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Spelling games that can end in tears

abc with KC At Home with KC CD-Roms for PC and Mac; Pounds 34.99 each; Quest Multimedia, Birch House, 80 East Mount Road, Darlington DL1 1LE. Tel: 01325 350700C.

Children arriving in British schools unable to speak English quickly learn to speak well enough to interact with their classmates. Getting to grips with writing English, syntax and spelling, though, is a longer process. So a CD-Rom providing structured language learning in an enjoyable way would certainly be valuable.

Quest Multimedia has two products - abc with KC and At Home with KC - that aim to provide fun with methodical language instruction, for children learning English, here and abroad. The programs have native language support in Arabic and other languages, so that the menus are in the appropriate language, and KC at Home has translations of words and letters in a number of languages. Quest suggests that they could also be used in primary classrooms by native English speakers in their development of reading, writing and spelling English; they have developed a new version of abc with KC, with the needs of the infant and primary classroom in mind.

The delightful character KC is the motivating force in these titles. The first title uses multimedia to teach letter recognition, familiarity with the alphabet, spelling, reading and pronouncing words. In version 2, you can set the program to phonics mode, so that children can hear letters pronounced phonically, as well as by letter name. As the words are spoken, they are written on the screen in a handwriting style, showing letter formation. In this new version there is also a finger writing mode, allowing children to trace the patterns of their letters with their finger on the screen. With a microphone attached, children can also hear themselves repeating words.

There are graded spelling games at four levels of difficulty. The user has the option to select one or two chances at the correct spelling and the animations are amusing, while supporting an understanding of the word. You are rewarded in Olympic style for getting words right with bronze, silver and gold cups. A folder provided on the disc contains the pictures of the awards to present to children, as well as pictures of all the words in the program and their objects for children to colour and learn.

At Home with KC introduces vocabulary from the home and extends the pupil's grasp of grammar and sentence construction. The user travels through rooms at KC's home, learning words and sentences, as well as playing the various spelling and listening games.

KC has been imprisoned in his storeroom by aliens from the planet Ton, and the children playing this game have to release him. KC can be seen trapped on the screen. In the spelling games, he cries pitiful tears when you get the games wrong. Since it took me a while to get used to some of the games, KC cried a lot and made me feel very guilty, although the children helping me thought it was very funny.

These titles have a useful place in the infant and primary classrooms for language support, but they're based on a drill and practice approach and should be used for short periods in the context of the wider curriculum. Which means that it could take some time before KC gets out of the storeroom!

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