EF International's "Englishtown"
Reviewed by: Maggie Sokolik
There are many sites devoted to English as a Second language on the WWW. However, few of them try to pull together both substantive content and link outside resources in the hopes of providing a "complete" English language learning source. Although EF International's Englishtown clearly has this goal, as the site stands now, it still has some way to go. EF's resources show in the overall design of the site. The homepage graphics are attractive. The metaphor is that of a colorful town with blinking lights directing you to its various buildings, including: Teacher's Inn, Pen Pal Club, Junkyard, The Mall, Learning Fair, Pool Chat, and the EF English School. A row of flags at the bottom of the homepage (some active, others not) indicates the languages into which the main pages are translated.
There is also the "Lesson Material Lounge," where "you can access innovative lesson plans and other materials for use in the classroom." However, only three lesson plans are available, all at the intermediate level.
The "Lesson Plan Links" page claims to give a comprehensive (emphasis mine) list of links to other internet sites with lesson plans and teaching materials. However, only 10 links are listed, and nearly no commentary on their contents or value.
This is a daily quote, proverb, etc. It includes a short vocabulary explanation.
In this section, users can read "the article of the month" and post a response to a question at the end of the article. Past topics have included: Unusual Food, The Idiot Box, Bedouin Life, Collecting, Subways. and others.
This appears to be a popular area: it features discussion about cultural issues, posted by users.
This is another relatively popular spot on the site. Users can post their questions about grammar and receive responses from other users and presumably by EF's teachers. All of the questions and answers are posted.
Two word games are offered in the Game Hall. The warning on this site notes that these Java-based games don't work on Internet Explorer for the Macintosh. Unfortunately, it also didn't work on Netscape Communicator 4.0 on a PC. It does, however, work with Netscape 3 on a PC.
In the Word Drop game, words fall from the top of a screen and the player manipulates them so they fall into the correct categories at the bottom of the screen, such as "food," "movies," "sports," etc. The blocks build up as the player gets wrong answers. This is a fun little game, though some of the answers were very vague ("fan" -- movie or sports?), and some just seemed wrong ("play," when put in the sports category, was incorrect). This game is available at three levels in five categories. However, clicking on the Beginning Level, General category resulted in a "file not found."
In the Quiz Wiz, the user chooses a category and then gives an open-ended answer to a definition. For example, selecting "Occupations 1" resulted in:
"This person works in a hospital or clinic."Unfortunately, the only acceptable answers for this were "nurse" or "doctor".
However, the description of the page is apt in some ways--not because of its contents, but because it is a random list of links with no description or organizational pattern.
(Note: when clicking on English --> French : "file not found" was returned)Webster's English<-->Dutch English<-->Spanish English<-->Hungarian English<-->German English<-->Hawaiian English<-->Swedish English<-->Italian English<-->Russian English<-->French
"Win a free trip to London! During the month of November 1997, you can win a trip to London at EF's homepage!"Additionally, the site lacks any kind of sound. While it is still slightly clumsy to deliver sound via the web, new technologies are making it much easier. A professional organization such as EF should be capitalizing on the capabilities of RealAudio or other sound delivery systems that allow streaming and small file sizes.
Although nowhere on the site is there an "Under Construction" sign, Englishtown has the feeling of a very new settlement. The link listings are sparse and uninformative. The games are amusing for a short while, but don't offer much. Other content links offer little or no information. By contrast, the areas of the site that offer human interaction--chat, penpals, and discussion lists--seem active. However, this is more of a reflection on the internet than on EF's site. Chat and e-mail remain the most popular internet activities. That EF has offered these features on their site is commendable, but given the lack of substantive content here, any site that put up a bulletin board and a chat room could call itself an "Englishtown."
The search for valuable content in ESL websites continues. EF, with its financial resources, high-quality multimedia products, and history with language teaching could have done better.
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