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Vintage Language Courses of Lesser Renown

Posted: Mon Oct 09, 2017 10:41 pm
by Speakeasy

Welcome to the “Vintage Language Courses of Lesser Renown” discussion thread! As some forum members may have surmised, I am an amateur collector of vintage language-learning materials. While I appreciate that not everyone shares my interest for these types of materials, some may, and I have opened separate discussion threads to explore and review what-I-consider-to-be some of the more substantial vintage materials that I have come across. However, even I would admit that not every item that I have discovered merits such individual exposure.

Even so, as I would like to continue in my efforts to add to the archival record of vintage language-learning materials, I thought it might be useful to create a separate discussion thread wherein all members could record, or comment on, some of the lesser-known, forlorn and unjustifiably forsaken treasures from the past.

I invite one-and-all to submit their own reviews. I’ll start the ball rolling and will add others as they find their way into my collection.

Re: Vintage Language Courses of Lesser Renown

Posted: Mon Oct 09, 2017 10:54 pm
by Speakeasy
Learn to Speak 5 Modern Languages

Multilingua, Toronto, Canada
No dates appear on the boxed set of LP records and booklets which make up the contents of the “Learn to Speak 5 Modern Languages” course that I recently added to my collection: perhaps an indication of the timelessness of the contribution to language-learning that these materials were meant to represent. Nevertheless, based on the recording technology and a few clues in the accompanying course books, I surmise that the collection was produced at some time between the late 1950’s and the middle 1960’s. No information, other than the company’s name and street address, appears amongst the materials. My searches of the internet did not reveal any information concerning this publisher and I suspect that this collection was their first, only, and last well-intentioned entry into the market of home-study language-learning courses, that the venture was not crowned with success, and that the company ceased operations shortly after they began.

The boxed set “Learn to Speak 5 Modern Languages” contains nine 12-inch x 33-1/3 rpm LP vinyl records, two pamphlets, printed in landscape style, measuring 11 inches x 8-1/2 inches, of approximately 50 pages each, and three very small ancillary pamphlets. The materials were furnished in a thinly-panelled cardboard box. See the attached images.
Learn to Speak 5 Modern Languages (boxed set).jpg
Learn to Speak 5 Modern Languages (boxed set).jpg (97.52 KiB) Viewed 1872 times

The following commonly-studied languages were covered in the course: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian.

Course Description
The course texts were aligned side-by-side in columnar fashion for each of: English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Three small ancillary pamphlets were included for the Russian text. The aligned texts expressed the English phrases in each of the target languages. All of the information, including the instructions for use and the summaries of grammar were printed in the same columnar fashion. The names of several contributors are credited for their translations of the English text. The texts themselves were a mixture of basic verb conjugations, vocabulary items, and situational phrases. The audio recordings were prepared by native speakers whose delivery was clear, reasonably-well articulated although somewhat flat, and at a cadence slower than that of normal conversation.
Learn to Speak 5 Modern Languages (pamphlet).jpg
Learn to Speak 5 Modern Languages (pamphlet).jpg (132.71 KiB) Viewed 1872 times

Evaluation and Recommendation
This collection of language courses represented a very basic introduction to the five target languages, something less than a good phrase book. Although I am attempted to treat these materials as a “novelty” meant more for self-amusement than self-instruction, a very dedicated independent learner could, indeed, learn something useful. As someone who has a varying competency in each of the five target languages, I found comparing the line-by-line translations to be an enjoyable exercise. While the user could have easily chosen to “master” each of the five languages in succession, as opposed to attempting to do so simultaneously, he might have been better advised to acquire individually-prepared materials for each of the languages. All-in-all, I found this little treasure to be an entertaining addition to my collection, but I would recommend it only to those who wish to amuse themselves.

I have posted an addendum to this review. Please refer to the following page(s).

Alignment of the images with the corresponding text.

Re: Vintage Language Courses of Lesser Renown

Posted: Wed Oct 11, 2017 9:15 pm
by dgc1970
Not sure if this is of lesser renown but I've never seen it mentioned here. Somebody posted all 25 episodes on Youtube and the course books are cheap on Amazon. ... =zarabanda ... =zarabanda

Re: Vintage Language Courses of Lesser Renown

Posted: Fri Oct 13, 2017 2:59 pm
by DaveBee
Not a language course, but model letters.

I was looking for a translation exercises book, and found "Polyglot commercial correspondence compiled on a special plan in the English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese languages, each part forming an original text and the others being the translations or keys to it"

I think this was paired books, the same content in various languages, so you could select the type of letter/advert you wanted in your language and then turn to the paired translation in your french/german/spanish etc copy.

Re: Vintage Language Courses of Lesser Renown

Posted: Sat Oct 14, 2017 1:06 am
by Speakeasy
I Hesitated ...
I hesitated before posting the following review. There were so many short-lived publishers of language guides in the 1960’s-1980’s that it is pointless trying to list them all. Nevertheless, as the Eurotone language guides were a well-conceived addition to an unfortunately-for-the-publisher already over-crowded market, I thought that this review might be helpful to collectors should they ever come across one.

Eurotone “Four Phase Introduction” Language Guides
Eurotone was a company located in Bexley, Kent which, in 1974, began publishing a series of basic language guides entitled “Four Phase Introduction” in the commonly-studied languages of French, German, Spanish, and English. The courses were distributed by Lugtons in Britain and retailed for a price of £5 each at the time.

The small molded-plastic packages contained two pamphlets, a small map of the country where the language was spoken, and audio recordings furnished as either (a) five 7-inch x 33-1/3 EP vinyl records, (b) one cassette tape, or (c) one 8-track cartridge. While the magnetic tapes were produced locally, the EP vinyl records were manufactured by Sonopresse, of Holland.

Course Description and Review
These language guides were similar in scope and content to many others in the genre; the pamphlets contained a selection of basic phrases for use in predictable situations: Passing Customs, Confirming Hotel Reservations, Seeking Directions, Ordering in Cafés and Restaurants, Postal Services, Banking and Money Matters, and the like. The series received a very favourable review in the August, 1974 issue of the monthly magazine Gramaphone. Provided users devoted sufficient time to mastering the contents, these small language guides had the potential for meeting the limited objectives established by the publisher. Used copies can still be found on eBay and other online booksellers’ websites.

The image below was taken from the cover of one of the two pamphlets included in the "Four Phase Introduction to French" language guide. A similar photo graces the cover of the plastic molded package. A rather curious image for a language guide, n'est-ce pas?

Re: Vintage Language Courses of Lesser Renown

Posted: Sat Oct 14, 2017 2:25 am
by aravinda
Speakeasy wrote:The image below was taken from the cover of one of the two pamphlets included in the "Four Phase Introduction to French" language guide. A similar photo graces the cover of the plastic molded package. A rather curious image for a language guide, n'est-ce pas?

Guide d’achat du poisson. :)

Re: Vintage Language Courses of Lesser Renown

Posted: Thu Nov 02, 2017 8:17 pm
by Speakeasy
British Petroleum Language Records (Really ???)
When I first opened this discussion thread, I had in mind my own copy of the BP Foreign Language Records that I had purchased a few years ago. Seriously, who would ever have thought that an international petroleum company would publish a series of language guides? Cognisant of the deep and enduring passion for lesser-known vintage language-learning materials that many members of this forum secretly harbour, I decided to publish the following review.

BP Language Records
BP is a British multinational oil and gas company headquartered in London, England. The initials BP formerly stood for British Petroleum, the present name of BP PLC having been adopted in 2000. BP published many promotional flexi-discs which were either freely available at the company’s petrol stations or which were sent by mail to customers. The use of flexi-discs suggests that this activity took place from the late 1950’s through the 1960’s.

In addition to the promotional discs, BP either marketed or offered as promotional items a series of short language guides under the name BP Foreign Language Records. These packages were of a higher-quality than one would generally expect for promotional items and, for this reason, it is not clear whether they were provided free-of-charge to customers, whether they were sold at market prices, or whether they were offered as a bonus following the cumulative purchase of an appreciable quantity of the company’s products. Intrigued by the presence of the BP logo on the cover of the cardboard box of one such item, I purchased a copy of the company’s German language guide a couple of years ago. Although I never did locate any information on the series, subsequent researches seem to have revealed the identity of the original publisher ...

Univox Language Records
Not too long ago, while searching the Internet for unrelated items, I came across offers for used copies of a series of language guides that had been published by Univox Language Records in the early 1960’s. My review of the accompanying photographs left me with the impression that the Univox language guides just might be the origin of the BP language guides; so, I purchased one for each of German and Italian and, as I surmised, the two series were identical as to their contents. As an aside, I would point out that the corporate and/or brand name Univox has been used countless times in association with sound recording, sound projection, music engineering, musical instruments, et cetera and that more than one Univox record label has existed in the past. Nevertheless, one of the packages that I purchased identified H.P. Humphrey Ltd, of London, as the publisher of Univox language guides. At that point, I concluded that the BP series was most likely produced pursuant to contract with Univox. However, further researches seem to have revealed the true identity of the original publisher ...

Interprint Grafiska Aktiebolag, Stockholm: Univox, Inteprint, Parlavox, Tonkort
Interprint Grafiska is a Swedish publisher and printer. This company published a series of language guides in the early 1960’s covering a fairly wide variety languages from a small number of language bases variously under the names Univox, Interprint, Parlavox, and Tonkort. A unique feature of these language guides was that the audio recordings were produced on one-side only of cardboard-backed, plastic, thin flexi-discs that they marketed as Tonkort (melody card). As it turns out, the L2 contents of these language guides were identical to those of the Univox/BP versions. I conclude that Interprint Grafiska was the originator of the series and the others were authorized reproductions.

The Univox/BP series contained four 7-inch x 33-1/3 rpm EP vinyl records (these were rigid vinyl discs, not cardboard and plastic flexi-discs) and two remarkably small pamphlets, measuring approximately 2-1/2 inches x 7 inches, some 40 pages in length, one in English and one in the target language. Whereas the Interprint/Univox series contained the same small pamphlets just mentioned, the audio recordings were prepared on ten single-sided, cardboard-backed, plastic, thin, 7-inch x 33-1/3 rpm flexi-discs.

Course Description and Review
The English-language-based language guides covered the commonly-studied languages of French, German, Italian, and Spanish. The guides that had been published in language bases of than English covered a significantly greater range of target languages.

The narrow pamphlets contain numbered lists of verb conjugations, frequently-encountered nouns and adjectives/adverbs, and short phrases useful for expressing generalities. These are followed by lists of short phrases to be used in the predictable situations in which a traveller is likely to find himself. Instructions for use on printed on the back of the pamphlets. The native speaker on the audio recordings repeats the English and target language texts as they appear in the pamphlets, in a clear and pleasantly-articulated voice, and at a reasonably understandable but slower-than-conversational speed.

Although the publisher could have prepared a single pamphlet having the dimensions of the cardboard box in which the materials were packaged, it seems that their intention was to provide the user with the smallest pocket-sized document feasible. While this might have seemed like a sound approach in theory, I suspect that in practice, very few users would have developed sufficient skill with the target language so as to permit their autonomous use of the unilingual target language pamphlet alone. That is, holding the two small pamphlets side-by-side in either one or in both hands, all the while thumbing through them in an attempt at locating and aligning the appropriate phrases, would have represented an additional and little-appreciated obstacle to effective communications with the local inhabitants. The simple expedient of printing the two languages in one pamphlet – as is generally done by other publishers -- would have been of greater utility to the user, meiner Meinung nach.

These are the “barest of bare-bones” phrase books destined for the general public that I have ever encountered. I have a couple of slim phrase books that were produced during the Second World War for use by members of the United States Armed Forces that are also very brief, but they are not quite as concentrated as the Interprint Grafiska offerings. These packages were the “powdered milk” of language guides; that is, condensed, dry, fat-free, full of essential vitamins, and prepared in a manner that guarantees their perpetual viability. But, were they any good? Putting aside the difficulties of holding and consulting the two separate pamphlets, these little guides were surprisingly well-conceived. However, given the availability of so many competing guides, I would recommend that only collectors of vintage materials considering acquiring these. If you do decide to purchase one, I suggest that you try to locate one of the BP Language Records sets, if only for the retro-chic look about them.

3) BP Foreign Language Records: contents. Notice the of the 2-1/2 inches x 7 inches pamphlets.
4) Univox Language Records. Contents identical to the BP Foreign Language Records.
5) Parlovox (Interprint Grafiska) Language Records: box cover 1
6) Parlovox (Interprint Grafiska) Language Records: box cover 2
7) Interprint/Univox: Set of single-sided, cardboard-backed, plastic, thin, 7-inch x 33-1/3 rpm flexi-discs.

Re: Vintage Language Courses of Lesser Renown

Posted: Sun Nov 05, 2017 1:05 am
by Speakeasy
Wittnauer 24-Hour Language Courses
Several months ago, I purchased a copy of the “Wittnauer 24-Hour Language Course” for the home-study of German. Although this 1970’s series was quite innovative for the genre, regrettably, it was released and withdrawn within a very short time period. Precious few copies are available nowadays and tracking down information on the series proved to be difficult. Here is the story that I was able to put together:

In 1950, the renowned Swiss luxury watchmaker Longines, which was founded in 1832, bought the American watch-and-instrument maker Wittnauer, forming the Longines-Wittnauer Company. While their commercial operations were combined, separate manufacturing facilities were maintained. The two company’s lines of watches were marketed under their previously-established brand names. Although known primarily for its lines of watches designed to appeal to affluent consumers, in the 1960’s, the combined company began diversifying into other areas of business and, having acquired Capital Records’ Direct Marketing Corporation in 1968, a purchase which included the Capitol Record Club, Longines-Wittnauer launched its own mail-order record venture known as the Longines Symphonette Society, located in New York.

Longines Symphonette Society
The Longines Symphonette Society began operations in 1968 and was a pioneer of direct-marketing, using computer-generated letters to promote its lines of LP vinyl records, audio cassette tapes, 8-track cartridges, electronics, books, and collector's medallions. The company’s main product lines were boxed sets of classical and easy listening music as well as re-releases of old time radio (OTR) programs which were marketed under several different sublabels, including that of Wittnauer. An interesting historical side note is that, in the late 1960’s, the Longines Symphonette Society, Reader’s Digest, and many other direct-marketing operations were included in a U.S. Congressional investigation of lotteries, sweepstakes, and deceptive marketing practices, particularly those of the direct-marketing type. Nevertheless, faced with rising costs, ferocious competition in a saturated market, and dire financial difficulties, the company ceased operations in 1975.

Wittnauer 24-Hour Language Courses
Either the Longines Symphonette Society had not done sufficient research, or the society’s marketing staff believed that they could establish a profitable niche in the already over-crowded market for low-priced, home-study language courses by offering a truly unique variant (which it decidedly was!), or the general state of economy doomed this, as well as many other, interesting business ventures of the period. Either way, in the early 1970’s, the company launched their language courses under the series name “Wittnauer 24-Hour Language Courses.” Languages included in the series were those common-for-that-time-period and for this type of product; that is: French, German, Italian, and Spanish. The large, attractive box in which the materials were delivered included the intriguing promotional statement “First Computerized Language Method”, a notion which became clearer to me during my review of the materials. I assume that advertising and sales were effected through the company’s regular direct-marketing program.

The courses were delivered in an attractive and remarkably sturdy cardboard, storage case. The course components included (a) a Course Manual, printed in landscape style, measuring 11 inches x 8-1/4 inches, of approximately 96 pages, (b) a slim pamphlet of similar dimensions containing surprisingly elaborate Course Instructions, vocabulary useful to the business person, and ancillary information, (c) a small Map of Western Europe, and (d) a set of Audio Recordings comprised of either four 12-inch x 33-1/3 rpm LP vinyl records or four 45-minute audio cassettes for a total duration of slightly more than 3 hours.

Course Description and Review (Excellent!)
A quick review of the Course Manual reveals that the series editors had made a genuine attempt at “braking the mold” of the approach that had been adopted by most American and British publishers of low-priced, home-study language courses during the 1950’s through the early 1970’s. That is, rather than offer either the commonly-available “phrase book” courses or those employing the familiar “situational dialogue” approach, the Wittnauer courses, without specifically saying so, were designed around the “programmed learning” approach to study, hence their promotional claim that their offerings were the “First Computerized Language Method.”

While the simple utterances of the initial pages evolved into groups of sentences and questions deploying more complex structures, the basic programmed-learning approach was used throughout the course. Nevertheless, at the end of every section, a three-minute “conversation” was inserted, deploying the vocabulary and structures that had been covered up to that point. The authors believed that the average student would be capable of assimilating the materials in this course through their active study during a total of 24 hours to be spread over an unspecified time period, hence the course title. I would estimate the level achieved on completion of these courses equivalent to A1. While this might not seem like much of an achievement, would it have been any less than that of the competing courses in the genre? And, unlike many of the competing products, these courses could actually deliver on their promise!

The audio recordings were prepared with the assistance voice-trained professionals whose delivery was consistently clear, well-articulated, and pleasant to listen to. The cadence of speech was set deliberately slower than that of normal conversation between native speakers but, by comparison, was somewhat faster than that of the speakers in the final lessons of a typical Assimil course.

These courses would have appealed to any serious independent-learner looking for an approach departing from the standard phrase-book or dialogue method. In my opinion, the Wittnauer courses were vastly superior to the commercially-more-successful Living Language (Learn-a-Language) courses and to many others of the period; think of them in terms of a “mini” or an “introductory” FSI Programmatic Course.

The company’s entry into the home-study language-learning market was ill-timed. Within a few years, inflation rose to 25%, wage and price controls were instituted, market conditions were extremely harsh, and the company itself was struggling with a deteriorating financial situation. Despite the superiority of these courses over those of many of their competitors, sales were not robust and, in 1975, the company ceased operations. Today, few copies of these courses are to be found on the websites of the major online booksellers. To my mind, they are a “must” for the collector and, despite their age, they remain viable alternative to any other introductory language course presently available.

IMAGE: Box cover.

Re: Vintage Language Courses of Lesser Renown

Posted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 7:11 am
by jpazzz
Hello Speakeasy,
What I kept thinking of as I read your description of this last course was the beautiful Longines seconds setting twenty-four hour dial watch I used many years ago in Celestial Navigation. (As a Canadian, did you call it Astro
as our British cousins do or Celestial as Yanks do?) More to the point, this whole discussion is neat.


Re: Vintage Language Courses of Lesser Renown

Posted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 1:40 pm
by Speakeasy
Hello, Jpazzz!

As a fellow collector of language-learning materials, you might wish to post reviews of a few of the priceless oddities from your collection.

Thank you for the reference to celestial navigation instruments. I have opened a separate post under the “General Discussion” sub-forum. Here is the LINK...

Celestial or Astro Navigation: is it a matter of Culture?