Desktop+online+MP3+app, Pronunciation scored, Cheap ★★★★★ up to Windows 8, Expensive ★★★ in Windows 10
Transparent and Byki (Before You Know It) are the same company, and have several versions of language courses on their 2 websites. Versions 1 and 2 are highly recommended for beginners with older Windows computers, because of the pronunciation scores and graphs. Version 2 costs more, and also gives you MP3 files to download and listen offline. The following graphs give an example of the falling then rising tone of yǔ in Mandarin, meaning "and." Transparent helps you learn to say tones. Use BBC to practice recognizing them when others speak.
- $12-$30 for a desktop package of 76 languages, 1,500+ words each; good graphs and scores to improve your pronunciation (title: 101 Languages). Needs Windows XP, Vista, 7, or 8; does not work in Windows 10, so it loses a star in the overall list. Support has ended. Use instructions below, not the instructions which come with it. ★★★★★
- $20-$70 for desktop and MP3 in any one of 72 languages, 1,000+ words; same graphs and scores to improve your pronunciation as version 1 (title: Byki Deluxe). Needs Windows XP, Vista, 7, or 8; does not work in Windows 10, so it loses a star in the overall list. Support ends in 2017 ★★★★★
- $30 per month online, (cheaper for longer terms) in any one of 100 languages, 2,000+ words; limited graph only shows volume, accepts poor pronunciation, but you can replay pronunciation of the native speaker and yourself to compare them and improve (title: Transparent Language Online) ★★★
- $50 for 5 audio CDs or MP3 downloads in any one of 10 languages; does not score your pronunciation (title: Everywhere Audio Course) ★★★
- Free desktop version with 150 words or phrases in each of 72 languages; does not score your pronunciation (title: Byki Express) ★
- $8 per language for Android or iPhone apps, 1000+ words in each of 25 languages; does not score your pronunciation (title: Byki Mobile) ★
- $99 per 90 minutes for private tutor or $300 for 8 classes, by web, though they do not say how many teachers are native speakers, or class size. You may find less expensive sources.
CHEAP AND EXCELLENT APPROACH for older Windows computers (XP, Vista, 7, or 8):
Versions 1 and 2 are excellent places to start, since they hear you and score your pronunciation while you learn. Beginners do well to take advantage of this pronunciation scoring, so you build good habits. Bad pronunciation is hard to fix later and is a barrier to people ever understanding you. The main competitor which has pronunciation scoring is Pronunciator (free through many US libraries, for 47 languages). It costs more than version 1, and has much less detailed feedback on pronunciation (just an overall rating and pitch), but it lets you start with very simple words like numbers, which are easier for learning good pronunciation than the complicated artificial conversations which Version 1 teaches. Try either or both.
Instructions: Version 1 teaches individual words and phrases, but its instructions are too cryptic, so try these:
- During installation choose which languages to install; go back later to install more. Besides the target language(s) you want to learn, install one you know, such as English (it is aimed at Spanish speakers), so you can learn how the program works in a language you know. Keep the CDs handy, since the program sometimes asks for them.
- After installation, the opening screen lets you double-click any installed language.
- They call each line of text a segment. In some languages the 3rd-10th segments (lines) are a table of contents showing the segment (line) where each topic starts: 12, 68, 116, 184... However this is in the target language, not very useful for beginners, which is why step 1 suggested installing a language you know. Different languages have different lessons, but similar approaches.
- Click the Pronunciation tab, then "Listen+Speak" then "Start."
- Scroll down past the explanatory text to simple phrases. Double-click any word to hear it spoken. The meaning of the word and its sentence will appear below the text. Click the turtle to toggle between normal speed and slower.
- Hold down the left mouse button on the "Record Your Voice" button, while you say the word. Graphs compare you to the native speaker, and a half-circle graph gives you an overall score (green is best).
- If you find a section you want to go back to, write down its segment (line number), which is in a small rectangular box under the display of words in the target language. In future you can click that box and enter the number you want to go back to.
- Numbers are taught in different places in each language. For example numbers 0-100 are taught near the end in most languages, but some languages only teach numbers 1-10, and they start in segment 23.
- Repeat, with more words each day, and later advance to full sentences and the other tabs.
Version 1 has 76 languages and dialects with pronunciation by native speakers, and another 25 with 750+ words each but not pronunciation, hence its title "101 Languages of the World." Our index shows the languages which lack pronunciation as "Trans silent." Version 1 converts all spelling to the Roman alphabet. Amazon reviewers say it is a good introduction for people going to multiple countries, or who want to hear common words in some rarer languages.
Version 2 teaches 66 of the first 76 languages, and 17 others. Most are also in version 4. The 17 which are not in version 1 are: Altai, Armenian, Bashkir, Buriat, Chechen, Dari, Georgian, Hausa, Kazakh, Macedonian, Mirandese, Mongolian, Pashto, Tajiki, Turkmen, Tuvan, Uzbek.
FREE, NOT SO GOOD APPROACH:
By contrast with the thorough teaching in the low cost Version 1, the free Version 6 only has vocabulary flash cards. It shows spelling in English (optionally also in target language), and a native speaker says the word or phrase.
A problem with Version 6 is that even the first lesson is full of phrases which are too long for beginners. They range up to 5 syllables and average 3 syllables per word in the first lesson, in both English and Chinese. The turtle button lets you toggle between normal speed and slightly slower, but it is still very hard for total beginners to pick up the sounds of long phrases.
You could start instead with numbers. Version 6 shows zero through ten, in random order.
Ttansparent and Byki do not teach business phone conversations. Version 6 is clearly aimed at travelers, with 30 long phrases on taxis, though no lessons to understand drivers' answers. Version 1 includes similar phrases on taxis along with a few possible answers. It also has conversations on changing money at banks, and checking into hotels.
Version 2 and perhaps others too, will display words/phrases which are hard for you, more often, until you learn them. In all versions you can click to repeat anything.
Only the MP3 files (Versions 2, 3 and 5) let you learn alone in the car, since the apps make you look at the screen.
For intermediate students Transparent/Byki have strengths and weaknesses. They do not conjugate verbs, and do not cover as much vocabulary as Pronunciator. However they cover grammar in a way Pronunciator does not. Version 1 (and probably 2-4) lets you click any word in the lesson on the Reading tab, and then shows you links to grammatical explanations for how that word is used. Version 1 is thus an inexpensive way to learn basic grammar if you cannot find a printed grammar for your target language. Pronunciator does not have these grammatical explanations, though Pronunciator conjugates 100 verbs in past, present and future tenses.
All versions are taught in English, except English itself which most versions teach in Spanish and/or Portuguese. Apps (version 7) teach English in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish.
Versions 2 and 7 have over 1,000 words/phrases according to reviews of the desktop and the app, or "thousands" according to the website, with some of these contributed by other learners.