Barron’s Foreign Languages

All about language programs, courses, websites and other learning resources
Speakeasy
Black Belt - 2nd Dan
Posts: 2257
Joined: Mon Jul 20, 2015 5:19 pm
Location: Canada (Montréal region)
Languages: English (N), French (C2). Studying: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Polish, and Russian; all with widely varying degrees of application, enthusiasm, and success.
x 5948

Barron’s Foreign Languages

Postby Speakeasy » Mon Jul 08, 2019 1:00 am

Barron’s Educational Services
Earlier today, while searching the internet for information on one of Barron’s Educational Services language series, I located the publisher’s website but discovered that it now seems to be nothing more than a facility for re-directing would be customers to the websites of Simon & Schuster and/or Amazon but that the latter are, effectively, a cul-de-sac. Barron’s Educational Services was founded in 1939, by one Manuel Barron, as an American publisher of materials to help students to prepare for college entrance examinations. With the passage of time, the publisher expanded into many other publishing fields, with over 2,000 titles in a wide range of categories. In 2018, Barron's sold its brand name and its test preparation list to Kaplan Test Prep and the company was renamed B.E.S. Publishing.

Barron’s Foreign Languages
For over eight decades, this publisher offered a catalogue of entry-level language courses, aids-to-study, dictionaries, phrase books, verb charts, grammar charts, introductory readers, and other language-learning materials covering, for the most part, the frequently-studied languages (French, German, Italian, Spanish) with the occasional title in more exotic languages.

Barron's Series
This is a partial list of the Barron’s series of language-learning publications.
1001 Pitfalls in [Language]
2001 [Language] and English Idioms
201 [Language] Verbs
501 [Language] Verbs
[Language] Verbs
[Language] Idioms
Dictionary of [Language] Slang and Colloquial Expressions
[Language] at a Glance
[Language] the Fast and Fun Way
[Language] Grammar
[Language] Vocabulary
[Language] On the Way
[Language] the Easy Way
Fast Track to [Language]
Getting by in [Language]
Getting to Know [Land] and [Language]
How to Prepare for College Board Achievement Tests [Language]
How to Prepare for the [Language] AP (Advanced Placement) Tests
How to Use [Language] Verbs
Master the Basics [Language]
Mastering [Language]
Mastering [Language] Grammar
Mastering [Language] Vocabulary
Mastering [Language] Business Vocabulary
Now You’re Talking [Language] in No Time
Painless [Language]
Pronounce It Perfectly in [Language]
SAT Subject Test [Language]
Succeeding with [Language] Grammar
Talking Business in [Language]
Travel Wise [Language]
Vocabulary Builder [Language]
Write it in [Language]


Barron’s Mastering [Language] Series
The most comprehensive language courses that Barron’s Educational Services ever published were their (accredited) versions of the FSI Basic and FSI Programmatic courses for the self-study of French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish, which were retitled as Barron’s Mastering [Language]:
Barron's Mastering series 1.JPG
Barron's Mastering series 1.JPG (37.62 KiB) Viewed 1500 times

Barron's Mastering series 2.JPG
Barron's Mastering series 2.JPG (35.91 KiB) Viewed 1500 times

Barron's Mastering series 3.JPG
Barron's Mastering series 3.JPG (42.94 KiB) Viewed 1500 times

In several instances, Barron’s chose to publish only the first half of the relevant FSI course. I have copies of the Barron's Mastering German, Mastering Spanish, and Mastering Italian. I have also inspected the textbooks of Mastering French and Mastering Korean. In some cases, Barron’s re-typeset the original FSI texts, without changes, as for Mastering German. In the case of Mastering Italian, in the process of re-typesetting the original text, they removed some inconsequential material and incorporated the Instructor's Guide directly into the text, where it should have been all along. In the case of Mastering Spanish, as far as I understand, they used a copying process that avoided the laborious re-typesetting. However, in NONE of the courses that I have seen did they AUGMENT the original FSI courses, whether as a matter of dialogues, drills, or other exercises. As to the CD audio recordings, they took the time to split the longer magnetic cassette tape files into smaller segments and they added a few "culture capsules" which are of no consequence. However, the main part of the audio itself was drawn directly from the original FSI recordings. Generally speaking, the recording quality of the Barron's CDs was "no better than" that of the free audio files that are available on the Yojik.eu website. I cannot be certain, but I get the impression that the Mastering Italian audio was re-recorded by Barron's. Finally, it is generally agreed that their "Mastering Japanese" course was a copy of the textbook "Beginning Japanese" by Eleanor Harz Jorden, which had been adopted for use by the FSI, along with a copy of the original recordings, which are reasonably clear.

In those cases where Barron's re-typeset the original FSI texts, regrettably, some small typographical errors occurred which were never corrected. Often, these are obvious, minor, and can be simply ignored. Unfortunately, in the case of Mastering German, the errors can lead to confusion. For example, in some of the examples and explanatory notes, "ihn" and "ihm" are misrepresented. For the "truly observant" student, who regularly consults a German Grammar, these types of errors might be no more than a minor irritation. However, for the novice student, who is relying more-or-less completely on the Barron's text, the presence of these types of errors renders the German Case System even more difficult to comprehend.

Another One Bites the Dust?
Many of the titles listed above are now out-of-print, leaving me with the impression that the Barron’s era has come to an end. Does anyone have any information which is more concrete than my supposition? Does anyone really care?

EDITED:
Typos, tinkering.
Attached images of the Barron's Mastering series.
Formatting.
Last edited by Speakeasy on Fri Jul 12, 2019 10:44 am, edited 3 times in total.
4 x

User avatar
sirgregory
White Belt
Posts: 45
Joined: Sat Apr 27, 2019 5:22 pm
Location: USA
Languages: Speaks: English (N), Spanish
Studies: German, French
x 120

Re: Barron’s Foreign Languages

Postby sirgregory » Mon Jul 08, 2019 8:11 pm

I really like Barron's reference materials. They are pretty good quality, very affordable, and readily available at bookstores. I have their small reference grammars for Spanish, French, and German as well as their verb books for those same languages. I have also used the 1,001 Pitfalls book for Spanish. I had already been living in Latin America for several months and spoke ... let's say "functional" Spanish when I picked up the Pitfalls book and I found it immensely useful for pointing out some nuances that I'd missed when learning the basics the first time through. I (rather ambitiously) purchased the German Pitfalls book (seems to be out of print but there are many affordable used copies) but it will be a while before I reach a level where I can use it profitably. It's not a series for beginners, in my opinion. I wanted to get Pronounce it Perfectly in German but it's out of print and going for well over $100 used on Amazon.

I don't get the impression Barron's is dying as they still have a good share of the shelf space in the language section at the book store. Rather it seems to me like they've simply made a business decision to focus on their most popular offerings. I'm sure online resources like verbix and wordreference are cutting into the demand for things like verb books, but I think there will still be demand for the old-fashioned printed versions. I did hesitate to get the German verb book simply because the German verbal system just isn't as complicated as in the Romance languages, but I ultimately ended up getting it and have found it worthwhile, though I wouldn't say it's an essential resource. (As an aside, on my last visit to the bookstore, I was highly amused to see that they offer 501 English Verbs :lol: . It seems downright silly to have a huge book with a whole page for each English verb when the forms barely change. Surely a pamphlet would have been more appropriate?)
2 x

User avatar
Chung
Green Belt
Posts: 431
Joined: Mon Jul 06, 2015 9:39 pm
Languages: SPEAKS: English*, French
STUDIES: German, Italian, Slovak
STUDIED: Azeri, BCMS/SC, Czech, Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, Korean, Latin, Northern Saami, Polish, Russian, Slovenian, Turkish, Ukrainian
DABBLED: Bashkir, Chuvash, Crimean Tatar, Inari Saami, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Latvian, Lithuanian, Meadow Mari, Mongolian, Romanian, Tatar, Turkmen, Tuvan, Uzbek
x 1697

Re: Barron’s Foreign Languages

Postby Chung » Mon Jul 08, 2019 11:16 pm

I'll offer my two cents' (or two dollars') worth as someone who, perhaps surprisingly, has built up a small collection of Barron's books for foreign languages issued from the 1990s onward. I'm not as keen on Barron's older books mentioned above, partially because they're hard to find anyway (or have a free substitute like the "Mastering..." series which was lifted from material in the public domain). A beginner need not worry about them when there are so many serviceable modern alternatives.

In general, Barron's language material is geared toward the American market and this is clearest on seeing that the Spanish material almost always teaches a vaguely Latin American variant (Mexican, I suppose) and most offerings for foreign languages are for French and Spanish (i.e. languages often chosen for study by Americans). There are some resources for German and Italian but not as many as for those other two languages. The focus on the American market can also be gleaned on seeing the stock of material offered for Spanish-speakers learning English (e.g. Domine lo Basico: Ingles: Master the Basics of English for Spanish Speakers, Modismos Ingleses para Hispanos: English Idioms for Spanish Speakers) or for Americans who have to deal with Latin American (im)migrants at work (e.g. Spanish for Health Care Professionals, Spanish for the Construction Trade).

Basically if you want to start studying one of FIGS, Barrons might have something useful (and cheap) but it's a crowded field (that probably explains why many of the books are cheap in the first place). I have the most experience with the relatively few books for German and Italian but there are still broad similarities with corresponding books for French and Spanish based on my perusal of some of the latter.

1. "Painless..." series (based on experience with "Painless Italian")

These books are meant for students and can be used to supplement another beginners' textbook or be the main book for a beginners' course outright. Their writing style is generally chatty with topics presented in a fairly simple way. A real plus is that there's an answer key to the fairly large number of exercises, and working through "Painless Italian" really helped to solidify my understanding of basic grammar. Note: "Painless Spanish" by Vega is generally available in two editions, with the newest edition a lot more suitable for a beginner (i.e. simplified) than the older edition which has surprisingly tough texts for that beginner to wade through.

2. "E-Z [Language]" (cf. "[Language] Now!", "[Language] The Easy Way", "Learn [language] The Fast and Easy Way") (based on experience with "E-Z Italian" (formerly: Italian the Easy Way"))

Depending on the author these overlap heavily with beginners' textbooks under a different title in Barron's inventory. In the case of Italian, "E-Z Italian", "Italian Now!", "Learn Italian The Fast and Easy Way" and even "Painless Italian" cover a lot of the same ground - no surprise when the author of all four titles is the same. They're all a little on the dry side but offer a fair amount of exercises to you for developing a grasp of basic grammar.

3. "[Foreign language] Idioms..." (based on experience with the German and Italian volumes)

These are portable and cheap lists of 2000 idioms with translations. 1000 go from the foreign language to English while the other 1000 go from English to the foreign language. These are fun for browsing, and tend to use larger monolingual works in the foreign language as their source. The dictionary of German idioms is based on the content in the larger Redewendungen Wörterbuch der deutschen Idiomatik issued by Duden. However, if you want to get serious reference material for idioms in FIGS, then it seems that you're better off consulting dedicated monolingual works (which in hard copy can be more expensive, unfortunately) excepting Spanish. Examples are Le Robert Dictionnaire d'expressions et locutions for French, Redewendungen Wörterbuch der deutschen Idiomatik for German, and Dizionario dei modi di dire della lingua italiana for Italian. As an alternative to something like the monolingual Diccionario fraseológico documentado del español actual: Locuciones y modismos españoles for Spanish, English-speakers can try out The Big Red Book of Spanish Idioms: 12,000 Spanish and English Expressions which has more coverage than Barron's book on idioms or The Red-Hot Book of Spanish Slang: 5,000 Expressions to Spice Up Your Spainsh which covers slang and idioms.

4. "Barron's [x] [foreign language] Verbs" (based on experience with "Polish 301 Verbs")

These are compilations of verbs linked to conjugation tables of model verbs. Even though they're meant for an English-speaking learner, I generally don't recommend these unless they're offered for less than $10. For FIGS, verb conjugation books are plentiful and there are competing books that offer even more when it comes to verbs in the index or just general usefulness.

For French, I recommend the Bescherelle (English translation or French original). Nothing else comes close.

For German, I recommend the Bescherelle (if you know enough French), Rowlinson's German Verbs or as a third option even the somewhat unwieldy The Big Yellow Book of German verbs if Rowl

For Italian, I recommend as the top two choices the Bescherelle (if you know just enough French to understand the explanations) and Stoppelli's Verbi italiani (if you know just enough Italian to understand the explanations). If you're dying for something in English, then the largish The Big Green Book of Italian Verbs could work as I find it slightly better than Barron's "501 Italian Verbs" even though it still trails the guides in French and Italian.

For Spanish, I recommend Butt's Spanish Verbs/Spanish Verbpack, the Bescherelle in the French original or its Spanish translation, or even better, Thompson's 15,000 Spanish Verbs Translated and Fully Conjugated in All the Tenses Using Pattern Verbs.

For verb guides outside FIGS, Barron's isn't the only name in town, but can be the best or most readily available depending on the language. For example, I'd recommend Saloni's Czasownik polski (if you know just enough Polish) over Barron's 301 Polish Verbs, or Pirogova's Complete Handbook of Russian Verbs or Franke's The Big Silver Book of Russian Verbs over Barron's 501 Russian Verbs. Yet if you need something for a language that's even less commonly studied, like Dutch, then Barron's 201 Dutch Verbs by Stern is just about as good as it gets unless you find something better in a Dutch or Belgian bookstore.

5. Reference books on grammar (e.g. "Italian Grammar")

These are straightforward and usually cheap guides on grammar for beginners and intermediate learners that are less intimidating than Routledge's reference manuals on grammar. For FIGS and other "popular" languages you can often find competitors (e.g. Berlitz French Grammar Handbook, Collins Easy Learning German Grammar, Oxford Russian Grammar and Verbs) but they're all quite good for a beginner. On a related note, books in Barron's "Master the Basics..." fall somewhat awkwardly between the conventional reference books on grammar, and workbooks that are found in Schaum's Outlines. In short, you can give the "Master the Basics" subseries a miss considering how similar they often are to Barron's regular reference books on grammar of a foreign language.

6. "1001 Pitfalls in..." (based on experience with "1001 Pitfalls in German")

These are actually reference manuals of basic grammar for English-speaking beginners of the target language but after many of the explanations in the text there is a small box which highlights a pitfall or mistake regarding that topic/point of grammar that's often made by the learner. Despite the premise of being learner-focused, I didn't find the German book as helpful as advertised so I wouldn't recommend it to others unless available for a song.

7. Bilingual dictionaries (e.g. Italian-English dictionary)

After browsing Barron's dictionaries for Italian, French and German, I don't recommend them to anyone studying FIGS, let alone beginners. You can do better with competitors published by Collins, Oxford or Larousse just because they offer information on case or conjugation in the foreign headwords while Barron's doesn't. As the first bilingual dictionary for a total novice in particular, I'd recommend the following as the better alternatives to what you find in Barron's inventory:

French: Larousse Concise French-English/English-French Dictionary, Collins Le Robert French Dictionary: Concise Edition or Collins French Concise Dictionary

German: Larousse Concise German-English/English-German Dictionary

Italian: Larousse Concise Dictionary: Italian-English/English-Italian or Collins Italian Concise Dictionary

Spanish: Compact Oxford Spanish Dictionary, Collins Spanish Dictionary Concise Edition or Larousse Concise Dictionary: Spanish-English / English-Spanish

8. Slang dictionaries (based on experience with "Dictionary of German Slang")

Slang dictionaries in hard copy are always a little hit-and-miss considering how slang changes and usage that depends on the native speaker consulted. Another point is that dictionaries or phrasebooks for slang are often created by non-native speakers so the authenticity or currency of the content can be quite iffy. Barron's dictionary for German slang by Henry Strutz is a convenient handbook of slang words and phrases in alphabetical order but I recall some entries being unfamiliar or a little dated. If bought for a few dollars then I guess one of Barron's slang books could be good for a laugh but slang is best learned once you're no longer a beginner and get it through exposure or consulting native speakers (including online sources that are updated readily e.g. Le dictionnaire de la Zone for French, mundmische.de for German, asihablamos.com for Latin American Spanish). For German slang in hard copy, the best that I can recommend is Kauderwelsch's German Slang, the real German even though it's not perfect and is more of a phrasebook than a dictionary. Unlike other slang dictionaries that I've seen, the author of "German Slang, the real German" is a native speaker and she includes usage notes and translations of German slang to English slang which then convey a certain sense of the nuance or even vulgarity in the German original. This is much more useful for an English-speaker who wants to go beyond merely understanding slang and start learning how to express him/herself in idiomatic or appropriately casual German (e.g. Ehe(r) ich mich schlagen lasse! or literally "before I let myself be beaten (to do it)" is translated in the phrasebook as "You don't have to twist my arm, I'll do it!" and is explained as a way to signal that you'll gladly do something while putting up a mock objection. On a side note, a German acquaintance was mildly impressed how current much of the phrasebook's slang is (2010s).

Summary

The current crop of books by Barron's for anyone starting to learn FIGS can be useful in some cases, but competition is fierce and I wouldn't blow the bank on them if you're happy with your stock of learning material or can get the alternatives suggested. However, Barron's dictionaries of idioms can be worth the modest outlay if you want an introduction to them. In a few instances, its guides for verb conjugations in lesser-studied languages may be your only realistic option if you want that kind of resource.
6 x

Speakeasy
Black Belt - 2nd Dan
Posts: 2257
Joined: Mon Jul 20, 2015 5:19 pm
Location: Canada (Montréal region)
Languages: English (N), French (C2). Studying: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Polish, and Russian; all with widely varying degrees of application, enthusiasm, and success.
x 5948

Re: Barron’s Foreign Languages

Postby Speakeasy » Tue Jul 09, 2019 12:52 am

Barron’s Express Track to [Language]: a Teach-Yourself Program
As a follow-up to the much-appreciated comments by sirgregory and Chung, and putting the Barron’s editions of the FSI courses aside, perhaps this publisher’s best effort in terms of a conventional, introductory language course was their “Express Track to [Language]: a Teach-Yourself Program” series, for the self-instruction of French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, or English from a Spanish base. However, and this is not a criticism, but Barron’s was not the originator of the series. Rather, these courses were translations/adaptations of the late-1980's, early-1990’s “Voie Express” series by the French publisher Éditions Nathan.

The materials included: (a) a 200-plus page course book (the Russian course included 3 books), (b) a 40-plus page audio script and answer key, (c) either 4 audio cassettes or 4 CDs of recordings, (d) packaged in a cardboard storage case. I have a copy of the Express Track to German course. Although these courses were very-well-conceived, provided a good balance between the presentation of short dialogues, oral and written exercises, coupled with brief explanations of the L2 structure, and were overall highly recommendable for use by the novice or by the returning student, and while they had the potential for taking the learner to the CEFR A1-A2 level, this could have been said of literally hundreds-upon-hundreds of competing language courses for the FIGS.

These were fine courses, but how does one stand out in such a saturated market? While the packaging might have been attractive to a few millennials, it could have just as easily left some potential customers with the false impression that these courses were superficial. They were actually quite good!
Barron's Express Track series.jpg
Barron's Express Track series.jpg (44.74 KiB) Viewed 1468 times
2 x


Return to “Language Programs and Resources”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Beli Tsar and 2 guests