Byte your tongue;Hands on

12th November 1999 at 00:00
With a little help from Auralog's updated voice-recognition CD-Rom Talk To Me, Eleanor Caldwell has her say in Francais.

Typically lagging behind our European neighbours, British language teachers are continuing to reserve judgement about the value of voice-recognition technology. Nevertheless French company Auralog, which pioneered the language-learning software, continues to develop increasingly more finely-tuned versions of its original Talk To Me CD-Rom.

Available in a BeginnerIntermediate or Advanced format and for French, German, Italian and Spanish languages, Talk To Me allows pupils to select work at seven levels of difficulty and claims a capacity for over 100 hours of learning.

Integral to the new version of Talk To Me is a sophisticated voice-recognition system that moves beyond the now-established voice waveform - a visual representation of spoken sentences and phrases - to include a graphic pitch curve designed to help improve intonation. Both the waveform and pitch curve present model and individual representation of the pronunciation and intonation of sentences and phrases within the context of a dialogue with the computer.

Since visual waveforms and pitch curves could only offer a generalised picture of performance in a sentence, Auralog has added a new dimension to the system. Alongside the waveform and pitch curve is a Spoken Error Tracking System (SETS) that presents the written sentence and highlights the word or phrase that has been mispronounced. This is where the work of the teacher is emulated, although not replaced. A reluctant pupil often loathes pronouncing and repronouncing words and phrases in front of a teacher or classmates. Using SETS, a pupil is able to return to the problem word for practice at a click of the mouse and move on at his own pace.

So much for pronunciation and intonation, what about articulation? Pupils struggling to learn French are often reluctant to copy a teacher's mouth and tongue movements to produce authentic-sounding French. Talk To Me has taken this on board, too, by providing 3D animated phonemes. These are presented as two images - one profile, one full-face (pictured far left)- and their demonstration of tongue placement and mouth movement may relieve teachers' vocal contortion. In truth, the facility is rather high-powered for the average class, which is unlikely to care about alveolar ridges or a glottis, but it puts a new slant on a common issue.

Although the CD-Rom's main strength is this innovative oral-based technology, the program also includes a variety of grammar-based exercises and additional access to the Internet.

Language teachers might be reluctant to accept the value of this speech recognition software and be quick to defend their position as the real language model, but this technology could play an exciting role in the class by allowing pupils non-judgemental and private oral work.

Talk To Me. Auralog. Price: pound;29.99. Tel: 0171 929 6266.

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