Kalinka, Russian for Beginners, 0Zero Software Development Group, Irkutsk Russian language learning program on floppy disc for PC (requires extended memory). Pounds 100, The Language Technology Centre Ltd, 27 Cotswold Close, Kingston, Surrey KT2 7JN. Tel: 0181 549 2359
With Russian learning software so scarce, we might almost feel that anything new is worthy of an excited reception. This recently published program is disc-based and does not have the broad scope often given now by the CD-Rom format; there is no sound, video or photo-quality graphics, and there is inevitably a certain repetitiveness about tasks (as there is in many coursebooks too!), but nevertheless it has many positive features.
A real strength is that it forms a coherent learning package, introducing vocabulary and grammar progressively over 33 lessons. Within each unit, there are vocabulary preparation, texts and dialogues to read and understand, grammar reference and exercises and a "game".
Vocabulary is presented simply and is tested before any textual material is seen. Students are given personalised feedback after each section, and there is a summative score. The material introduced covers a good range of language structures and a mixed range of language and text material, based on a previously written course, Russian for Beginners by Ovsienko.
The screen format is easy to read, with colour backgrounds and highlighted text in some exercises. The progression through each unit is logical, with introductory work preceding reading and comprehension work, and with grammar points explained and then practised.
Throughout the program you can access a menu bar to select a whole range of options: online help if you do not understand what to do; a short Russian-English dictionary; grammar notes; a phonetics and spelling section; a vocabulary presentation option, where you can choose simple topics and learn single words via pictures and labels; a section on Russian speech conventions (which offers a range of expressions to communicate functions such as thanking, apologising, requests etc); and quick keys to move on, back or to the contents page.
This program has all the features of a coursebook, but in an accessible format and with the great advantage of having tasks monitored and corrected automatically. The cost is relatively high, but this is inevitable given the small market for Russian materials. It would be good to see this emerging on CD-Rom, with sound, and it would be useful if the makers could provide a summary of the contents of each unit, from the point of view not so much of grammar, but of the themes and topics dealt with in the dialogue and text materials.
Philip Hood is a lecturer in education at the School of Education, University of Nottingham