July 1999– Volume 4, Number 1
Aprenda English NOW! TM
Transparent Language, Inc.
22 Proctor Hill Road
P.O. Box 575,
Hollis, NH 03049
TEL: 603-465-2230; FAX: 603-465-2779
- Windows 95, Windows NT 4.0, 486 (or better)
- 2x CD_ROM
- 16 MB RAM
- 25 MB of free space on the Hard Drive
- VGA monitor with 265 colors
- sound card
- System 7.1 (or better)
- 68020 processor minimum, 68040 or Power Mac for video
- 4 MB RAM
- 12 MB disk space (17MB recommended)
- 256 color monitor with at least 640X480 resolution
- 2X CD ROM drive
Transparent Language’s software package Aprenda English Now! (version 7.0) is a two-CD set designed to assist Spanish speakers in acquiring English. In addition to the CDs, the package contains a microphone and a “bonus disc” containing Grammar Pro!, AccentTM, and Berlitz Interpreter Word Translator. Instructions for the instructional disks are in Spanish, while instructions for the additional disks are in English.
Users are able to choose among four main instructional programs or games, listening and speaking exercises, conversations, a grammar or alphabetical reference, or a help file. Each lesson features text, sound, and video for instruction and allows the user access to conversation practice, games, or a speaking practice. Spanish explanations are readily assessable for each word or sentence.
Users can select one of four titles to begin using the program: The Most Common Words in English; Survival Phrases in English with Dialogues; New York: Take a Bite Out of the Big Apple; or A Visit to Washington D.C. Each lesson features a text section, a video box, a word/note list, and boxes for explanations in Spanish. Buttons are located under the text and video boxes, which allow the user to play a sound recording of highlighted words – either in phrases or singular words. A button will also allow the entire passage to be read without a pause. A button with a turtle is included to allow the user to slow down the speech. The Spanish explanation boxes include the meaning of the sentence, the meaning of the word, the root of the word, what parts of speech the words are, and a grammar explanation. The explanation boxes and the video box can be reduced and allow more of the text to be displayed.
The approach used in this software is the introduction of words and phrases – both in isolation and in sentences. Translations in Spanish are provided and a native voice models the pronunciation and natural speech patterns. The user has the option of listening to words in isolation or in sentences, and of hearing the voice at normal speed or at a slower rate. Translations are provided for meaning, and a also a definition of the grammar – in Spanish – is given. I felt that all of these combined to provide a Grammar-Translation approach with the added benefit of hearing the words pronounced. Users are able to test their grasp of words through several games, crucigrams, plug and play, unscramble, or a dialog exercise. These tests allow the users to reinforce their ability to use the words properly. Clues are given in sentences; unfortunately, the clues provide the actual answer. Users may also compare their pronunciation of the word or phrase with a native voice in a voice comparison graph. The effectiveness of the graph is somewhat questionable. The comparison with the native speaker’s voice is interesting, but no instruction on how to match the pronunciation is provided. As a native speaker I was unable to mimic the pattern of the speaker, or to adjust my voice to the demonstrated patterns. Although this tool may be useful to someone trained in its use, it is of questionable value to the average learner.
Another lost opportunity was the correlation between the pictures and videos, and the text. There are a large number of still photos and video included with the lessons, but they are not sufficient to be compatible with the subjects talked about in the text. Many of the pictures are obscure in relation to the text, and on occasion it seemed that the user would have to already posses understanding of the cultural relationship between the icon displayed and the subject being addressed. Although the text and pictures do correspond at times, it is difficult to know when those points of correspondence are.
Among the things I enjoyed about the program was the ease of use for the control buttons. Although the directions were in Spanish, someone with a basic understanding of computer icons could navigate through the program without being able to read Spanish. Spanish speakers with limited computer experience were able to make the program function successfully. The tests were fun and were varied enough to keep interest. The video files were interesting and varied, if not particularly tied to the text. The conversations were simple and easy to follow and the enunciation was clear, using both male and female voices. All the English learners that I showed the program to were able to manipulate the program and were interested in using it. All of them expressed a willingness to purchase the program.
I recommend this program for any student who has to conduct a self-study of English. The software would be best used in conjunction with a course of study that would incorporate it into a more communicative approach. The exercises are useful and the examples of text combined with the vocal examples are very good self-study tools. The actual production of speech needs to be monitored, and the student will require additional opportunities to actually produce English speech.
Douglas N. Jackson
United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and Schools
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