You know the feeling – you're visiting somewhere on business or pleasure, the language being spoken all around you is not your native tongue, and you're feeling left out, even slightly confused. Oh, if only … I could get into that conversation over there, share that joke, or even just understand this darn menu better !! And you do not always have to be overseas to feel that way – we know plenty of English-only speakers who come here to Miami and miss out on so much because they have failed to learn Spanish, or even a smattering of the language.

The benefits of being able to speak a second language do not just extend to basic communication in simple situations, although that is of course a big part of it. Knowing another language could make you richer, happier and sexier – ask any dating agency, and they'll tell you that people who learn or speak a foreign language are more attractive to the opposite sex. Really – it's something to do with exuding intelligence and sophistication.

Speaking another language can also be the doorway to a better understanding and appreciation of a whole culture and different way of life. You'll get new insights into virtually anything that interests you, whether it is art or politics or sport, and these could be so pleasant and surprising they will often take your breath away! So we're talking here about doing something that will be both personally enriching and broaden your horizons. This will make you a whole lot happier.

Last but not least, having a second language will increase your career opportunities, which in turn could translate into bigger bucks! After all, today's economy is increasingly global, and more and more businesses work closely with companies in other countries. A technician who knows English and Russian or German, or a company manager who speaks English or Japanese or Spanish, or a salesperson who can also converse in French or Chinese is likely to have a distinct advantage over their colleagues who know only English when it comes to promotion time!

So now we have persuaded you to do something about your lack of linguistic skills, let's pose the big question – what is the hardest part about getting started in the learning of another language? Strangely, the answer to this is – getting started! This is where those inexpensive, easily-available, use anytime, anywhere computer software packages really come into their own. We say inexpensive, because prices are usually around $ 8 for a single language pack.

Let's make no bones about it – learning another language does have an element of hard work to it. But if you can make that work FUN, you'll be on the right track to learning much faster and more effectively. Research in the early 90's at the University of California revealed that memory is greatly improved when accompanied by fun and laughter. So our first recommendation is that you look for language learning packages that have fun a-plenty! Find a package that includes plenty of quizzes, games, stories, multimedia, interactivity, etc. and you'll be amazed at how much your foreign-language vocabulary improves and how much you remember after even a surprisely short time with the CD.

Although the best packages should offer lots of this type of fun-oriented activity, they should also be based on sound educational principles. When you think about it, what would be the very best way to learn another language? Yes, of course – go stay in the foreign country for a few months! If you did this, you would be hearing the language constantly, always surrounded by native speakers and a new culture, and you would begin to acquire that language almost unconsciously. This is basically the means by which a four-year old learns to speak a language long before that same child can read or write, which is quite a miracle when you think about it, is not it?

Linguists have known for years that such an immersion environment, as it is known, is the absolute, fastest way to learn a second language. For some people, it might be feasible to do this, but for the rest of us, it's just not possible or practical. What is a lot more practical, and a darn sight more convenient, is to get a computer to simulate these immersion aspects for us. This type of approach uses software to let you hear and, more importantly, to practice authentic everyday speech in the Spanish language or French language, or whatever language you want to learn, from Arabic to Zulu.

This brings us to our final, and probably our most important recommendation. You need to find a package that not only allows you to hear the language you want to learn being spoken by its native speakers, in a wide variety of situations, but you also want a package that will hear you practice speaking it as well. Most packages will offer this facility to some extent, but the very best will actually evaluate and correct you as you go along, ensuring you develop the necessary vocabulary and pronunciation skills. It is the technology that is employed behind the scenes to do this very difficult task that really differentiates the packages, and this is one of the key features you should concentrate on when selecting your package.

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