Computer language tutor is patient and supportive

by Alan Zisman (c) 1999. First published in Toronto Computes, May 1999

Auralog Tell Me More
Spanish, French, German, Italian, or English versions
Windows only?requires 30-100 meg drive space, 486-100, 8 megs RAM.
Headphone/microphone included
US$60 (about CDN$90)

While too many of us are content to bumble along in a single language, there?s a whole world out there speaking something different. This becomes apparent if we travel (both within Canada and outside our borders), and is especially vital for people who move to a new country and culture.

Having infinite patience, computers would seem an ideal tool for the slow task of learning a new language. The addition of sound cards, speakers, and microphones to computers has made it possible for some time to hear phrases in a different language and record our responses.

More powerful PCs and speech recognition technology has taken us another step. Now, our computers can not only record and play back what we say, but can actually listen to our attempts and provide useful feedback.

Auralog?s Tell Me More series of products offer to teach your choice of Spanish, French, German, Italian, and English. Each is a complete set of lessons, including 2,000 exercises and 200 hours of study, with activities ranging from crossword puzzles and hangman to word association to dictations and conversations. (Can you call it conversation when you?re talking to a computer?)

The series was developed in Europe, with support from the French Ministry of Education and the European Commission and has won a number of awards, including the Europrix 98 as Europe?s best multimedia product, and Montreal?s MIM Mutimedia Trade Fair?s Golden CD-ROM.

Tell Me More is deserving of these awards. It is well designed, attractive, and fun and easy to use. Conversations start with display of a photo with a character asking you a question. You hear the question, and can read it on screen. You are presented with three possible choices, again, displayed on screen. Pick one and say it aloud?the computer tries to understand your pronunciation. If it succeeds, the conversation continues. If you need help, the computer will say the phrase and show you a voice-graph of how it?s supposed to sound.

Now it?s your turn?and your graph is displayed for comparison.

Because you?re working with a computer, you don?t need to be afraid of mangling your pronunciation. And you can focus on individual words at any time, just by right-clicking on them.

The program rewards success with applause and cheers?something that rarely happens in the real world.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan