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Review CornerSoftware
Spanish For Dummies/French For Dummies
Rating: Rating
The Bottom Line
Both Spanish For Dummies and French for Dummies make good choices for supplementing foreign language courses. The programs use a variety of approaches to help users learn each featured language, and boast an uncluttered and bright presentation.
Ages: 11 and up   Subject: Foreign Language   Brand: Syracuse Languages
Review Sections: Product Overview  Technically Speaking  Skills Covered  Educational Value  Entertainment Value  Design  Replayability  Dollar Value
image Product Overview
This line of foreign language software takes on the gigantic task of teaching users a foreign language. Fortunately, the programs are easy to use and present a variety of activities to engage users. The friendly "For Dummies Man" guides students through the program.

The learning is divided into four parts, each of which presents a number of lessons with a common theme. Generally, a lesson includes a "Getting Started" section where users read lesson objectives, FYI-style text (including some cultural tidbits), and learning strategies. Then, lessons and/or games, vocabulary practice, and quizzes are presented.

Part I is essentially a basics course, presenting the basic sounds of the language, simple vocabulary (like clothing, food, and household words and phrases), and grammar lessons. A sample grammar lesson in Part I, called Equal Opportunity Nouns, includes a text-based lesson on masculine and feminine nouns and definite/indefinite articles. Users are taught that nouns in French have gender, amongst other things, and are given helpful learning strategies as well as "ground rules" on the subject. Then, they can check their own progress with a short, multiple-choice quiz. A separate section involves watching a live-action video of a woman speaking key vocabulary words and phrases, clicking on phrases for translations, and then practicing speaking the new vocabulary into a microphone. Each grammar lesson includes a quiz to complete. After answers are submitted, incorrect responses are shown, and users are then given a chance to correct them.

Part II concentrates on language used when meeting people, and includes greetings, descriptions of people, relative locations, and directions. Parts III and IV are contained on the second CD-ROM and focus on numbers, telling time, and making plans with friends.

Vocabulary games include Under Cover, in which players find "hidden" clothing after memorizing their places on the screen (they'll be asked, for example, to "trouve le chapeau" in the French title). Players can warm up in practice mode by simply clicking on objects to hear them pronounced. Double Vision is a memory game that is simple and effective, and Brain Buster requires players to place objects (such as household items) in the order they are called.

The variety of activities included is impressive. In addition, the program takes advantage of available technologies in very useful ways. In one activity, for example, users watch a video of a conversation between three people. They can turn text "on" and get a complete text-only translation if this helps boost their understanding of the piece. Then, in Dress Rehearsal, students can actually choose one of the three characters and do their own voiceover! Another exercise involves listening to a couple talking about the people they see in a photo album, without actually seeing them talk. Users can then check their understanding of the conversation by completing a multiple-choice quiz that involves listening for the best response.

Some foreign language titles give feedback on users' pronunciation with the help of speech recognition technologies and a computer microphone. However, this technology, in general, is imperfect and sometimes frustrating. For example, we had a French-speaking native test the speech recognition feature in a number of French titles (including this one), and he didn't always get good results. This program wisely offers three ways to evaluate pronunciation — the program evaluates it using its speech recognition model; a Record/Playback option allows users the option to compare their own pronunciation with that of a native speaker; and a Visual Evaluation option is available that uses spectrograms and waveforms and involves users looking for similar patterns between their speech and that of the native-speaking model.

Text translations are available in English for many exercises, and these can be turned on or off at will. A pop-up dictionary translates both ways — from French to English and from English to French in the French program, for example — and is very easy to access and helpful. Also included is a pop-up notebook for taking notes at any point in the program, a grammar index, usage notes, and a verb conjugation guide.

This program borrows content — mostly video — from Knowledge Adventure's Learn Your Way foreign language series. However, For Dummies is a better-organized product than Learn Your Way, and it boasts a friendlier interface along with some new and more-engaging games.

Learning a foreign language — especially from the ground up — takes years of both written and oral practice. Naturally, any one software program alone will not do the job. However, For Dummies will help a great deal. As a supplement to school courses, For Dummies provides useful tools to reinforce and practice foreign language skills.

This title is strong for two main reasons — its simple and pleasing design, and its variety of approaches and activities. In keeping with the For Dummies trademark style of presenting subjects in a cheerful and easy-to-understand manner, this title's text is actually enjoyable to read and its interface is intuitive. The presentation is uncluttered and positive. The For Dummies Man serves as a helpful guide — never is his presence intrusive or annoying. While there may be other software titles that offer more in-depth content, the best foreign language software title is one that will actually be used! For Dummies is friendly enough to invite users to return to the program over time.

Technically Speaking
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95/98/Me/2000/NT 4.0 or higher, Pentium 166 MHz (350 MHz recommended), 64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended), and 12X CD-ROM (24X recommended). It requires 80 MB of hard drive space available, and a microphone for speech-recognition features.

Skills Covered
Users develop listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills in the featured foreign language, boost their vocabulary, and learn grammar.

Educational Value
This especially interactive program uses a number of educational strategies and styles to teach a foreign language and helps users develop skills in reading, speaking, listening, and writing. Students learn the language through interactive conversations and quizzes, vocabulary games, and grammar lessons. Strong emphasis is placed on communication.

Entertainment Value
Learning is not disguised in this title — users should probably be self-motivated in order to get the most out of the program. However, For Dummies does a better job at entertaining users than most titles of this genre, considering its strong educational content. A variety of approaches and some pleasing games add entertainment value to the program.

Because learning a foreign language can feel overwhelming at times, a foreign language software title that is presented in an organized and fresh manner will be especially important. This title is easy to use and feels organized, thus conveying an all-important feeling of manageability. The program is designed in such a way that users can skip around in a self-directed and self-paced manner. Help is available at every turn along the way, and the Status Map, which shows which lessons have been attempted, can be accessed from the main menu. There are two CD-ROMs in the set, and some disc swapping is required in order to access different parts of the program.

Though the program's amount of content is decent, the strongest feature that enhances repeat play is its pleasing variety.

Dollar Value
This CD-ROM carries a suggested retail price of approximately $19.99 US.

Released: 2001
Reviewed: November 2001

French for Dummies:
  Spanish for Dummies: