Modern languages

7th January 2000 at 00:00
With The curriculum under review and consultation on 5-14 and Standard Grade in Scotland recently completed, we're pausing for yet another moment of reflection in modern languages before ICT is firmly established at all levels, in all establishments, delivered by a national team of competent and confident computerised linguists. It seems a long way off from some angles, particularly in schools where technology bases, appropriate hardware and sympathetic IT co-odinators are not in evidence.

The rapidly declining language lab still lurks with the attendant dilemma: to upgrade or to replace with a new system, ideally custom-built for language department use. Implications for the purse strings are enormous. The range of functions required is ever-increasing but parameters are becoming clearer so teachers and managers can home in on exactly what's needed.

The aim is obviously communication - now truly international, so word processing must be backed up by email. Up to the minute authentic materials are needed so the Internet is bread and butter. Independent, differentiated learning must be established so easy teacher monitoring systems are essential. Software products from tried and tested text manipulation to sophisticated voice recognition all have potential in class so a CD-Rom facility is needed. Audio, video and satellite from all sources are there for the taking.

The Virtual Language Lab by Keylink takes all this on board operating on standard Windows networks or existing multimedia PCs. Although claiming to be so simple to use that students require no instruction, Keylink offers initial teacher training on installation. An extremely comprehensive cross-curricular handbook ICT Skills for Teachers (Keylink pound;15.95) and CD-Rom (pound;19.95) also takes teachers from sublimely easy mouse-clicking to complex multimedia processes. Installation and training for 20 user licence costs pound;3,300.

Tandberg Educational continues to maintain their position in technology based language teaching, upgrading existing analogue to digital learning systems. The Digital Interactive Audio Video Recorder (Divace) duo system incorporates functions from production of worksheets and text manipulation to Internet access. The Information Communication Manager (ICM), allows simultaneous access to video, text and audio files and stored exercises. Costs depend on existing systems. The existing Tandberg push-button TLC 1000 laboratory can be upgraded with the addition of one teacher PC and software.

Advanced multi-media learning systems are now adopting a new role as saviours of ever-diminishing non-viable A levelHigher classes. Vektor Multimedia's A Level 2000 in French, German and Spanish offers a 50 week course over one or two years.

Weekly commitment involves four hours independent multimedia or Internet work and a 20-minute video conference with a tutor. Email addresses, conferencing facilities and regular access to a multimedia PC are a prerequisite. At an annual inclusive cost of pound;550 per student it's certainly not a cheap option but could prove its own worth by keeping pos-16 languages alive in an attractive new format.

Softarc International's FirstClass Collaborative Classroom Gold ACE system is alone in offering the three facilities - audio, conference and electronic mails - further widening perspectives. Audio mail gives authentic international listening practice which still allows students to pause and replay messages before responding. C-mail can send messages, graphics, audio and video material and email speaks for itself. The annual cost per user for ACE is pound;3.20.

The time-consuming process of surfing the Net is being reduced by services such as CD Live Francais Actuel which offers a day-by-day selection of news articles from a broad range of the French press. Pitched at all secondary levels, it also includes advertisements, video clips, a discussion forum and worksheet material. Network licence per annum is pound;575 for 10 users.

The software market in modern languages continues to expand with increasing interest in new voice recognition technology. Tell Me More Pro CD-Rom produced by leading company Auralog, is designed for use in schools. Offering an individual student tracking system, personalised lesson plans and a lesson print-out option it has brought Auralog's individual learning systems squarely into the teacher-monitored classroom arena. There is currently a Schools Discovery Pack installation of Tell me More Pro Beginner for one site for pound;69 (unlimited network usage).

Young Writer's Workshop (pound;49) a new CD-Rom from Granada Learning aims to create young international journalists practising script, newspaper and magazine writing in addition to caption writing and radio recording. Desktop publishing package Textease by Softease. (pound;85 for single user) now includes written and spoken instructions in French and would prove popular for language work in the primary school. Demarcation between life-long learning and school software products in languages remains unclear at times. However, this can be seen as a positive advantage with products such as Talkfast's World Talk (pound;29 single user) and Talk Now (pound;25 single user). For beginners' language learning, Talk Now boasts titles in 40 languages, introducing minority languages for both school and community learning. The French Experience (2 CDs pound;44.99) the BBC's best-selling title, like World Talk, Talk Now, and Talk to Me is now networkable.

Seminars for modern language teachers at BETT 2000 are as follows: C9 Friday January 14, 2.15pm, Computers in Foreign Language Education, Where we are now, speaker Michael Shade for ALL; C13 Saturday January 15, 11am, ICT and Modern Languages, speaker Ros Walker for CILT.

Keylink Computers Stand: Q39http:dialspace.pipex.comkeylinkAuralog Stand: C152www.auralog.comTandberg Educational Stand: Learning Stand: F40 Multimedia Stand: Stand: M22www.textease.comSoftarc International Stand:C32www.mc2learning.comTalkfast International Stand: SW111www.talkfast.comBBC Education

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