Modern languages have long been seen as IT's poor relation. But the situation is changing fast
Modern languages lies reputedly at the bottom of the information technology use-in-schools league, with most teachers not using computer-based resources on anything like a regular basis. There could be many reasons why, including limitations on funding, availability of materials, familiarity with the available products and training.
One source of help could be a Department for Education and Employment training project co-ordinated by a steering group led by Terry Atkinson of the University of Bristol. Another comes with BETT, where this year there will be several exhibitors displaying modern language materials which can be sampled, discussed and evaluated for individual educational contexts.
The National Council for Educational Technology stands will be of real value because of the diverse expertise of its personnel. It has produced a steady flow of modern languages information and materials in the past few years and so the NCET will be a good place to get an overall view of what to look for elsewhere in the exhibition.
IT links to some of the leading publishers will be represented at BETT through well-established companies such as AVP, Camsoft and Semerc. There is the opportunity to investigate both the established links of IT packages to course books and newer products.
Other familiar publishers have a stand in their own right, and in some cases are offering modern languages packages: OUP has released CD-Rom accompaniment to its videobook-based advanced French and German titles, Tele-textes and TV und Texte.
Interactive CD-Rom is the growing area, with Collins adding new packages for French and Spanish to the established reading materials sources Autolire and CD-Lesen. Its new products also reflect the growing number of Macintosh users in education, being designed for both PC and Mac platforms.
Philips CD-i (Compact disc interactive) players and discs are perhaps more common in primary schools. The company is now offering the young beginners-oriented Muzzy series which the BBC originated several years ago; Philips has also developed a new interactive title, European Party, in several languages.
AVP, for many modern languages teachers, is the central source of IT materials from a variety of software houses, and its current catalogue has expanded again the range of products, languages and platforms on offer. In addition to several existing CD-Roms for learning French, a new product in its PictureBase series, Perspectives Francaises, will be launched at BETT. It should be worth a look.
Other new launches at BETT are items in Language Support's Learning and Speaking series. This multilingual program currently develops mainly reading and writing skills, but does offer also speaking and listening options on disc. These should be on CD-Rom this month.
The MEU Cymru company has developed a program designed to help pupils discover errors in text. This was developed originally in Welsh, but will support accented characters and could therefore be used by modern foreign language teachers.
Prestige Network is releasing its multi-language learning program, The Rosetta Stone. With its cost and style this seems more applicable to adult independent learners and the development of listening and reading skills.
Creative Curriculum offers, via Language Master, access to a personalised list of words or phrases in French, German and Spanish for Acorn-based word-preocessing or desktop publishing packages. It also has a French verb-testing program.
BETT offers a wide programme of seminars, many of which, although not specifically targeted at them, may still be of interest to modern languages teachers. Two seminars are aimed at the subject area. One, on Wednesday January 10, deals with supporting pupils with special needs through a range of IT applications, run by Elaine Hampson and Clare Martin on behalf of the British Dyslexia Association. It tackles a vital area from several angles, showing how involving pupils on a practical level can build confidence and positive attitudes towards language learning.
Active pupil involvement is also at the heart of the seminar on Friday January 12, given by Pam Haezewindt and Linda Humphreys on behalf of the Association for Language Learning. They will be demonstrating aspects of multimedia in foreign language learning, including the use of CD-Rom interactive materials and the potential for authoring.
Part of BETT's value lies in offering modern languages teachers the chance to explain their needs to the education representatives of companies, to people who can influence future product development. A greater awareness of these needs is recent. A move away from the foot of the "league table" is partly dependent on how well we are heard in the future.
* AVP - stand 355. Camsoft - stand 313. Collins - stand C16. Creative Curriculum - stand 420. Language Support - stand C29. MEU Cymru - stand 136. NCET - stands 544560. Semerc - stand SN12OUP - stand C20. Philips - stand 680. Prestige Network - stand C72