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The Bane of Online Language Courses

Updated on September 27, 2013
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"The world is becoming more and more globalized"

"What was the other side of the world is now a twelve-hour plane ride away"


Yeah, yeah, we are familiar with these words and have heard them a million times already. It is a fact that people move, change their environments, put up businesses and do a million other things which deem learning a foreign language a necessity.

Where there's demand, sooner or later there will be supply. And some of the supply (not all of it) will be worth no more than a hard kick in the supplier's ass. This statement is also true when it comes to online language courses.

Recently, the woman-of-my-life decided to look for online Polish courses. When she found one, she started to use it. She shared some of her newly-acquired abilities with me. I admired her pronunciation (the quality of her pronunciation really sounds like a miracle) and her willingness to master this not-so-easy language of mine. At the same time, I came to a conclusion that the author of this online language course should be put inside a rocket and sent to another galaxy.

What was the problem with this particular course? To answer this, let me just highlight some obvious things noticeable to a native Polish speaker.

In the first few lessons, my beloved got tormented with the phrase, jak się masz. The meaning is similar to an informal, how are you. I wouldn't even start complaining about the fact that this phrase is not that widely-used amongst Poles and was replaced by a much shorter phrase, jak leci. A verbatim translation would lead us to an absurd result, how is it flying. This phrase is now the most popular way of asking our interlocutor about his overall well-being.

Jak się masz can still be heard in some conversations but the main circumstance where this phrase is being used are comedies with Borat Sagdiyev and outdated language books. But the real disaster was discovered when my beloved told me that the course creator was trying to teach the students to use this phrase in third person to ask, how is Kasia feeling/doing.

Nobody here speaks that way!

I mean nobody. I haven't heard such a phrase in all of my 28 years in Poland. A Polish native speaker would probably understand what the person was trying to say, but that's not the way it is being done.

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Do we really want our brand new Polish speaker to speak like an asshole? OK, some may say, it's not that big of a failure. But the farther we go into the forest, the denser the trees. The course creator found it useful to teach the learners how to communicate the fact of being thirsty to other people. It was supposed to be jestem spragniony. The translation is correct, but used only in very formal situations. In a usual conversation, a person would say chce mi się pić, which means I want to drink. I have encountered jestem spragniony perhaps twice only in my whole life.

The creator also decided to torment the learner with some 4- or even 5-syllable word monsters in the very beginning of the course. Let's try to say, pod-eks-cy-to-wa-ny (excited) or za-sko-czo-ny (surprised). Will anyone living outside Central and Eastern Europe be able to memorize such words in a reasonable time?

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Well, that's the first language course in my life where we start off with long verbal adjectives in the first lesson. A reasonable language course is supposed to be based on some method and logic.

Choosing random and really not the most important vocabulary as the beginning of a language experience has nothing to do with what was mentioned above. A course based on method and logic would, in the first place, familiarize the learner with simple words consisting of not more than 3 syllables. Like, for example, the word skoczyć (jump) from which the word zaskoczony is derived. Eventually, after the learner starts feeling the internal logic of the language, including the role of the prefix za- and the suffix -ony, more complex words, like zaskoczony, can be introduced to him and he should be able to memorize them without unreasonable pains.

That's the way I was taught German, a language that is also full of long complex words. You don't have to be a language teaching specialist to know that. An IQ higher than that of a carrot should be enough to understand this basic truth.

The author of the course is apparently not a Polish native speaker. Furthermore, he probably doesn't even speak the language well and Google Translate played an important role in the emergence of this poor excuse of a language course.

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After seven days, the free trial will end and the website will ask you to pay money for further participation in the course. Not only will you obtain a result not proportional to your effort, but you will also waste your money. You could get really disappointed (za-wie-dzio-ny or even roz-cza-ro-wa-ny).

What's the conclusion? Look out. Before you use a certain online language course, ask a native speaker for advice. Your time and money are precious. Use only resources with quality.

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