capsule review

Foreign-Language Instruction

Do you find it difficult to distinguish the future and future perfect verb tenses? Learning a foreign language involves grammatical know-how and vocabulary memorization. To make this process fun, EuroTalk Interactive takes a game-oriented approach to teaching language, but it only succeeds in part.

Keeping Track of Points

EuroTalk's language learning CD-ROM for beginners is called Talk Now. Talk Now offers instruction in 56 languages, including Norwegian, Czech, and Thai. The format is similar to that of flash cards and not unlike Simon Says. Through matching written words with sounds, and illustrations with spoken words, the player wins points for correct answers, and loses points when answering incorrectly. The games are fast-paced, easy to understand, and engaging.

World Talk offers a smaller selection of 20 languages at the intermediate level including Japanese, Russian, and Turkish. Like Talk Now, World Talk is presented in a game format, with the player winning and losing points during play.

The Immersion Method

Talk Now and World Talk teach using the immersion method: everything is presented in the foreign language. The only exception is the first lesson in Talk Now: expressions appear on screen in both English and the new language. The player matches the expressions to words and phrases spoken by an animated man and woman. Unfortunately, the same looping animations are used repeatedly: like a poorly dubbed martial arts film, the audio and video are always out of sync. This makes the animations more distracting than they are helpful.

Talk Now and World Talk are primarily designed for travelers. The games teach basic words and expressions on the fly, and don't require a serious time commitment. It is easy to use the program for five or ten minutes, or to continue for longer if you have the time. The programs also serve as a useful refresher for those who may have studied a language previously.

In both programs, help is available in dozens of languages, so the software is accessible to native speakers of Spanish, Cantonese, Norwegian, and English, among others.

Talk Now, Understand Later

Each Talk Now lesson-oriented game focuses on a different subject area such as numbers, foods, or colors. For example, a lottery game teaches numbers. Each of the games is designed to quickly teach practical vocabulary and expressions, such as "How much does this cost?" "Where is the beach?" and "Where can I rent a car?" But the program does not provide the answers to these questions up front, often leaving the student stuck in a one-way conversation. Plus, the material isn't customized to the language or culture: you'll learn how to ask where the beach is in Japanese as well as Dutch.

Listen and Learn

Both Talk Now and World Talk emphasize listening comprehension over reading and speaking skills. While the games teach the user to master recognizing the sounds and meanings of words and phrases, the speaking exercises are less thorough. While you can record your voice into your computer's microphone, the program offers no feedback, visual or otherwise. The only benefit to this feature is being able to hear yourself speak, and determining for yourself how you sound. Reading comprehension is limited in Talk Now as well, since many of the games use illustrations and animations instead of text.

Trying to Have a Conversation

Unlike Talk Now, World Talk includes learning dialogue. Written conversations, each with an illustrative photograph, teach dialogue such as how to introduce yourself and how to reserve a hotel room. But because individual words are not translated, matching the dialogue read aloud at native speeds to the on screen paragraphs written in a foreign text (especially for the nonromanized languages) is problematic. Furthermore, constructing sentences to describe unique situations is almost impossible because the meaning of individual words is not given. And because both Talk Now and World Talk do not translate expressions word for word, the user is unable to piece together the structure of the language.

Like many foreign language software programs, Talk Now and World Talk do not include written documentation. Without supplementing these programs with a textbook, students will likely be left in the dust. The CD-ROMs are in no way a substitution for taking a language course, but they provide an entertaining start to learning a new language.

The animated woman from Talk Now.
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