Anyone who’s spent time with children knows that they have an uncanny, and sometimes embarrassing, ability to pick up new words. Transparent Language, makers of
Language Now (online Reviews , August 2000), takes advantage of this potential with KidSpeak, which is aimed at kids ages 6 and up. While children won’t walk away able to communicate in the foreign language, they will be acquainted with some basic vocabulary and pronunciation.
What KidSpeak lacks in depth it makes up for in variety; it provides an introduction to ten different languages, ranging from Spanish to Korean to Hebrew. Each language program contains the same topics, including the alphabet, numbers, date and time, names of animals and vegetables, and important phrases. The program uses games to teach the topics. For example, the Japanese alphabet lesson uses the classic card game Memory, in which kids turn over two cards at a time until they match Hiragana characters. In order to learn Chinese numbers, kids get a connect-the-dots illustration. As they click on the next logical dot, which is labeled with the Chinese character for the number, the program draws the line and reads the number aloud in Mandarin.
KidSpeak advocates language immersion; from the moment kids start up the program, all they’ll hear is the selected language. While there is a help guide in English, all of KidSpeak’s introductions, sing-along songs, and cheers of encouragement are in the language respective to the lesson. It isn’t as overwhelming as it sounds; the voices do a nice job of communicating the meaning with tone and pitch, making the phrases easy to interpret.
Although most of the games are fun and effective, some miss the target. For example, to learn numbers in French, kids click on guests at Claudine’s birthday party to hear their ages. However, since there are fewer than ten guests the lesson only teaches a few numbers. Although most games contain three levels of difficulty, the first level of each language should accomplish its basic goal but here, it doesn’t.
The tools that KidSpeak uses to teach basic phrases could use a little tweaking. Because there is no English instruction, common greetings such as “Good morning” or “Good night” are designated by simple illustrations of the sun and the moon. Kids could easily come to the conclusion that “Allo” means “sun” in French.