English Tutor [CD-ROM and software]
Exceller Software Corporation
2 Graham Road West Ithaca, NY 14850
English Tutor is a Window-based English language drill program. The text exercise are of four types: fill-in-the-blanks, jumbled sentences, multiple choice, and reading comprehension. Items in the text sections are accompanied by a picture. Exercises are scored and your current score as well as the scores of previously done sections are available. There is an oral section. This also uses pictures to accompany the language you hear. You can record your voice. Sessions can be saved and reentered at will. During a lesson, it may be exited and a new block of questions attempted. For the entire program, there are thirty diskettes but there are only two in the Demo version. Full installation will use up 45 megabytes of your hard disk.
The program runs under Windows 3.1 and needs a multimedia sound card to use the Oral part. No listing is given for the minimum DOS version nor for RAM requirements. Installation was straightforward on 486-25 with DOS 6.02 and Windows 3.1. For the sound portion, until a CD-ROM was installed, the program would not work despite a sound card being present.
My general evaluation of the program is that is not a high quality CALL program despite having some interesting features.
Criteria For Evaluation
Evaluating a CALL program needs a common standard that can be accepted by many (Hashimoto, 1995). I have found using the 13 points of John Underwood (cited in Cisar, 1991) as a good starting place. The points are listed below, as well as how this program conforms to them.
Point 1: Communicative CALL will aim at acquisition practice rather than learning practice. The English Tutor fails horribly on this point. All the exercises in the Demo package are aimed at learning practice. There is no attempt to move toward acquisition. The exercises were basically traditional audio- lingual style exercises. Even the oral exercises were very traditional in nature. [-1-]
Point 2: In a Communicative CALL lesson or activity, grammar will always be implicit rather than explicit. Only in the reading lessons and in the vocabulary lessons does The English Tutor approach this. Basically, the grammar lessons are stressed.
Point 3: Communicative CALL will allow and encourage the students to generate original utterances rather than merely manipulate prefabricated language. First, there are no lessons in the Demo package that allow students to create language. There are sentence construction exercises where the students have to put selected words in the right order. To me, this is not generating an original structure. But it is worse; students must use the exact word order of the program. I tried to put some prepositional phrases at the beginning of sentences. These sentences were reported as unacceptable.
But this must be taken with a little caution as the Oral Exercises may have answered this need. I could not test this as I did not have a microphone available. However, it is important to remember that there was only one Oral lesson with two modules listed in the Demo package. It seems that oral production is not high on the list of goals for this program.
Point 4: Communicative CALL will not try to judge and evaluate everything a student does. All keystrokes are evaluated in this program.; therefore, it fails this point also. No variations or mistakes in typing are allowed. The fact that a few alternative answers were accepted does temper the poor results of this area.
Point 5: Communicative CALL will avoid telling students they are "wrong." We have success. The wording tells the student that she is wrong; but the implication is the same.
Points 6 and 7 deal with being cute and giving rewards for answers. Again, the package comes through with flying colors. You can find your score but it is just a plain listing. There is no place for being cute in the program.
Point 8: Communicative CALL will use the target language exclusively. The only language found on the Demo package was English. This is a strength for a program that stresses language learning without the use of native languages.
Point 9: Communicative CALL will be flexible. Basically, the program is not flexible as only one answer will satisfy it. A few of the sentence construction lessons will allow a minor variation; but there is not enough flexibility in the program.
Point 10: Communicative CALL will allow the student to explore the subject matter. Here again, there is a partial success. Students [-2-] can jump around from lesson to lesson covering the material that they want. Students can even skip around within the lesson. These are only superficial forms of flexibility. Students are very limited on what they can explore.
Point 11: Communicative CALL will create an environment in which using the target language feels natural, both on screen and off. To me, this never appeared. There was no natural feel to any of the material. In the Oral lesson, what at first sounded like a conversation turned out not to be so as the voices were not consistent nor where the pictures.
Point 12: Communicative CALL will never try to do anything a book could do just as well. Here there is total failure as a book could do it with a lot more skill. All the drills could be fill in the blank with the answer written on a space next to the sentence. The only thing a book could not do is tell the student to try again. The oral work could easily be done by a cassette tape or a video. There is no reason to use a computer for the majority of the exercises.
Point 13: Above all, communicative CALL will be fun. The reviewer found the program boring. The lack of challenge almost put him to sleep. He could not see students spending more than half an hour on the material and then putting it away for good.
The package fails in other fashions: First, there is unnecessary material. There are many clip art pictures that really don't help you answer any of the questions. The space for them could have been used more productively. The pictures looked like they came straight out of the 1950s.
Second, I ran the Demo package on two computers with fully installed sound cards and the Oral Activities refused to work. It left me with the feeling that it would be difficult to set up and run even in a professional language lab. When I installed my CD-ROM, I was able to get the oral section working. This left me with the impression that if there was any problem in the language laboratory, the program would fail.
If you want a straightforward traditional exercise package, this work is for you. There are some good things to look at such as the clip art, if you have time to notice them. But the work does not offer me anything special that I could not find in a typical classroom. A student who is strictly studying at home might find some value in it. I would not recommend it to any student I have had. [-3-]
Cisar, L. (1991). CALL software. Algorithmica Japonica 8(8), 14-15.
Hashimoto, E. (1995). Evaluation criteria for ESL/EFL software JALT Journal 17(1), 75-83.
Kanto Gakuen University
Ohta-shi, Gumma, Japan
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