Firm Designs Facility for Total English Language Immersion

Israel may seem like an unlikely location for a company that primarily sells English-language teaching software. However, one Tel Aviv-based firm is a major player in the world market and recently introduced an extensive multimedia English-language teaching system. Consisting of twelve CD-ROMs, Edusoft's English Discoveries offers some 1,200 hours of interactive instruction from basic to advanced levels. It took two years and $3 million to complete the project in partnership with Berlitz, which provided the program's content. Since then, Edusoft bought out Berlitz and is sole owner of the product. The company made a decision in 1994 to present English Discoveries as the centerpiece of a total language immersion environment. A model program was debugged at a Tel Aviv high school and went on sale in the spring of 1995. Computer Language Center Called the Computer Language Center (CLC), Edusoft's facility includes non-multimedia software, board games, magazines, a video room, etc. Company designers took care of every detail, down to the angles of the chairs and the types of ceiling fixtures. "We felt that selling the software was not enough," CEO Menachem Hasfari explains. "Our research indicated that a significant market existed in presenting schools with a prepared English-language teaching facility." Each CLC costs $300,000 and the company has already sold four in the Commonwealth of Independent States and dozens throughout Latin America. "It's not enough to just develop an exceptional educational software product," says Hasfari. "For it to succeed, it must be placed in a useful environment." English Discoveries presents essential English language structures and nearly 3,000 lexical terms within the framework of high-resolution color graphics, animation, video, digitized voice and music. The contents are entirely original, down to the songs and video sketches. A main menu contains the following options: Language, Vocabulary, Speaking, Writing, Reading, Listening. Other highlights of the program are a word-processing mode, a bilingual speaking dictionary, statistical graphs charting student progress, a record/playback speech option, self-correcting practice exercises, self-testing exams and a language-teaching adventure game. The CLC Pilot Program In 1994, the English Department of the 2,000 pupil Herzlia Gymasia High School in Tel Aviv agreed to act as the beta site for the CLC. This was not an easy decision. Edusoft was not only introducing software, they would be gutting a large room and redesigning it to be a hi-tech English learning environment. A total of 23 computers were installed, with only 12 intended for English Discoveries. Edusoft curriculum specialist Lauren Goldenberg recalls: "Many of them [the teachers] didn't even know how to use a typewriter keyboard, but they agreed to immerse themselves in technology." She adds that it took some of them a year to feel comfortable in the CLC. One such teacher was Danny Graber. "I was new in the school and had no computer background. I admit I was scared at first," he says. "But I felt at home with English Discoveries after six hours of practice." Graber quickly designed his own lessons, which other teachers borrowed until they learned how to create their own. English Discoveries is available to the students only once every two weeks so Graber has to make the most of each teacher hour. He has already witnessed some benefits: "It's too early to note skills improvement but motivation has definitely increased. You can see that by the number of my pupils who spend their free time studying the other available software as well as the games and magazines." In addition, a small number of highly responsible pupils were assigned to be technicians in the CLC during their free hours. One student aide, Yaniv, says the program really helps kids learn. "When you work at the computer there's no pressure on you and as you get better at your own pace, you build your confidence." He adds that, "None of the kids have trouble working with the CLC's software. Most of them have computers at home and find English Discoveries a snap."

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.