages. Depending on a selected language, at best you’ll learn only a few thousand words and a few hundred sentences -- not enough to become close to fluent. With a microphone (not supplied) you can compare your speech with proper pronunciation through various interactive and tutorial content.

Crossword puzzles add fun to the learning of foreign languages in the 101 Languages of the World set.Click to Enlarge

The publisher tosses in two tools with the software’s main module. Vocabulary of the World offers a few features, but essentially you enter phrases that are important to you in a foreign language and your own English equivalents. Later, you can click a Flash Cards button to test your memory. Unitype GlobalWriter is a word processor that claims to let you type in more than 100 languages.

Unfortunately, one of the glitches I encountered with 101 Languages of the World was repeated failures to install GlobalWriter until I found a creative solution. Even then, I found the tool of little value in a contemporary computing environment, it involuntarily put an icon for itself in the system tray … and it offered only a 15-day trial period. It’s history on my computer. Like the product as a whole, it doesn’t support the true character sets of various languages onscreen, instead substituting a Roman alphabet character set familiar to English speaking users. So the product may be more useful in learning spoken rather that written languages, depending on the languages that you install.

I encountered several other burps that revealed that 101 Languages of the World is rather long in the tooth. Nevertheless, as someone who has been passionate about foreign languages since college days (more than a few years ago), I found the product helpful in learning phrases of interest. I also was impressed by the accuracy in translation and the audio pronunciation of the foreign language that I know best, German, based on experience living and working in Germany for about a year. And the price for learning such diverse languages is dirt cheap.

J.W. Olsen has been a full-time IT author, columnist, editor, and freelance book project manager with more than 1000 editorial credits since 1990, and has provided computer, Web site, and editorial services to other clients since 1985. He welcomes feedback via the response form at

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