Sunday, May 25, 2008

Online Resources For Learning Spanish

These days, if learning a foreign language is your thing, then you are in very good luck! With the advent of online services like podcasts and online course work available from many universities it is easier that ever to learn a foreign language.

I discovered this recently when I felt the need to learn Spanish. Recantly I took on the responsibility of managing sales and marketing for the Latin region of Americas. Its a great job that requires lots of one on one interaction with people from Spanish speaking countries. 

Although most people I work with know and speak English very well, I feel learning Spanish will demonstrate my commitment to the people of this sub continent. So I decided to set myself a goal of learning  Spanish in six months.

Having had some experience using podcasts I knew that podcast was an excellent medium for language teaching. So, the first place I went looking for a Spanish language podcast was iTunes, the Mecca of podcasts. Within a few seconds of searching for key word "spanish" I came across two great podcasts that are helping me learn Spanish on the go.

One is called Cofee Break Spanish with their Scottish hosts Mark and Cara. This podcasts has a very traditional language teaching approach, with Mark being the teacher and Cara the student. After listening to Mark and Cara for six weeks I have to say that its fun to listen to them for 15 minutes in the morning on my drive to work.

The second podcast is called the Spanish Pod  which takes a slightly different approach. This podcast teaches situational Spanish - the hosts Lilly and JP describe a situation and teache you how to interact with people in Spanish in that situation. For example, one recent podcast focused on making a deposit in a bank in Mexico, and besides Spanish I ended up learning a lot about Mexican culture. There are a few things I love about this podcast - first, they analyze the dialog carefully which teaches you a lot more than the actual dialog itsel, and second, I love Lilly's vivacious personality! Together with JP, Lilly makes it real fun to learn Spanish! Spanish pod has quickly emerged a favorite of mine, and I am making a steady progress with the help of Lilly and JP.

The third source that I have found invaluable to my Spanish language quest is the MIT online learning website. Through this site I was able to locate the website for Annenberg foundation's site called Learner.org.

Annenberg foundation has developed video coursework for learning languages and the Spanish one is called "Destinos". The Destinos videos form the core curricullum of the MIT Spanish language course so obviously its excellent. But the important thing is that the videos are free to any one interested in watching them on Annenberg foundation's web site!

Just watching the videos will help you learn rudimentary Spanish but three is a companion book that I think would be even more helpful but for now I am managing without the book.

The "Destinos" series is a very clever way to teach Spanish but clearly the course work has been designed with class room setting in mind. Several things can make this coursework ideal for students of Spanish like me, busy worker bees who are trying to learn Spanish in our spare time. But there are several shortcomings of this site right now. For instance, the book "Destinos" is not available on Annenberg Foundation website for purchase. It would be nice if the foundation would put out PDF files of the main lesson online for download.

Another problem is that the content cannot be played on iPhone or iPod, my main AV device away from the computer.  The resources I have outlined are only the tip of the iceberg. All in all, despite all these problems, the free resources available to the student of foreign languages is large and ever growing.

So, if you are on the market for foreign language learning, there is no better time than tight now! 


About the author: Pavansut is the alter ego of Sunil Joshi who is learning Spanish in Princeton, NJ

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Drinking Rohini

Rohini is one of the few organic gardens in Darjeeling region but is also known for producing nice aromatic teas. This tea is FTGFOP grade second flush which produces a lovely sweet smelling golden brew.  There is narry a hint of astringency which is good because it helps settle my stomach. Rohini Estate tea can be ordered online from Jayateas 

Monday, May 19, 2008

An Advertising Agency That Sells

When I was in my Communications class at Xavier Institute of Communications, the creative director from Satchi & Satchi decided to spend a full class showing us some very creative advertisements from around the world to show us the power of the "creative". Several years later, when I was taking a marketing class at Akron U, our marketing professor did the same thing! She decided that the team could benefit from viewing a selection of the most hilarious, and a few poignant advertisements from around the world.

Both Professors no doubt thought that the students would benefit from learning how to communicate a message creatively. And, in fact both of them succeeded in demonstrating to us how complex messages can be communicated creatively.

But the questions that has always nagged me is, how useful are these advertisements in doing the job they were designed to do - sell the product?

In my job as a marketing guy, I have heared a fair share of pitches from agencies. Agency after agency will come in and trumpet the "award" they won or the "Prize" they received for their work. They will often start the pitch with a creative campaign that they recently conducted for some other client, and proceed to tell us about the process they went through to generative the campaign. Once they have reeled you in emotionally, they then make a pitch for why "they" should be the ones working on our product. I can understand the Agency using the "creative" campaign or the "award" as a bait. But to the client the only "prize" that should matter, is the success of the advertising in generating more business business!

Today there is an industry built around celebrating "creative ads" or "creative websites" or "creative campaigns". Agencies are constantly submitting their campaigns for the "Telly" award, or the "Webby" award, with the hopes of winning one of these so that they can make receive the imprimature of an "award winning" agency.

Clients though, should be wary of such "pitches". For such pitches demonstrate only one thing - the agency's ability to harness some creative slob into saying things a bit differently - not necessarily the agencies ability to develop a campaign that will deliver sales. When a client invests money in a campaign, it is with the intent of earning a "return". If the agency is unable to demonstrate a "return", then that agency should not be considered for new business.

Ultimately, in business what matters is "dollars and cents" return on the campaign. And usually the best ads to deliver the "return" are the ones that communicate the product attributes and benefits in the most mundane manner. Take for example the latest Coors campaign. Some time ago Coors, in keeping with the Jones (read Bud Lite and Miller), changed its ad campaign from the traditional "Rocky Mountain" campaign celebrating the freshness of the beer to a "lifestyle" based campaign. And the campaign bombed at the altar of the Sales God. Wiser counsel prevailed at Coors and the company is back with a "back to the basics" campaign. The ad age piece in fact focusses on the "mundane-ness" of the new ads.
Coors' consistent messaging borders on maddening: Every ad harps on cold refreshment, invoking the brand's cold-filtered origins (they call it "sterile filtered") and Rocky Mountain roots.

The fact that this mundane messaging has succeeded in getting Coors businss growing is a proof enough that repeating the same message over and over in the most direct fashion is the best way to do an ad!

The Coors story is a great example of how effective the nuts and bolts of marketing can be in making a brand successful. Some times a "creative" campaign might work to generate "warm and fuzzies" around your brand in the short run. But in the long run, people forget which brand showed them the creative ad unless the value proposition of the brand is tied into the emotional message.

On the other hand an attibute based advertising stays with the customers long after the ad has been run because attribute based advertising is meaningful because it helps the customers make a choice between various products out there. In other words, it is adding value to their decision making. An agency that can deliver that consistently, is worth its weight in gold and should be the one getting your business.

So, next time an agency makes a pitch, don't get pulled into doing a "creative campaign" just because it makes you laugh or makes you cry. Ask, "what will the ad do for business?" "Does the ad communicate the key message?" "Does it remind the customer of the key attributes?" If it does not you should be looking for a different agency, an agency that relies on nuts and bolts of marketing - not the glitz of creative advertising.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Teesta Valley Tea

So, here I am, wide awake at 3.40 AM getting ready for my trip to Mexico City, sipping a cup of Teesta Valley Tea. If you haven't tried this tea, I say you are missing some thing!! This is one of the most floral, most delicious teas I have had the pleasure of drinking. Its just a joy to brew a pot, and then re-brew the same tea again. I love this tea so much that after I finish second brew, I save the leaves for use in my bread making machine!

You can find this lovely tea here.

Happy Birthday, Birthday Girl!

Life is so beautiful around this time of the year. And more so today because its my baby's birthday! Happy Birthday Sweet Pea!

Spring Shadows

Long shadows
of spring remind me
Its time to step out

Walk the dog
Take a hike
Play with kids
Picnic in the park
Swimming lessons.

Chores can wait.

Days will be long now
But time is fleeting
Spring or Summer
It never lasts

And soon it will be gone.