Talk is Cheap
Need to learn a language on the double? Here are three business-friendly tutorials for any budget.
By Tom Price

(Business 2.0) – When Nick Goldschmidt travels abroad, he's met at the airport by English-speaking colleagues and chauffeured to the operations he oversees in three Spanish-speaking countries. But that little luxury creates as many problems as it solves: Goldschmidt, executive winemaker at global wine and spirits conglomerate Allied Domecq, can't make small talk with his troops. Until recently, he'd picked up only a smattering of Spanish: "Just enough to talk wine, not have a chat about what we did on the weekend."

Like many, Goldschmidt was put off by the prospect of taking Spanish lessons--until he found a class that catered to businesspeople, with a real-world orientation and a schedule he could fit in with his work. "The days of sitting and memorizing vocabulary and verb tenses have gone by the wayside," says Marty Abbott, director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. The latest approach involves immersion in relevant vocabulary and real business situations. For those whose schedules don't permit sit-down classes, there are electronic tutorials that also use modern teaching methods. With that in mind, here are three smart ways to quickly get up to speed in a new language.

On the Commute

If you're heading out in a few weeks for a short European assignment, learn basic conversation fast with one of the all-audio Pimsleur Method series (www.simonsays.com). Choose from eight lessons in the Quick and Simple series ($20) or 16 in Instant Conversation ($50). The graduated-interval recall method (a system of reminders that help you build vocabulary) is well suited to the familiar sentence structures of most European languages, drilling in practical phrases like telling that Parisian cabbie to step on it. Another big plus: The commute-length lessons can be ripped to your iPod--just hold down your mumbling at the gym.

Immersion on Your Own

Spending the spring in Milan? If you're the self-motivated type, a couple of hours a day with Rosetta Stone's dynamic immersion CD-ROMs ($195; www.rosettastone.com) will give you a working knowledge of Italian or 25 other languages. In a method developed for institutions like the State Department and NASA, you start by associating words with images, then work up to intuitively forming sentences. Speech-recognition software provides instant feedback. If you don't think you'll need the help longer than a couple of months, save money by subscribing to the online version ($50 per month).

Class Act

The problem with do-it-yourself methods is that you don't get to practice with other people. Enter Berlitz (www.berlitz.com) and its Total Immersion courses, which range from one week to a month ($2,700-$10,050). Though the company has been using conversational practice in its classes for more than a century, it has recently updated its curriculum for corporate clients and started hosting evening classes targeted at executives, including sessions at restaurants where students practice talking their way through a business lunch. "Listening to a tape, you can get a bit lazy," says Goldschmidt, who gives high marks to his just-completed Spanish Immersion course. "You can't beat one-on-one, because you get both pronunciation and conversation." He's now headed for Argentina, where he's looking forward to having some heart-to-heart chats with the tipos at the winery.