March 18, 2010 | Korean

VocabuLearn Epitaph

Alas, VocabuLearn is dead. Or at least dying.

This morning I left a voicemail message for Penton Overseas, makers of VocabuLearn (and “The Global Language Specialists,” according to the back of the VocabuLearn packaging). I wanted to see if I could get on their mailing list for product updates, though the fact that I could find no evidence of a website suggested to me that all was not well with VocabuLearn.

I Will Miss You

A short time later, I got a call back, from a somewhat mournful-sounding man who told me the sad news: VocabuLearn is a casualty of global economic disaster.

“In a bad economy, education is the first thing to go,” he said, explaining that Penton is now out of retail altogether. They are currently the distributor for a product called “Your Baby Can Read.” I’m pro-literacy, but if I had to choose between VocabuLearn and reading babies, I would pick VocabuLearn.

How sad that this product will no longer be updated and supported. It’s not a perfect product, but I find it to be earnest and sincere. These are two of the same qualities I appreciate about Pimsleur. The focus in both, though they are totally different types of products, is hard-core nuts-and-bolts learning, which is as it should be, rather than on lazy glamour. In recent years I have seen too many learning products—mostly in the corporate market, where I have more experience—that reflect an emphasis on multimedia whiz-bang gimmicks over content.

I know there is market pressure to be snazzy, and I believe one should take advantage of technological advances, but with wisdom and moderation. I am sick of the emphasis on making products look like TV shows or videogames, often at the expense of meaningful content. Most real learning demands long-term, intensive labor and quiet contemplation (i.e., no exploding buildings, crashing airplanes, or scantily clad cocktail waitresses).

Anyway, enough mourning and griping, and back to fun stuff I have been learning. (Note: I know many people—though fewer nowadays—were taught not to use “fun” as an adjective; I reject the argument against it as a dying one and use “fun,” adjectivally, with full self-awareness and not a little glee.)

So what have I been studying this week? Pimsleur lessons galore, which I keep having to redo up to four times each. One of my favorite new Pimsleur phrases is, “How about Starbucks?” The Korean translation is something like Starbucks-oh oh-tay-oh (though I may have an extra oh in there somewhere).

Essential Korean Vocabulary


Other vocabulary I have been studying, in my various books, appears to the left here.

I can’t say that I have yet retained these particular words and phrases—they are just not at the top of my must-be-used list—but I have been amused by them nonetheless.

Plus, I need the writing practice.

Comments (2)

Katherine • Posted on Thu, June 03, 2010 - 12:15 pm EST

I actually have a hard time with Vocabulearn.  I bought it for Greek based on your recommendation.  I am embarrassed to say I don’t really like classical music, and I find it so distracting that the music just starts playing all of the sudden. When it does play, I cannot absorb the words.  I love the idea though and I am trying to make it work for myself.  Very sad that the company has gone under!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, June 03, 2010 - 2:37 pm EST

This comment cracked me up, though of course I’m sorry you don’t care for the VocabuLearn. I don’t mind the Mozart in the background; it kind of amuses me, though it is for sure a little weird the way the music volume suddenly increases at various junctures, as though the word for “peas” or “garden” or whatever happens to be playing right then is associated with some major drama. I can definitely see how the music could be annoying.

Now for me, if the background were Billy Joel ballads or the greatest disco hits of the seventies, THAT I would find distracting.

My main VocabuLearn problem is that I tend to learn the first 30 words of the lesson far better than I learn the ones that come after that.

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