Learn a New Language for Under $100
In the summer of 2009, I traveled to Italy for the first time with my friend and her family. Armed with our Italian phrasebooks and a few cheat sheets from my younger sister (who had studied Italian in high school), we were off, but every chance I got to actually speak Italian was met with Italians who already spoke English and tried to put me at ease by speaking my own language. Finally, on the train from Rome to Milan, I was seated with a few native Italian speakers, but I just froze up. What if they didn't appreciate me unintentionally butchering their language? I had a five hour ride and didn't want to spend it in silence, but I chickened out big time.
Now that my father is planning to take my sister and me to Paris, Rome, and Venice next summer, my chance to redeem myself is on its way. I've since come across three websites that allow users to sign up and not only practice a new language, but learn it for under $100. While I haven't had a chance to seriously begin my language–learning endeavor, I thought I'd share the results from my first round of research. My plan is to select one and report back sometime after our little Italian adventure and let you know how it all worked out—if you have used any of these programs and liked (or disliked) them, let me know!
Learn a new language on your computer, iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.
Languages offered: English, Dutch, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish.
Cost: Sign up to try a course for free, then select a payment plan for the remaining lessons: Depending on how much time it takes you to work on your new language, you can be charged $12.94 each month for the one–month course, $7.45 per month for a six–month course ($44.70 charged every six months), or take the recommended three–month course for $8.95 per month—charging $26.85 every three months to your card.
First impression: I tested out the first free lesson for the course in Italian. It seemed like a pretty easy set up, similar to flashcards, but with pronunciation practice as well. You can hear the phrase, understand the context, and at the same time, learn how to spell it as you go. During the review portion, you are asked to type in the correct responses, and pressing the help button will give you hints. There's no rush and if you need to start the course over again, you can.
Choose which level you wish to learn—beginner, intermediate, travel or reference—and learn at your own pace.
Languages offered:Greek, Chinese, Arabic, English, Dutch, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish.
Cost: Ranging from 24.99 British pounds (about $40 USD) for the "Talk Italian Box Set: Lessons 1 and 2" to the "Talk Italian Book & CD Pack" for 14.99 British pounds (about $24 USD). BBC Active Languages also featured a wide range of language books, audio CDs and the obligatory phrasebook, all for under $50.
First impression: Unfortunately, there really isn't a way for me to test these lessons out since you have to order and ship the items first. It seems like more of a traditional route with books, CDs and DVDs compared to web lessons, but was recommended on the website of my local library as an inexpensive way to learn a new language. I came across some reviews for the books on Amazon and Helium, the worst being that the lessons were hard to follow, the best being that certain users would recommend the products to beginners. Has anyone had a successful experience with BBC Active Languages?
Founded in September of 2007, Livemocha uses social media to connect native speakers to those trying to learn a new language.
Languages offered: Arabic, Bulgarian, German, English, Esperanto, Estonian, Farsi, Finnish, French, Hebrew, Hindi, Dutch, Indonesian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Catalan, Korean, Croatian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Mandarin Chinese, Norwegian (Bokmal), Polish, Portuguese (from Portugal and Brazil), Romanian, Russian, Swedish, Serbian, Slovak, Spanish, Czech, Turkish, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Greek, and Urdu.
Cost: The free membership gives you access to the beginner and intermediate materials for any language, including the "Learn" and "Review" sections, as well as the opportunity to connect and chat with native speakers via social media. To gain access to more involved reviews, writing and speaking exercises, members can earn Tokens by assisting others in learning a language—whether you're providing submission reviews, helping with translations, creating flashcards, contributing tips, or completing coursework—or purchase them from the website to gain immediate access. For the most in depth reviews, speaking and writing exercises, members can purchase the Gold Key, allowing access to all exercises for all 38 languages, for either $9.95 for one month, or $99.95 for one year of unlimited access.
First impression: The hardest part for me was sticking to my plan to learn Italian. I would be interested in refreshing my Spanish and maybe even adding French or something different like Catalan to my repertoire. I am very intrigued by the idea of getting language, pronunciation and dialect tips directly from those who speak it everyday. It's kind of like a facebook application for language–learning and the lessons are pretty intuitive to work through. Users can post photos from their location and the website helps you make friends and match up with native speakers who are willing to offer tips. Be aware that the lessons do require Adobe Flash Player in order to use them, as the non–flash version isn't quite as exciting.
Have any of you used these websites yet, and if so, would you recommend them to a beginner? Tell us about your experiences below.
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6 Popular American Foods You'll Be Hard-Pressed to Find Abroad
Traveling provides ample opportunities for indulging in culinary experimentation. But what if you just want a familiar snack from the homeland? Not so fast—you might be surprised by just how foreign some of our most common foodstuffs are to our friends overseas. Some criticize the very concept of eating American chow abroad when there are so many ethnic cuisines to enjoy; others will ignore the naysayers and happily pour another bowl of Cheerios for breakfast. Regardless of what category you fall into, there's something interesting about knowing which of our foods are foreign to most other cultures. Without further ado, here are 6 foods you'll be hard-pressed to find when you travel (and the specialty shops where you can track them down if you find yourself nursing a case of the munchies). if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('b9500ce8-e8d6-4160-8eb6-19f5d8727220');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info) What’s your stance? Do you assimilate local flavors, stick with what you know and love, or enjoy the best of both worlds? Vote in our poll or leave your comments below. American Candy From Swiss chocolate to raw sugarcane, local sweets have a place in every society. Americans have a dizzying array of domestic candies to choose from, but in other countries their appeal—and thus shelf space—doesn’t necessarily measure up. But if you happen to be in Prague, The Candy Store has you covered, thanks to an extensive collection of sugary U.S. treats from Nerds to Marshmallow Fluff. American holidays aren’t neglected, either: if you can’t find a decent pumpkin pie in time for Thanksgiving, The Candy Store will mix one up on-site using another staple of American pantries, Libby’s Canned Pumpkin. Brownie and Cake Mix Good luck finding a brownie mix (or a pancake or cake mix) outside of the U.S. In London, the American Food Store fulfills a niche market of American cravings. Inspired by holidays in the States, the proprietors of this store aim to offer reasonably–priced and legitimate American products—not the adulterated cereals and sodas they claim are sold under the same brand names in the United Kingdom. However, perhaps the store’s greatest boon to traveling Americans is its store of dry goods: aside from prepared foods, the American Food Store sells baking necessities like Gold Medal flour, Clabber Girl baking powder and, of course, mixes from Duncan Hines and the First Lady of American cooking, Betty Crocker. Gumbo and Jambalaya The culinary ways of Americans (hot dogs, takeout Chinese) may be a mystery to Parisians, but at least Judith Bluysen understands. Since 1990 this transplant from New York has been selling American groceries at her store, Thanksgiving, in one of the gastronomical capitals of the world. Although her store stocks American products of many stripes, Thanksgiving specializes in Cajun food—fittingly so, as Louisiana culinary traditions owe much to the French. Bluysen’s on–site Cajun restaurant has been shuttered for years, but her Paris grocery still hosts Zatarain’s gumbo and jambalaya mixes, Tabasco sauce, Cajun sausages and filé powder for that authentic New Orleans taste. Turkey With Thanksgiving approaching, the thoughts of all Americans—even those abroad—turn to turkey. Tokyo is a paradise for food aficionados in many ways, but some stores and restaurants that claim to offer American food don’t necessarily live up to the promise. (Even the Denny’s outlets differ from their beloved American model.) Some items, like the aforementioned bird, are simply hard to find in their unaltered state. Nissin World Delicatessen delivers the real deal and more. The supermarket stocks its shelves with items from many western countries—German pickles, French cheese and even Italian bottled water—but its greatest contribution to the western crowd may be the store’s “Meat Rush” section, which sells meats from the United States, New Zealand and Australia, including “hard–to–find” cuts of turkey and lamb. And if you don’t mind mixing your cuisines, feel free to slap some southwest flavor onto your Thanksgiving fowl with some Nissin-supplied American barbecue sauce. American Beer Remember the Chinese toast “gan bei” (“dry the glass”)—it may come in handy at Jenny’s. A store with the humblest of origins, Jenny’s began as a fruit and vegetable stall in 1988 and has become a multi–outlet chain scattered throughout China’s capital. While Jenny’s still prides itself on its fresh produce—and even offers a rent–a–plot program at its new organic farm—its list of international groceries is extensive. Visitors jonesing for a familiar tipple are particularly in luck: Jenny’s offers bottled and canned beers from over fifteen countries, including American brews like Samuel Adams and Longboard Lager. Cheddar cheese It may not have originated in the United States, but Americans adore this British import—some even enjoy it alongside apple pie, the most quintessentially American food of them all. The rest of the world loves its cheeses as well, however, and poor cheddar can get lost in the mix. Cheeseheads in Buenos Aires can head for a branch of the aptly named Al Queso, Queso, which offers a menu of international sandwiches and wines along with its wide variety of cheeses. —Ryan Murphy MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Food Eight Foreign Fast-Food Chains You Need to Know Dining Destinations to Watch in 2011
Poll: Would You Travel For a Cause?
Times Square, Grand Central, the Empire State Building and... Zuccotti Park. This may not be the traditional Big Apple tourist destination hit list, but last week CBS, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal released an AP article describing Occupy Wall Street as just that— "a tourist stop". This weekend, Zuccotti Park had every hallmark of a tourist-friendly fairground— hula hooping dancers, face painters, an ensemble of drummers, T-shirt artists and a roped off area for kids' activities during Friday's "Parents for Occupy Wall Street" event. The park itself has become a make-shift village with impromptu tarp tents, snack tables and flier distributors. A group called ThePeopleStaged hosted an "open-mic without the mic" area where performers could air their grievances in 5-minute sets. Tourists and protesters alike gathered at Zuccotti Park’s iconic sculpture, ironically named Joie de Vivre, to snap photographs in front of signs reading: "Give Us Back Our Jobs Today" and "We Are The 99%." if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('27fb0e25-731b-4c9b-8ea2-a158b6fde4a2');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info) Although many tourists at Zuccotti Park discover the Occupy hub by chance, some visitors in the park have come to New York specifically to get involved in the cause. One such protester, Ms. Hotge from Delaware, said "I saw it on the news, and I knew this is where I needed to be." Her entire trip was dedicated to wielding signs and speaking to passersby about unemployment in America. Another visitor from Philadelphia said that he'd come to Occupy Wall Street in hopes of raising money for the hungry by passing out "Mean People Suck" stickers for donations."We need to get more happiness in our lives," he said, "Don't wait on the government. They're not going to give it to you." Now we want to hear from you. Would you travel over state lines to join a cause? Organize a sit-in? Sleep in a park? Vote in our poll or tell us your thoughts in the comments below. —Chabli Bravo MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 50 Reasons You Love New York City New York City: 5 Perfect Moments-- For Free! New York Controversy: A Crackdown on "No-tels"
Bragging Rights for 'America's Best Restroom'
When was the last time you returned from a vacation raving about a public bathroom? If the answer is, um, "never," perhaps you haven't had the pleasure of using the facilities at the Field Museum, in Chicago. The museum has been named America's Best Restroom in an annual contest sponsored Cintas, a restroom supply company. Previous winners, all of which are inducted into the best restroom Hall of Fame and become ineligible to keep competing for the title down the line, include hotels, restaurants, airports, and other mainstays on the travel circuit. Travelers, after all, are often in need of public restrooms, and arguably no group in society appreciates a clean, inviting, and memorable (in a good way) bathroom more than strangers off in a strange land. The Field Museum snagged top honors for its two huge family-friendly restrooms, which include sleek, futuristic stalls and sinks, a special nursing room complete with a sofa for new moms, and even pint-sized toilets for tots. A nearby station offers parents diapers, band-aids, and wipes. Believe it or not, this isn't the only annual contest highlighting the best public restrooms out there. The UK hosts the Loo of the Year Awards, which are announced each December. A story in the Wall Street Journal last year described how the judges rank the top toilets: "It's the wow factor we want," says Richard Chisnell, founder and chairman of the Loo of the Year Awards, who inspected about 150 loos with his wife Maureen in Wales this summer. The couple storms out of restaurants without clean bathrooms. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 12 Wacky World Festivals to See Before You Die Hotel Bathtubs Are an Endangered Species Should Hotels That Charge for Wi-Fi Be Boycotted?
The Amazing Wild Horses of North Carolina
On a tiny island on North Carolina's Crystal Coast, a herd of beautiful wild horses is surviving—and thriving—in the wake of Hurricane Irene. When I was researching an update on the status of North Carolina's Outer Banks, which were hit earlier this year by Hurricane Irene (and are doing much better, thanks), I came across the uplifting story of Aftermath. And I have to share. Allow me to introduce the Shackleford Horses, a wild herd that inhabits the nine-mile-long island of Shackleford Banks, part of North Carolina's Crystal Coast, at the southern end of the Outer Banks. People often can't resist calling the diminutive animals ponies, but as romantic as "wild ponies" may sound, they are actually just small horses. The Shackleford herd's important fans include the National Park Service and the Foundation for Shackleford Horses. Both institutions regularly perform a horsey census, complete with photo IDs, to monitor herd numbers. During the storm, the horses had no access to shelter. Post-Irene, the Foundation undertook the task of recounting to make sure everyone was okay. To her astonishment, Carolyn Mason, the Foundation's hands-on president who led the count, actually discovered a small population increase. A mare, Anastasia, had foaled a colt. In keeping with herd tradition, the tyke was named with the same first letter as his mother. The name? Aftermath. When I asked about the moment of discovery, Mason said, "I feel like I've been given a gift each time I first see a new foal. Anastasia, the mare came forward slowly, and Aftermath stayed right beside her. I was totally surprised and fascinated—and just tried to be quiet, take my photos, and not intrude." (Take a look at photos from that day in the Foundation's Facebook photo gallery.) Mason says tourists are welcome to ferry over to Shackleford Banks to see the horses. "While it is not in the best interest of either horse or person to get too close, people should look, photograph, and enjoy the wild horses for the unique part of North Carolina that they are," said Mason. On that note, I suggest a fun, weekend jaunt to the Outer Banks. Fly into Coastal Carolina Airport in New Bern and snag a rental car. Bed down in the quaint city of Beaufort, at the lovely Pecan Tree Inn. Make room for at least one meal each at local-institutions Blue Moon Bistro and Beaufort Grocery. Be sure to see the newly renovated Cape Lookout Lighthouse on nearby Core Banks island. And, of course, top off your trip with a visit to see the wild horses of Shackleford Banks and, if you're lucky enough to spy him, Aftermath. — William Bailey MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Louisiana's Hurricane Museum Leave Every Child Behind: Biking the Outer Banks Ahoy Matey! Check Out These Pirate Museums
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