NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- In this newly flat, hot world of ours, businesses can no longer afford to be monoglot affairs. So picking up some basic working Spanish, Arabic or Chinese really does open up opportunities for your shop.
Just like everything else in the digital world, the niche market for quick-and-dirty business language skills is crowded. Now just about any businessperson can pick from a wide range of Web-based, phone-based, heck, even flashcard-based language tools -- each of which can help you land a nice piece of non-English business.
|It's expensive and cumbersome when compared with some rivals, but Rosetta Stone is the language-learning leader for a reason.|
The only caveat? You absolutely must ignore the ridiculous claim -- that all these tools can't seem to help making, by the way -- that they "solve the problem" of learning a language. They don't. Learning a way to communicate remains the work it always has been. What these tools actually do is offer so many fresh approaches to doing the work of learning a language that one is bound to suit you better than the last time you tried.
So assuming you are even half serious about finding some new, non-English-speaking customers, here are four language tools worth a look.Brain Scape Business Spanish (free)
I'm a flashcard guy. So I like flashcard-based Brain Scape. The company offers a slick mix of test prep and language flash cards that run from an Apple (AAPL - Get Report) iPhone. And the free set of Business Spanish cards are a solid start of drill phrases with answers. The genius of Brain Scape is its drills are on your smartphone. Got a minute? Drill a phrase. And considering how many Spanish speakers there are in the United States, you can often use what you just learned. Everybody loves a boss willing to meet them even a quarter of the way, and even basic foreign-language skills are a critical indication you know how to make diverse workgroups tick. Dictionary.com Word Dynamo (free)
Though squarely aimed at the crowded test-prep world, there are some darn solid language tools in this Web-based system. What I found great about Word Dynamo is the varied test methods it throws at you. You can play word games, take practice tests and complete basic lessons in French, Latin and Spanish. Be warned, though: There is a lot of contributed content, so some of the programs are flat. But if you are the sporting type, Word Dynamo's competitive vibe is worth a look. Babbel.com ($13 a month per single user)
If you want access to a wide array of languages and similarly diverse testing, mobile and interactive tools, Babbel is for you. Mostly aimed at European languages from Dutch to Turkish, Babbel offers a deep archive of interactive, up-to-date learning drills. If you are investing a bit more time and money into getting that overseas deal, Babbel is the place to start. Rosetta Stone (online access, $200)
Expensive, often cumbersome when compared with nimble online and mobile rivals -- and did I mention the cost? Still, there is no denying Rosetta Stone (RST) is the language-learning leader for a reason. Seemingly every word of every language is within your grasp here. And its business focus makes it the choice for do-it-yourself learning. Personally, I think a tool this ginormous makes more sense as part of a larger language course -- in other words, a tutor to keep you on track. But if you need Mandarin now, the Stone is for you. >To submit a news tip, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow TheStreet.com on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.