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Speak easy at the computer cafe

Acorn stands 241, 440, Halloween stand 627, New Media stand 282, Oak Solutions stand 344, Philips Media stand 786, Schools Direct stand S35. Tim Parke explores the different types of computerised support for language learning, from CD-Rom to CD-i to e-mail.

Technological support for modern languages can be considered under various headings. First, and most obvious, are packages of language-teaching material. What we gain from IT here is that the material is given a new impetus, and consequently more motivating for pupils, which is always one of the manufacturer's strongest selling-points.

Second, there is the capacity to hold huge sources of material, which students can be taught to manipulate, for example searching for given information. This kind of resource lies at the heart of student-centred learning, as with suitable instruction in the early stages students can quickly become independent.

Third, there are the relatively new sorts of IT, which are as yet to be proven useful on a large scale. Potentially one of the most useful is electronic mail (e-mail), which facilitates communication both within and across communities using the target language.

All of these are good reasons for visiting the relevant stands at BETT '95. As well as seeing the new technologies in action, it will be useful for teachers to go there to track down suppliers of, for example, relevant new CD-Roms.

Under the heading of dedicated language-learning packages, three interesting examples are CD Francais (Oak Solutions), WordWorld (Halloween), and The Language Interactive Programme (Linguaphone and New Media).

The first is a CD-Rom application with more than 50 interactive French activities using sound, based on the Tricolore course, but designed to support virtually any French course. Activities include a scene at a ferry terminal in Calais; a conversation in a garage in Meunier; a map of Lyon which gives directions for pupils to follow; and a cafe scene in which pupils have to provide the food requested. Particular attention is paid to the skills of listening, speaking and reading. This package is for use in groups or individually, and it comes with a substantial history of teacher and pupil evaluation. This will fit in well in a carousel of classroom activities.

The Language Interactive Programme is material for teaching English, Spanish or French to learners in the 10-16 age range. It is based on the European Waystage level, and delivers 1,000 words and phrases. It comes in two discs (50 hours of material) with a mix of instruction and practice, the tutorial guidance being in the pupil's mother tongue. This looks to be effective for motivating and encouraging pupils to practise language skills on their own and in groups. There is full-colour animation, video and stills, and the package is promised to be as irresistible as the best computer games.

Room for an unusual one: this is WordWorld, simply a compilation of around 500 nouns in the target language (several languages available, with pronunciation soundtrack). The nouns have been selected on the basis of frequency, and are stored together with pictures and animations. This sounds mechanistic, but for some learners it could be an efficient answer to rapid vocabulary acquisition.

Putting a sensible gloss on all this, no doubt, and providing a path through the maze, is the Association for Language Learning seminar entitled "Using IT to support differentiation in LL". It promises reviews of practical strategies for using IT to support and provide differentiated activities for the secondary-school learner, in French, German and Spanish.

Consider now the second group of IT resources for modern languages those which give learners and teachers access to large quantities of good-quality text in the target language.

Le Monde sur CD-Rom is now available in a version for Windows. The complete editorial text of the paper for 1987-1991 is available; for 1992 onwards, the text is accompanied by selected images, cartoons, graphs, maps and line drawings. At the higher ranges of foreign language teaching, this will represent a treasure-trove of high-quality material for essays on a whole range of themes in the field of contemporary society.

Similarly, Die Frankfurter All-gemeine Zeitung is available on CD-Rom, providing the complete original text, with commands and instructions in either English or German, at choice. It is possible for learners to conduct their own tailor-made word searches, to key in combinations of, for example, particular dates, words, pages and sections. The results can then be printed, saved or exported to a new environment.

A similarly rich source of contemporary French, also a journalistic one, is AFP-DOC sur CD-Rom (Agence France Presse). The texts are built up from the daily reports (from some 165 countries) sent in by their correspondents. It is structured in six parts: by individual country, government, personalities, international treaties, chronology of events and the background to the major issues. The format is a single cumulating disc, updated quarterly.

All of these CD-Roms are available from Schools Direct.

As regards the newer and really more communicative technologies, Acorn is taking as its theme for the exhibition "The Whole School". It puts emphasis on the information superhighway, and will show a range of e-mail and Internet-related products.

Acorn believes that e-mail will soon be seen as the most efficient means of both internal and external communication. It is aware, however, of the need for security here information in the network must be channelled to the right people. If this succeeds in harnessing the will of students to communicate with each other, it will have proved a huge advantage.

On the ever-developing primary front comes the CD-i Modern Languages in the Primary School, from Philips Media, which shows examples of good practice, while CD-i on CD-i in Primary Schools contains interviews and reviews from 16 schools, showing the use of CD-i for language teaching.

It wouldn't be much use if getting the software was too difficult. Schools Direct supplies any CD-Rom available, and in the Oxford Language Shelf series is selling Oxford Minidictionaries for French, German, Spanish and Italian.

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