Focus on Foreign Language Software
As desktop computers get more powerful and accessible, software developers respond with increasingly sophisticated packages. While this increasing sophistication is especially obvious in the game and graphics genres, it is also evident in language software. The gap between the old, text and line graphics-only, business-oriented foreign language software and todayís multimedia designed specifically for comprehensive language learning is quite large. Software exists for many languages, but this Focus On will highlight packages recently released in just a few categories.
One area that has seen a dearth of good titles until quite recently is Japanese language instruction. DynEdís Dynamic Japanese aims to fill this gap by providing a very comprehensive two-CD course of spoken Japanese, taught by focusing on the key skill for acquiring language -- listening. This 100 hour, Beginner to Upper Basic course challenges students with intensive listening and repetition drills, comprehension questions, grammar fill-ins, dictation, matching kana to spoken words and pronunciation practice. Audio quality and voice acting are excellent, with clear, distinct pronunciation accompanied by simple, concise graphics.
An important addition to the collection of Japanese courses available is The Rosetta Stone Japanese I, from Fairfield Language Technologies. Based on the successful Rosetta Stone language system that immerses students in pictures and associated sounds, this program begins teaching language where many courses end up -- by helping students to directly associate sound to meaning, without translation into the learnerís native language. This innovative approach has made The Rosetta Stone series a multiple award-winner, and the methodology translates quite well to Japanese I. For instructors, a teacherís handbook includes good advice on topics such as course planning and running a computer lab-based language class. If youíre looking for a unique approach to language with proven results, check out the Rosetta Stone.
Japanese Partner 4.0, from TwinBridge Software, is one of the most useful products for both Japanese learners and instructors weíve come across. It allows Japanese characters to be processed in any Windows-based application, including Netscape Navigator and e-mail. Simply start the software and use the floating control center to easily enter Japanese text. Japanese Partner 4.0 includes a phrase dictionary, multiple fonts, character map, font editor and other useful features, letting one finally word process in Japanese without buying an expensive Japanese OS.
From Transparent Language, Power Chinese has nothing to do with Japanese other than the fact that it uses the same method that earned the firmís Power Japanese many accolades. However, since it is one of the first truly comprehensive Chinese software programs weíve seen offered at a reasonable price, it is included here. Instead of teaching in terms of "absolute coordinates," as do many texts and tape series, Power Chinese presents the language in "relative coordinates"-- as compared to English. It is designed specifically for native English speakers, and covers the equivalent of one year of college-level Chinese. Using wonderful graphics and subtle memory techniques (for example, never presenting more than seven concepts at once), Power Chinese teaches over 600 Chinese characters, 800 phrases and 1,200 sentences. For an SRP of $159, anyone teaching or learning Chinese should look into this software.
Because of the increasing number of non-native English speakers in many schools nowadays, good ESL instruction is essential. To that end, Davidson has released English Express Deluxe, an update to their popular ESL program. The program, containing four CD-ROMs and a videodisc, uses the Natural Approach to facilitate language development, incorporating real-world topics and contemporary, multicultural themes. Four thematic units (one on each CD) cover several topics apiece, introducing learners to over 1,500 vocabulary words. Student tools include a dictionary with photo representations, an onscreen notebook, a full-featured word processor, and a student portfolio activity that encourages self-assessment. Instructors now have access to an expanded management system where they can address different learning styles, evaluate student progress, access portfolios, and review class and student records. Teachers can also create customized lessons for classes or students.
To address one of the most difficult skills to acquire for non-native English speakers -- accent Speech Communication has recently released American Speechsounds. The program is presented in a game show format, letting English learners practice their accent in a relaxing and non-stressful environment, as long as they have a Windows 95 computer with a sound card handy. Users can even customize "gameshow" content, in order to meet their individual needs.
Another program aimed at acquiring a specific ESL-related skill is DynEdís English by the Numbers. Available for native Spanish, Japanese and French speakers, it can also be useful for people studying those languages. It is intended to help non-native English speakers understand and use numbers in communicating, from basic numerical and mathematical data, to complicated formulas, mathematical expressions, graphs and charts. One CD-ROM provides 15-20 hours of study, and features voice recording and playback, automatic content variability and more. English by the Numbers includes a study guide and retails for $99; lab pack and site licenses are also available.
In response to teachers wanting quality software for ESL students and native Spanish-speaking students, Edmark has released four of its titles in Spanish versions. Millieís Math House, Sammyís Science House, Trudyís Time & Place House and Thinkiní Things Collection 1 all sell for around $60 and include Teacherís Guides, lesson ideas, activity sheets and toll-free technical support.
Canít decide what language you really want to learn? Or are you an instructor who teaches more than one language? If so, IMSI has two unique software packages that may fit the bill. Easy Language 17 Language Edition includes over 25,000 words, 2,250 phrases, a printed dictionary, speech recognition technology -- all in, you guessed it, 17 different languages. Priced at $30, the software features vocabulary and pronunciation lessons for all 17 languages, based on any of the following source languages -- Spanish, French, Italian, German or English. Learners can compare their pronunciation to that of native speakers, and learn about various cultures through multimedia tours.
Easy Language Conversational Skills, another IMSI program, offers more comprehensive vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure instruction, albeit in "only" four languages -- Spanish, French, German and English It, too, includes pronunciation activities, and features 90 games and puzzles reinforcing learned skills. Berlitz Interpreter, a 62,000 word-for-word translation tool capable of simultaneous translation in four languages, is included.
When language software canít help (while conducting research using documents in an unfamiliar language, for example) and translation services are called for, a few companies have risen to the occasion to make life easier for students or educators doing research, browsing the Web or communicating with foreign peers. Transparent Languageís Easy Translator d'es just that, quickly translating text, e-mail and Web pages in Spanish, French and German to and from English. Simple to use and inexpensive (around $50), Easy Translator is well suited to helping students research the entire Web, not just English-based sites. One simple click on the movable task bar and foreign e-mail, memos, letters, faxes, reports, proposals, projects -- even chat groups -- are automatically translated. A built-in grammar help file lets one edit translated documents for better understanding.
For those who want instantaneous, Web-based translation of English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, a new translation service (not standalone software package) called Uni-Verse may do the trick. From Uni-Verse, Inc., this service requires that users download Diplomat, their proprietary communications software, and then connect to the firmís Web site at www.uni-verse.com. For around $20 and a monthly fee of $10 after three months, one can use the service for chatting with people of other languages, instant translation of messages, conferencing and more. Language tools such as these are making the Internet truly international.
Another tool that may prove to be useful for institutions regularly receiving numerous documents in multiple languages is the Novell Collexion Language Identifier. The Identifier quickly and correctly identifies 15 different languages using as few as three words for reference. This could be quite useful for filtering and disseminating information to appropriate people. Those creating software programs can license the software to incorporate it into Web browsers, e-mail applications, word processors and others. An example of this toolís usefulness is shown in Internet applications, where it can rank messages, query hits and attached documents according to the userís language preferences. Or, in a word processor, it can automatically select the appropriate linguistic tools. For a demo of this Java- and C++-compatible program, visit www.novell.com/atd/.
Finally, if all this talk of language encourages you to brush up on language skills, surf over to www.rtlsoft.com/gwords/start.html to test your ability in one of 20 languages.
All software is available for Windows and Macintosh, unless noted.
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Fairfield Language Technologies
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TwinBridge Software Corp.
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Davidson & Associates, Inc.
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Speech Communication, Inc.
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This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.