Many people feel that exposure to foreign languages can never come too early. JumpStart Languages aims to introduce children not yet able to read to the basic vocabulary of Spanish, French, Japanese, and English through a number of interesting games and activities.
Children visit the pavilions of JumpStartville's World Fair, each of which is devoted to a specific language and contains a group of similar activities. Two animated guidesone English-speaking and another who only speaks the featured languagehost each area. Most of the games are designed to reinforce vocabulary words, though some offer a few basic conversational phrases as well. Children will, for example, look for hidden objects in the kitchen by clicking on food and kitchen items. Each time an item is activated, its name is spoken in the featured language. Objects are repeated and new ones are gradually introduced as kids continue the game of hide and seek.
The Outdoor Adventure Game is another activity that is common to each language pavilion. This is essentially a board game in which children play against the computer or a real-life friend. Opponents draw pictures from a well, and then advance to those objects on the game board. As they work their way towards a famous monument from around the world, they reinforce vocabulary words painlessly.
Kids can also play with elements of classic folk tales and then hear their customized variations of the stories read aloud in the featured language. Little Red Riding Hood is told in all four languages, and a story that is unique to each region is also available. Other activities found in the program involve repeating number sequences, listening to traditional songs, and working with paint as they decorate objects in each pavilion. Fantastic "printables" are available for kids to make their own World Festival at home. These include recipes, holiday decorations, games, and more.
Children are always free to play the program as they please. If they choose to challenge themselves with the game's Challenge Mode, the activity they are playing transforms from an unstructured one to a game with a quiz format. For example, in the Hide and Seek game, Challenge Mode requires children to click on objects that are spoken to them instead of selecting objects randomly and hearing their names pronounced.
A flaw of the program is its use of a childlike character voiceover for the French-speaking cat. Clear speech would have been more appropriate, as it is unlikely children would miss the cute dialogue.
JumpStart Languages is designed for English-speaking children (translations are in English), but can be useful for children whose first language is not English, as well.
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95/98/ME/2000, Pentium 166, 32 MB RAM, 8X CD-ROM. Mac users require a G3 processor, System 8.1, 8.6, 9.1, 64 MB RAM, and 24X CD-ROM.
Players learn vocabulary for everyday objects, transportation, animals, insects, natural elements, food, kitchen items, parts of the body, clothing, colors, numbers, and time. Some conversational phrases are introduced, and kids explore music, cultural stories, and customs.
This program offers a fun and mostly unstructured environment for learning basic vocabulary of four different languages. For the most part, the program doesn't feel like a lesson. Instead, players absorb new words while they are immersed in simple games. Most of the learning is passive in this sense, but if children select Challenge Mode, they are required to draw upon what they've learned in order to answer requests. The program combines language learning with an interesting introduction to cultures through traditional music, video voyages, and printable goodies.
A lively and musical experience is typical of most software titles in the JumpStart series, and this game is no exception. Perky characters host activities, and the graphics are dazzling.
A toolbar at the bottom of the screen holds the program's navigational icons. Difficulty levels are adjustable, and a good help system is available.
Each language pavilion is home to four games (these are essentially the same from one pavilion to the next) as well as a few mini-activities. If your child is interested in exploring only one of the languages, he/she may not find enough content in the program in the long term. However, the program contains a generous reward system that allows kids to collect video voyages, which are live-action video snippets from the program's featured regions.
This program carries a suggested retail price of $19.95 US.
Reviewed: July 2001