It used to be that inflight entertainment meant watching a movie you'd already seen (or even worse, intentionally missed), flipping through the inflight magazine or having to converse with the entomologist sitting next to you.
Have no fear, there's something new (well, relatively new) to keep you entertained, especially on those long-haul flights. Taking their cue from cruise lines, but with a high-tech twist, two airlines have now taken the plunge and are offering foreign language classes whilst you fly.
Perpetual innovators Virgin Atlantic (www.virgin-atlantic.com) was the first airline to offer language learning courses as part of its V:Port inflight entertainment system back in August 2004. The airline teamed up with the world's self-study and assisted learning leaders Linguaphone (www.linguaphone.com) to offer courses for passengers to assist them in understanding and speaking a new language without the need for any written materials. The aim was to make the service both fun and educational for business or leisure travelers. As an added bonus, these courses had the benefit of making time appear to pass more quickly on long flights. The first courses that were introduced were Spanish for English speakers and English for Spanish speakers. Last month, Virgin Atlantic extended its language services by partnering with Swedish company Univerb (www.univerb.com) to offer language courses for Japanese speakers wanting to learn English and for English speakers wanting to learn Japanese. Based on the listen, repeat and learn method, this program is now available on its London to Tokyo sectors and Virgin intends to add Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin) to its selection for flights to the Far East in the near future. All Virgin Atlantic aircraft are fitted with personal seat back TV's for each passenger, offering up to 20 channels of entertainment to choose from and the V:Port's on demand technology allows you to stop, start, fast forward and rewind.
Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) has taken the inflight language lessons to new heights with the introduction of its learning programs covering 11 languages. Singapore has teamed up with American language school Berlitz International (www.berlitz.com) to offer quick courses in English, Cantonese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. The courses on its inflight entertainment system, KrisWorld include instruction in basic language skills like numbers, dates, phrases and general dialogue.
As an added incentive, those who complete an inflight course with self-testing get e-mailed a certificate from Berlitz. The service was started in July 2004, but was only offered on a small number of aircraft flying from New York and Los Angeles to Singapore. Now, it is available on more than two-thirds of the fleet of 90 aircraft. Following the success of the program, Singapore Airlines plans to roll out a further nine language options in late 2005.
Obviously you aren't going to become fluent in any of the languages during a ten-hour flight. You will however learn basic phrases or brush up on your conversation skills. Even being able to speak a few words of a foreign language makes a vacation or trip overseas so much more enjoyable.
It was actually cruise lines that first introduced the concept of en route language courses. Crystal Cruises (www.crystalcruises.com) have been offering Berlitz foreign language instruction on several of its international cruises since 2003. Language instruction inlcudes Chinese (Cantonese/Mandarin), French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Russian and Spanish. Lessons focus on basic vocabulary and phrases to help guests communicate in foreign countries the cruise is visitin. Classes are taught the old-fashioned way, using certified Berlitz Language instructors. Cunard line (www.cunardline.com) also features language classes as part of its cultural and educational program on the Queen Mary II, Holland America offers select language courses seasonally on a few of its cruises as do several smaller specialized cruise lines.