Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Technical Support

Hi Bloomers, I'm back with post #3 in my little "life in Chile" series. Read more about how we got here here, and about one of my favorite parts of the adventure here.

Can I be perfectly frank? Living abroad = not as hard as it sounds. We live in a very modern place, we can get nearly anything here (oreos, cheetos, sometimes even Dr. Pepper, all the important stuff), and most important, it is ridiculously easy these days to stay in touch with friends and family.

Imagine how different it was moving to another continent 20 years ago. Where we live, mail from home takes 3 weeks, and a plane trip home is nearly 24 hours. Before the internet, we would have felt incredibly isolated. Nowadays, we have ...

email (of course),

Skype, which isn't really my favorite -- it makes me feel self-conscious and I'd rather just talk on the phone,

Vonage -- you might have heard about VOIP phone technology, but in case you didn't know, it means that I was able to bring my Utah phone number with me and no one has to pay for an international call as long as my internet is working (it almost always is),

Facebook -- I love and hate it, but it keeps us connected to lots of people, and everyone's on Facebook here too, which will make it fun and easy to keep in touch with new friends when this adventure is over,

blogs -- I'm probably preaching to the choir on this one, but if nothing else, my blog makes it easy to share pictures and stories with the grandmas (I hope you'll start reading it too though, as my dream is to be a famous blogger so my husband can quit his job), and

iPhone -- this is my fun new toy and a techie friend is helping us "unlock" it so I can have two SIM cards, making it usable here, and in the US when we're there for a visit (I would never have known it was possible to use one phone in two countries, so thought I'd share in case anyone is ever in this situation).

You probably didn't need me to explain any of the above (I'm the last person who should be writing about tech stuff) but here is a quick review of a couple of technology-related items you may not have tried:

Amazon Kindle

We just invested in a Kindle and for us, it's quickly becoming indispensable. Although our kids' school library has books in English, we can't buy them anywhere here and shipping them internationally basically doubles the price. I haven't tried any other e-readers, but we find the user interface and features of the Kindle pleasing and perfectly adequate for our needs. I can have a book in my hands about a minute after I decide I want to read it, which is both good and bad (impulse buying is expensive!). A warning: there are a few free games you can download, and they are highly addictive if you are a word nerd like me.

E-books aren't typically any cheaper than the real thing, except some of the classics, which are free. If you don't live abroad, you might enjoy having a Kindle for travel, or because it means fewer books to store, but if you're super-frugal, I imagine you'll want to stick with the library. (I've heard some libraries have lend-able books for e-readers, but I haven't looked into that yet. If you know, do share.)

Rosetta Stone

We have been using Rosetta Stone for several months to reinforce our Spanish learning. It is expensive, but I would highly recommend it. Again, I have no experience with its competitors, so I don't know how it compares to other similar products, but this is a high-quality program, and for a family like ours, with five people using the program and for whom language-learning is a HUGE priority, it has been worth the money.

We decided to buy Rosetta Stone a few months after moving here, when my language acquisition wasn't progressing to my satisfaction. My husband's company had provided some tutoring for me, which was great, but I found memorizing the vast amount of vocabulary I need to learn daunting. (It's been 14 years since I graduated from college, and the memorizing muscles are pretty rusty!)

Some people think you will just "pick up" a language living in a foreign country, but I am not truly immersed in the language, because I don't speak it at home, school, or work, and my kids are in the same boat. Rosetta Stone is helping us compensate. It is simple to use, and pretty intuitive, so I can get a lot out of it even if I'm tired. (I don't know about you, but by the time the kids are in bed, I'm not really up for flashcard making, etc.) The lessons are short -- most are about 10 minutes -- which helps a lot if you're trying to motivate kids to do several a week. And it's pretty fun -- like a little quiz with pictures. Each group of lessons has you speak, write (type), listen, and read, so there's quite a bit of variety for all types of learners, and lots of repetition of each concept.

The Rosetta Stone doesn't teach you grammar, which will be frustrating for some people. I was glad I also had a tutor to explain the whys and wherefores of the language to me, but you could also get a basic grammar book or even have a helpful friend sit down with you once in awhile. The idea is that you don't need the grammar explained, because if you hear something enough the grammar will come naturally, but I'm a person likes to know the rules as well.

One last thing about Rosetta Stone. I know sometimes people buy it used, but I would caution you to make sure it works. The company is very fussy about their intellectual property, and the program limits the number of times it can be installed, etc. I've also heard that it's hard to get tech support if you can't prove you were the original buyer.

I hope this will be helpful to someone -- just file it away, in case the day comes that you are suddenly motivated to learn a foreign language. I know several other people who have used the program as well, and they've all found it helpful and worthwhile.

I'm sort of lame when it comes to technical details -- I have a hard time remembering to do things like charge my cell phone, and I had an iPod for about three years before I started using it. Sometimes I'm dismayed by the world of technology and wish we could go back to a simpler time. But living far away from home has been a game-changer for me. I can't imagine how anyone lived in a non-English speaking country before Google Translate! Our life here is filled with blessings and challenges, and technology is most certainly one of the blessings.

More info:


Charlene said...

Ah...Chile! I was there 15 years ago for a study abroad program. Before I left I remember trying to look up how I was going to communicate with family back home - was there internet service at the library, or internet cafes, etc. No such luck 15 years ago! The least expensive way to communicate was by fax, believe it or not!

Be glad you have access to the internet, and the wonderful world of blogs, e-mail, etc. :) It helps with the homesickness, I'm sure!

Kimberly said...

Living abroad is interesting-are you in Chile for the long haul or just a few years?

We moved to Canada shortly after we got married, and while I LOVE it here, my mom's incessant suggestions to move back to Utah get really annoying. Are you having to deal with that sort of thing at all?

It's funny the things you miss, I miss August evenings the most, and that's something I NEVER would have expected when we moved.

families are forever said...

Kindle, I have heard the the Barns and noble brand has a connection with local libraries so you can download many books for free, Of coarse the download only last for a few weeks but you can renew them like regular books.