Moving into action

28th October 1994 at 00:00
Eleanor Caldwell looks at CD-i for language teaching. Language Director

In French, German, Spanish; levels 1 and 2 for each (three discs per level). For key stages 3 4. Pounds 150 per level. Muzzy FrenchEnglish

Primary level. Produced by Vektor for BBCEnglish, Pounds 39.99. Philips Media, School 2000 Dept, Philips House, 188 Tottenham Court Road, London W1 9LE

Modern Languages in the Primary school

Three CD-i's supporting the Scottish training programme, Pounds 14.99 each


Language CD-i for the hearing impaired SITC, Moray House, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ

The days of the couch potato are nearly over: passive television watching is becoming a thing of the past. After sound, text, pictures, animation and video, we now have interaction. With the advent of CD-i (compact disc interactive), television viewing has become an active, thought-provoking process in which the viewer can decide the outcome of stories, elect to play related language games and even alter the language of a programme at the click of the proverbial switch.

First developed by Philips early in 1992, CD-i provides a new form of teaching aid which is both instantly accessible for even the least technologically-minded and relatively affordable. With CD-i players (which also play ordinary CDs) retailing from around Pounds 300 and CD-i's themselves starting at Pounds 10, the cost for hard-pressed departments is scarcely prohibitive.

In terms of language learning, Philips' Language Director CD-i's offer a whole new experience. At each level there are three discs which provide 35-50 hours of study and introduce about 500 words. While the lessons are planned on a strict programme of cumulative language learning, students are encouraged to find their own level. A test at the end of each lesson determines whether or not the pupil is capable of continuing. If the pupil fails the test, he has to repeat the lesson. If he passes, he is rewarded with a loud cheer, congratulations and on to the next lesson.

A form of mastery learning or just an ability to pass tests? That remains to be seen. The lessons themselves focus on a steady build-up of interactional language based on everyday situations. Using the interactive facility of CD-i, the student can stop the verbal stimulus, repeat it as often as he wants, call up the written stimulus simultaneously, complete oral or written cloze tests and check the meaning of a word or importance of a grammar point from the integrated vocabulary and grammar sections. The possibilities seem endless.

There are teething difficulties: the lessons for all levels and languages in Language Director are compiled entirely using the Vater und Sohn cartoons by Plauen. Unfortunately for Philips, Plauen did not allow the use of fully-animated cartoon in the CD-i's.

The result is a series of moving pictures in which the characters make only small stacatto movements. This will not go down well with hyper-critical pupils used to the graphic sophistication of computer games.

In terms of actual usage, there is a rather complex system of functions which at times means that the user is focused more on the technology than on the language.

But these are not insurmountable problems and the technique certainly works. I was able to work through a couple of lessons on the Spanish disc and be rewarded by passing the tests.

The award-winning CD-i Muzzy, on the other hand, suffers fewer difficulties and provides a delightful introduction to French for young children. When even a four-year-old can enjoy an animated film in French, ask to play some of the language games, and announce, after one viewing, that "j'ai faim" means "I'm hungry", Muzzy, the monster and his friends, combined with the CD-i medium, have been enormously effective. This would be an excellent back-up resource for future primary language teaching.

CD-i is also being used in Scotland to support the language training of primary teachers. As back-up to the statutory period of training which incorporates a resource pack and video material of good language teaching practice, the Scottish Interactive Technology Centre has produced CD-i's which retain this video material. With the interactive element enabling them to home in on particular points, primary teachers will, as part of on-going in-service training, be able to return to aspects of their original training programme and review their current practice.

Among other pioneering work, the SITC team is putting together a CD-i for teaching languages to the hearing-impaired. This is surely a colossal breakthrough in language teaching, the results of which will be eagerly awaited.

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