I purchased the Linkword course in European Portuguese around two months after I started to teach myself the language. Previously I had been trying to read a book that was obviously completely above my level and desperately trying to figure out things using Babelfish (doomed to failure)! I realised that I needed something that was going to help me learn the absolute basics.
I came across an article about Linkword when I was researching information on memory techniques. I knew that in deciding to learn a language, I was also going to have to improve my memory. I am generally useless at retaining information unless it really means something to me. Whilst I admire people that can for example recite every name and date in a period of history, I can’t say I want to be one of them. That said, I do remember someone once told me that Einstein said we invented the pen and paper so we don’t have to remember everything! I have no idea if that’s true or not but if it was good enough for Einstein, it’s good enough for me!
I am a visual learner first, auditory second and tactile last. That means that I really need to see something, to visualise it for me to remember it. Being a musician, I also have a very good ability to really listen to the nuances of language and tone and I have perfect recall of music.
Michael M. Gruneberg developed the Linkword system for learning a language in the early 1990’s. A self professed memory expert, he based his system on the similarity of the sounds of foreign words with English words and used visual images to trigger recall.
For example, the Portuguese word for cat is ‘gato’ which sounds like ‘gatoo’. He asks you to imagine a cat eating a gateau as this creates a visual association that can be used to remember the word. Personally I find this an extremely useful technique and notice that the sillier the image (or the naughtier!) the more inclined you are to remember it. On that basis I decided to buy the course.
I bought the full set of three cd’s. I did ask at the time if they planned to offer a fourth as they do in French, to which they said yes. To date (2012) this has not manifested. As I worked my way through the first cd I realised that I was indeed learning very quickly. I did find that sometimes I would ignore the given visual cue and make up my own. Don’t be afraid of playing with the method. If the word suggests something different to you than the image used then go with that. Don’t force yourself to try and use an image that doesn’t really make sense to you. Not every word in Portuguese leads to a clear cut image as ‘gato’ and this is precisely why the system is sometimes criticised.
Another criticism is that it seems as though you are having to learn more than is necessary by having to learn both a word and an image to go with it. I can’t say I ever felt this was an issue however.
The interface of the software is rather old fashioned and basic. A constant irritation is not having a ‘back’ button so you cannot return to the previous page. Perhaps this is because Linkword wants us to remember the points made but I think it would be better to make the system more user friendly. The sound files are very good and clear however.
Each cd is broken down into around 10 sections. Each section tends to comprise of vocabularly to learn with suggested images to use, a test on the vocab learned, sentences in English to translate into Portuguese, sentences in Portuguese to translate into English and then pages that give you short introductions to the various aspects of grammar – tenses, plurals, masculine and feminine, verb conjugations and so on.
Whilst I think it is useful initially that they deliberately don’t use the technical terminology to discuss grammar, I do think that later on they could have introduced this to create a launch pad for further learning.
I shot through the first cd at the speed of light. I was excited to be learning so much. However I did notice the odd spelling mistake which I found rather irritating. Whilst the course is cheaper than say Rosetta Stone, it is still a healthy £54.99 (2012 prices) and generally I expect material to be proof-read. Unfortunately when I moved onto level 2 of the course this became much worse. Due to the mistakes, I found myself feeling unsure of what I was learning and put the course to one side.
A year and a half later I decided to go back to it. Having attended Portuguese classes at night school and generally learned a lot more, I felt that I would be more able to cope with the mistakes I had found. After spending money on the course I did at least want to complete it. I started right back at the beginning and this time wrote down everything (unfortunately you cannot copy and paste which is again annoying!).
I made a note each time there was a mistake in the software. By mistake I mean spelling error in English or Portuguese, translation errors and errors like introducing a word in a sentence when there has been no reference to it before and expecting you to know the answer.
Whilst I am quite happy to go and look in my dictionary, the course generally follows a basic pattern of – ‘learn this vocabulary, now use this vocabulary in a sentence’. Usually whenever the answer is different to what you thought it would be based on the previous lesson, they will explain in a note why. When this doesn’t happen it is simply confusing.
I have just been over my notes and stopped counting at 50 mistakes over the three cd’s! Personally I think this is very unsatisfactory. It is also a shame because the the idea is actually very good and I can honestly say I have learned a lot by using this course. There are over a 1000 words (including sound files) which makes for a good core vocabulary.
Mistakes such as those I found are just unacceptable. The second cd is the worst offender and by the end of it I felt that they simply hadn’t bothered to proof read it. Thankfully cd three isn’t quite so bad and does cover a lot of material.
I’m not usually the type of person to write letters of complaint. I’d far rather write and tell someone I enjoyed their service than moan when I don’t. However I am passionate about Portuguese and also about adult learning. To that end I have decided I will be forwarding my proof-reading to Linkword to see what they have to say about it. If I receive an answer I will post it here.
Certainly Linkword have some work to do on this course and generally improvements could be made. For example adding a back butten and having test sentences available as audio files . At the beginning I didn’t know how to pronounce ‘os’ and ‘a’ and it would have been simpler to have audio for everything that is spoken of in the course.
It’s hard to recommend Linkword because of all the mistakes and yet I really want to because I think many people would benefit from the learning technique. It is also extremely useful to have access to so many native speaker sound files. For example I have copied all the audio files onto my computer and am now painstakingly arranging them into word groups such as ‘parts of the body’, ‘colours’ etc. I may also use them for creating flashcards with sound.
Linkword does cover a lot of topics in a short space of time and of course you can go over the course and see how far you’ve come. You cover the past, present and future tense, how certain words are used in different meanings (such as para for example), pronouns and prepositions and much more.
I hesitantly recommend it to those of you who have had or have access to other learning resources, so that you can also be aware of the mistakes and not be thrown by them.
Quite frankly though, I feel annoyed that someone didn’t take the time to go through the cd’s and make sure they were ready for use. Somebody somewhere didn’t care enough and I find that rather sad.