The route to understanding

5th January 1996 at 00:00
WordRoot CD-Rom for Apple Macintosh and Multimedia PC computers, Pounds 39.99 excluding VAT. WordRoutes Ltd, Moorland House, 41 London Road, Biggleswade, Beds SG18 8ED. Tel: 01767 600580.

I wish WordRoot had been around to bail me out when I was at school and my English teacher used to make us spend hours looking up prefixes and suffixes and their Latin meanings in the dictionary. Or indeed when I was an English teacher myself and trying to help children develop their knowledge of language.

WordRoot is a CD-Rom which has a true grass roots beginning, born out of an English teacher's desire to encourage his pupils to see patterns between words and make an educated guess at their meanings.

There are three sections to WordRoot Wordlink, the Accent Map and the Wall of Talk. The main feature is the WordLink section, which allows pupils to explore the connections between words. Author John Davitt characterises this process as "word-surfing" and indeed that's what it feels like. First of all you select a word from the list. Then you can click on different roots within the word to see other words with the same root. For example, clicking on the "chron" part of the word in "chronology" would take you to further words containing "chron" such as chronic" or "synchronised" The main WordLink screen shows a little character called Lump, an anatomically incorrect amorphous blob in a helmet, goggles and earphones. Clicking on his earphones plays a snippet of talk where different kinds of language, informal, technical, idiomatic, formal, are used to bring the word into a particular context.

Lump's goggles, when clicked, will reveal an animation designed to support an understanding of the word and clicking on his helmet shows three associated words. The Latin and Greek roots of the words are also given. There are more than 300 words in the program and in the final version, due to be released in January, there should be a feature which allows students to make their own word links, an important addition to the program.

The other two features which would be useful in the English classroom are the Accent Map, where children are given some snippets of language from different parts of the world and the Wall of Talk, literally aural graffiti to enable to children to listen to sound effects and language used in different ways. The Wall of Talk is intentionally rather loose, but I found it a bit confusing and felt that a bit more direction in its use might be in order.

The CD-Rom does comes with a full set of notes, including suggested root searches to get pupils going initially and these would be very important to guide teachers in the use of WordRoot in the classroom as part of their language work. It could be used by individuals, children in groups, or by the teacher as a resource when studying language with a class. Snippets of accent and dialogue are often difficult to come by, so this is a useful resource.

The version I previewed will need some further work on it before it is released. On a Power mac the program ran slowly and the design, although simple and easy to use, has a rather old-fashioned air about it. While in many ways its foibles are endearing, especially the sound of dishes being washed up in the background of some clips, it is irritating to find that something so original should be anything less than perfect.

WordRoot is potentially an excellent program, but it needs some fine tuning before release.

Nicola Jones

* Speaking Volumes - stand 640

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