Antarctican's brush up on language skills

The homepage of the Parlo.com site has a promo ad saying its latest interactive language lesson is "Designed for busy people". Perhaps this should also read "Remote people" or more precisely "People at the bottom of the earth". This is because some of Parlo's customers, like the languages it teaches, are truly global - including a couple of scientific workers at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

In providing its language learning software to residents at the South Pole, the company can now truly boast about delivering to the seven continents of the world. "We offer popular products that are in global demand," said Varun Bedi, co-CEO of Parlo.

Parlo is a company which teaches languages by immersing learners with "realistic, practical and fun information" on the language they are studying. It does this all online, with users paying a fee for the service. Some of the languages on offer include English, Spanish, German, French and Italian.

"People down here jumped on the opportunity to use Parlo," said Noelle Lalario, who works for Raytheon Polar Services at McMurdo. RPSC is one of multiple contractors and support agencies which provides logistical/science support for the United States Antarctic Program. McMurdo residents are connected to the Internet via satellite.

Lalario's colleague Meg Davis has also taken to Parlo, undertaking a Spanish course ahead of a forthcoming visit to her brother who resides in Venezuela. "It's great to have Parlo available to help me improve my very rusty Spanish," she said.

One of the reasons for workers to take up such study is because there is essentially nothing else to do, especially when the weather, which is too cold for much outside movement, restricts the locals to indoor activities. Although penguins are commonplace, locals are hard-pressed to find a language tutor at hand. The other alternative is to learn off CD ROMS, books or tapes. But if they are not immediately on hand, a student has to go without or wait. And to have something posted to Antarctica is either expensive or impossible during the winter months.

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