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Q: My company is sending me to Paris next month, but our client speaks little English and my high-school French is horrible. I only have a couple of weeks. What can I do?

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A: If time is of the essence, the best way to parlez français, or for that matter any foreign language, is to enroll in intensive classes. These crash courses are usually conducted one-on-one in a total-immersion environment, which means that for most of the day, even through lunch, you're hearing and speaking the language. At the ultra-high end, there's Michel Thomas Learning Center (156 Fifth Avenue; 688-8400). Thomas himself has tutored stars like Woody Allen and Barbra Streisand, and he charges an eye-popping $16,000 for a personalized four-day course, but he guarantees you'll learn, or you get your money back. Thomas puts the burden on the teacher, allowing the student to relax and absorb without worrying about memorizing or taking notes. His other instructors (he has trained nearly twenty in New York) are also available, and prices vary widely; a typical five-day, 60-hour course with one of them can cost $5,300. At the venerable Berlitz Language Centers (40 West 51st Street, 765-1001, and 2 Rector Street, 766-2388; www.berlitz.com), they've thought of most everything to make language-learning successful, from tapes and CD-roms to teams of four teachers to provide different rhythms and intonations. The school, in business for more than a century, offers total-immersion courses in twenty languages, and, depending on the individual and the language, it can take as little as two weeks to reach a "functional" level. Costs range from $2,375 to $2,500 for five days to $4,750 to $5,000 for ten days. Finally, Inlingua (551 Fifth Avenue; 682-8585) offers ten-day total-immersion courses for $4,020, lunch included.


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