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Foreign Language Resources for You
and Your Computer

Can your computer speak a foreign language? Mine can. In fact, it can even understand and evaluate my attempts at speaking or writing in the language I am learning. Can you teach your computer to speak another language too? It's probably easier than you think. And once you "teach" your computer another language by loading the appropriate software, it will be ready to help you learn. Granted, it's not quite the same as having a live instructor, and you won't be able to carry on a conversation with your computer, but you can get some surprising capabilities with just a sound card and microphone. All of the programs will "speak" individual words so you can hear what they sound like. Most will also allow you to record and playback your voice, so you can listen to it and compare it to the proper pronunciation. Some will even analyze your speech to rate your pronunciation or to determine if you have verbally answered a question correctly.
To help you decide which might be best for you, we reviewed 7 different programs. Because of the large file sizes for extensive audio and video clips, all of the programs we reviewed came on CD-ROMs. We reviewed only the Spanish version of each of the programs to give us a common point of reference, but we listed the languages available from each company.

The Rosetta Stone

Mac: 4 MB RAM in system 7.1 or later,(2 MB RAM in system 6.0), HD, 1X CD-ROM drive, 256 color display.

MPC: 486 SX or better, 4 MB RAM , 3 MB HD space, 1X CD-ROM drive, Windows 3.1 or 95, 256 color display.

Win/Mac CD-ROM, Illustrated user's guide, 125 page workbook. ECDFGIJS, $395. Six language PowerPac CD $99, Six language Demo CD $9.95.

Fairfield Language Technologies, (800) 788-0822

This was the most expensive program we reviewed, and only its price keeps us from recommending it as a top choice. Fortunately, you can experience the benefits of this program through a couple of less expensive options. First, you can get a great demo disc for only $9.95. It includes 12 selected chapters in each of 6 languages (full programs are 92 chapters). For $99 you can get their PowerPac CD with the first 22 chapters of their Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Russian, and English programs all together.

Just what do we like about this program? We love its subtle and natural approach to learning. You do not have to endure repetitive drills or lots of grammatical information. Instead, you learn the same way you learned your first language: you are immersed in the language and learn from context. Instead of doing translations, you learn to think in the new language. Best of all, this happens so effortlessly that at first you may not think you're learning anything. How is this magic accomplished?

While there are 12 run modes, the primary mode of operation involves being presented with a group of 4 photographs (out of over 8,000 images) and a spoken phrase. You then select the image that matches the phrase. Once a correct answer is selected, the images are shuffled and you are given another spoken phrase. You get immediate feedback, and you learn to directly associate what you see with what you hear, without going through the process of translation. You learn to think directly in the new language, which is the best way to achieve fluency. As you progress, the words and phrases build into sentences and dialogues of increasing complexity. You will go from identifying simple objects such as "dog" or "car," to listening to a complex set of directions and identifying the map they represent.

This program is very flexible and will allow you to progress at you own pace and adapt it to your own learning style. You can concentrate on reading comprehension, listening comprehension, writing, or speaking. You can record your voice for comparison with the native speakers, you can see and hear the material without having to give responses, and you can enable testing and scoring options to monitor your performance.

While the literature says that the program is for beginning learners from ages 8 to adult, even our 4 year old was able to use it easily. All ages and abilities can be accommodated. Completing the full program will take you to a level similar to 3 years of high school instruction, or two years of college instruction. Level II programs are under development to take you even further.

(For updated information since this review was originally published and for special pricing, visit: )

Learn to Speak Spanish

Mac: 68030/25MHz or better (LCIII or Performa 450), 4 MB RAM, HD, 2X CD-ROM drive, System 7.1 or higher, 256 color display.

MPC: 386 DX/33MHz or better, 4 MB RAM (8 recommended), 10 MB HD space, 2X CD-ROM drive, Windows 3.1 or 95, 256 color display.

2 Win/Mac CD-ROM's, 350 page workbook. EFGIJS, $149-$99.

The Learning Company (800) 764-4568

This program receives our top value rating. It makes full use of the multimedia capabilities of today's computers, it has lots of flexibility, and it's fun to use! Okay, let's get straight to the fun part, and I'm not talking about games although this program offers several. No, the real fun has to do with the speech recognition capability built into the program (windows version only). You can record your voice and the program will evaluate your pronunciation. It displays a dial like a gas gauge with a needle that will swing from "tourist" to "native" depending on how well you do. This feature immediately had the kids (and adults) challenging themselves to improve their pronunciation to the coveted native level. Of course, it wasn't long before paroxysms of laughter indicated the kids had discovered a new way to use this feature. They were challenging themselves to trick the computer into giving them high ratings by using made up words that approximated the Spanish, and they were just having fun listening to their recorded voices.

This program covers all the bases. It uses 20 different native speakers to help you adjust to the differences between individual people. You hear and see real people speaking, you can record your voice to compare it to the native speakers, and you can let the computer evaluate you pronunciation (Sometimes your own ears will still give you the best evaluation). The course is divided into 30 chapters that center around activities or situations you may encounter. For example, chapter titles include Getting a Taxi, Asking for Directions, Ordering a Meal, and Talking About Your Family. In each chapter your are given a basic vocabulary list. Most words include a little graphic that reinforces the meaning of the word, and you can choose wether or not to have the English equivalent displayed. You can also listen to the word in context while seeing and hearing the native speaker use it in a sentence or dialogue. If you prefer, you can also choose to select lessons by grammar topic rather than by activity chapters.

Each chapter gives you 10 more ways to work with and build upon the initial vocabulary section. You can go through drills in which you are given the word in English and have to answer in Spanish with voice recognition automatically determining if you answer correctly. You can listen to and repeat an overview of a "story," move on to the "action" in which native speakers carry out the roles in the story, and go through various drills of fill in the blanks, drag and match, unscrambling words to make sentences, and giving verbal or typed responses to questions. You can also play up to 7 games based on the vocabulary. There are also 10 cultural movies about Mexico that provide over one hour of viewing with Spanish narration. You can choose to view or hide the text of the narration in Spanish or English.

Our copy also came with their Pronunciation tutor program. This gave information on the pronunciation of various letters and sounds for the language. In some cases it provided actual video of a native speaker's face saying the word or sound along with an animated graphic of inside the mouth to show proper tongue and mouth position. It provided lots of ways to get you used to making unfamiliar sounds.

Spanish Now!

Mac: Mac II, 4 MB RAM, System 7.0 or later, 5 MB HD space, 1X CD-ROM drive

MPC: 386 or better, 4 MB RAM , 5 MB HD space, 1X CD-ROM drive, Windows 3.1 or 95, VGA color display.

Win/Mac CD-ROM, Illustrated user's guide, EFGILRS, $129-$50. Samples of other languages included.

Transparent Language (800) 752-1767

Even using a minimum install, this is one of the fastest responding of the programs reviewed. Of course, this is partly due to the text based nature of the program and the higher usage of hard drive space. This program is centered around text from three authentic foreign language stories and articles referred to as titles. Over 200 additional titles including literature, non-fiction, culture, business, current affairs, and travel content are available for about $25 each.

Each title presents you with text that you can read, have read to you, or see translated. Highlight a word and you can hear it or the entire sentence pronounced for you. You can also see a translation of the individual word, a translation of the entire sentence, and grammatical information. A few clicks of the mouse and you can see an extensive analysis of the text with information about case, gender, conjugation and more. You can also record your pronunciation of the word or sentence for comparison with the native speaker. Your recording is also translated to a graphical representation that you can compare to the graph of the native speaker. This has somewhat limited value as the volume of your voice and the speed at which you speak can drastically alter your graph, making it hard to compare graphs, but it does provide useful information to supplement what your ears tell you.

Four games can also be played that involve typing in correct answers to questions, crossword puzzles, or fill in the blanks. And you get sample titles in different languages to try. Once you have the language "engine" you can add other languages just by buying individual titles.

TriplePlay Plus! Spanish

MPC: 386 SX/25 MHz or better, 4 MB RAM , 1X CD-ROM drive, Windows 3.1 or 95, 256 color display.

CD-ROM, Illustrated user's guide, Living Language Dictionary/Phrasebook, microphone EFGHJS, $99-$50.

Syracuse Language Systems (800) 688-1937

We've seen a visual approach, a verbal approach, and a text approach, so how about a game approach to learning a language? TriplePlay Plus takes an immersion approach using games, puzzles and stories in brightly colored comic strips. You can choose from six subject areas, 21 games, 12 comic strip dialogues, and 3 levels. Many of the games present you with a set of graphics pertaining to your chosen subject. You can start by having the associated word or phrase for each picture pronounced by the native speaker as you repeat what you hear. Voice recognition automatically tells you if your pronunciation is acceptable. When you play the game, you are given a description of one of the pictures and you have to say the word or phrase associated with it. Of course, you can play in different modes so that you merely click on the appropriate picture instead of answering orally, and you can have text displayed instead of the pictures.
The best mode of operation uses automatic speech recognition, and to ensure that you are able to take advantage of this mode, the package comes with a free microphone. Unfortunately, only the comic strip dialogs take full advantage of the capabilities of this system. You can record your voice and play it back for comparison with the native speaker only in the dialogs. All other sections use speech recognition to evaluate your responses but don't allow you to hear your own voice. Also, in the dialogs you can choose to hear the conversation spoken at a slower pace.

With no translations given, this program helps you to learn from context and to think in the new language. If you just have to have translations, a paperback dictionary/phrasebook is included.

Spanish Your Way

MPC: 486 DX/33MHz or better, 8 MB RAM, 0.8 MB HD space, 1X CD-ROM drive, Windows 3.1 or 95, 256 color display.

CD-ROM, Illustrated user's guide, audio cassette, microphone, coupon for free Let's Talk Spanish CD-ROM. FS, $125-$75.

Syracuse Language Systems (800) 688-1937

By the makers of TriplePlay Plus, Spanish Your Way basically takes the idea of the comic strip dialogs and greatly expands them. You can engage in interactive "branching conversations" from 6 topics. Your responses determine the direction of the conversation. The program is very flexible. You can use your voice or the mouse to respond, you can listen only, listen and see the text, see translations by word or sentence, have individual words or entire sentences pronounced, and you can record and playback your voice for comparison with the native speaker. Glossary and grammar guides allow you to look up words and their definitions, hear them pronounced, conjugate verbs, and more.

All-in-One Language Fun!

Mac: LCII or better, 4 MB RAM, 1X CD-ROM drive, System 7.0 or higher, color display
MPC: 386 SX or better, 4 MB RAM , 1X CD-ROM drive, Windows 3.1 or 95, VGA color display.

Win/Mac CD-ROM, EFGJS (all included), $40-$28.

Syracuse Language Systems (800) 688-1937

Also by the makers of TriplePlay Plus, this excellent and inexpensive title is our top pick as an introduction to foreign languages for young kids. The controls are very simple, there are lots of colorful graphics, and no reading, writing, or spelling is required. The program includes Spanish, French, German, Japanese and English on the same CD. There are no translations, and basically two modes of operation; review mode and game mode. In the review mode you can click on items to hear the associated word or phrase pronounced. In the game mode, you listen to instructions or descriptions from the native speaker and click on the correct picture. The emphasis is on hearing and understanding hundreds of words and phrases which provide a strong foundation before you move on to other programs that put more emphasis on speaking or writing.

El Profesor de Español

MPC: 1.7 MB HD space, 1X CD-ROM drive, Windows 3.1 or 95

CD-ROM, EFGHJS, $60-$30.

OPUS Instruments, Inc. (800) 600-9097

Takes a flash card approach to learning and adds a few twists. In the basic learn mode, you are presented with an English word, its Spanish equivalent, and its part of speech. You hear the word pronounced, see it used in a sentence, and may see some notes about it. After you have reviewed the selected number of words, you are ready to be quizzed. You are presented with an English word and have to type the Spanish equivalent. There are also 2 games. In one you unscramble letters to spell a word, in the other you unscramble words to form a sentence. Their literature says the program "emulates the work of the teacher," and indeed this seems the most schoolish of the programs reviewed. The emphasis on drill and review makes the program repetitive, but it keeps records of performance, statistics of times and dates spent using the program, and sets goals for usage per month for up to 3 different students. You also get cultural and grammatical information, and pronunciation of over 1,200 words, but you cannot record your voice for comparison to the native speakers. Try this one as an inexpensive way to build your vocabulary.





All of the programs were easy to install on a Multi-media PC (MPC) with Windows. Just start the installation program, answer a few questions, and you're done. Only the Rosetta Stone wasn't immediately able to run afterwards. It detected that I had Windows set up to show only True Type fonts in my programs, and informed me that the Rosetta Stone needs to use other fonts. It wouldn't run until I changed the setting, but then it ran fine.

All of the programs offered the option to do a full install for maximum performance but with a corresponding maximum use of hard drive space, or a minimum install that sacrificed some performance but used less hard drive space.

Spanish Your Way, TriplePlay Plus! Spanish, and All-in-One Language Fun could be installed to run directly from the CD-ROM drive using virtually no hard drive space. I wish all software companies would offer this option for CD-ROMs so that the user can decide whether or not performance gains are worth the lost disk space.

For this evaluation, the minimum install was used for each program and performance was acceptable in all cases. Depending on your processor speed, ram, and tolerance levels, the minimum installation may not be acceptable to you. A full installation will help speed loading of the program and changing between different sections, but please note that video and audio playback should be fine either way as long as you have at least a double speed CD-ROM drive. Many of the programs will run well on even a single speed drive.

All the programs work with Windows 3.1 or Windows 95

Languages available: D-Dutch, E-English, F-French, G-German, H-Hebrew, I-Italian, J-Japanese, L-Latin, R-Russian, S-Spanish (Price ranges based on catalog and local prices observed during March of 1996)



Don't have a computer, or want something more portable?

Don't despair, you still have some very good options open to you if you at least have a cassette player.

The Learnables
(800 237-1830)
offers popular audio-visual courses that have features similar to many of these computer programs. A series of numbered pictures are presented in books without any text. A cassette tape provides sentences spoken in the language being studied, with each sentence describing a picture. Again, you are not translating, but are learning to think directly in the new language by listening and using context. There is no reading or writing involved, no grammatical drills and no repetitive vocabulary drills. Each set comes with 1 book of drawings representing 1,000 sentences and 5 cassette tapes with the sentences read by authentic native speakers. There are four levels available and prices range from $55-$37. See ad on page 11.

Power-glide Language Courses
(800 596-0910)
offers what appears to be a very interesting and entertaining approach to learning a new language. The course is based on a workbook and six 90 minute cassettes for French, Russian, and Spanish. Similar programs are offered for Chinese, German, and Japanese. The workbook uses a story that puts you on a secret mission to find out why aliens have seized a tiny Caribbean island. Since the natives speak only Spanish and you do not, you have to learn as you go along. You learn associations between English and Spanish words that help you remember their meaning, you learn ditties, solve puzzles and work with pictographs as you endeavor to solve the mystery. By the time you finish, you will have covered the equivalent of two years of college level lessons. Prices range from $79.95 for the six tape courses to $49.95 for the four tape courses.

From Issue 5 of F.U.N. News

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