Speak easy

16th September 2005 at 01:00
Joanne Jones explores a stimulating program for primarysecondary transition

Launchpad 2 CD French Launchpad 2 CD Spanish Vektor, site licence pound;197 www.vl-systems.com

Launchpad 2 provides an enjoyable and motivating child-focused approach to language learning with a wide range of practical activities, animated presentations and interactive tests. It has been developed for the transition between primary and secondary and is suitable for key stage 2 and KS3 (Scottish levels B-E). Fully compatible with the national curriculum, it aims to provide an attractive and engaging language learning platform using bold and colourful graphics and focusing on six different and popular topics for early language learning: school, food and drink, sport, clothes, "in town" and "a visit". The last topic incorporates all the vocabulary covered in earlier units.

The program aims to develop listening, speaking, reading and writing skills and produces a good balance of all four strands, while also building a cultural awareness of the country whose language is being studied. Each unit consists of a good variety of activities and tasks through vocabulary, presentations, practice and three progressively harder interactive tests.

Children are continually exposed to the sound of the language as spoken by native language speakers. They are encouraged to record and re-record their own speech, and to make comparisons between the two, while refining pronunciation. This is a major strength of the software.

The interactive tests also require the use of the "four skills" required for competent language acquisition - listening, speaking, reading and writing - and involve activities such as inserting the correct word or phrase into a gap, choosing an appropriate answer to a question or recording the pupil's own responses.

The comprehensive user guide provides scripts and vocabulary lists and detailed suggestions on how to approach and use each section. It is written in child-friendly language, but with sufficient detail to facilitate the teacher's planning.

The program has been designed to be used in three separate ways - through supported learning, self-study and as a revision aid. Non-specialists can use the software to learn and enjoy using the language alongside the pupils. A teacher can track the progress of individual children and make print-outs, and the results of the tests are displayed in an easy-to-understand table format, which not only shows the number of correct answers, but also how many attempts have been made for each answer.

Digital video and animated presentations help to make this program effective and easy to use, although the annoying "woof" each time a correct answer is provided becomes irritating. The Year 6 children who I tested the program on found it motivating, but preferred using it in a group session on the interactive whiteboard rather than as an individual self-study course.

This series would be a good addition to a language teacher's repertoire, especially as the language covered is of a slightly higher level than some other software programs, which may appear "catchier", but provide a less solid grounding in basic vocabulary and language structures.

Joanne Jones is class teacher and school literacy co-ordinator at Gipsey Bridge Primary School, Lincolnshire

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