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Technology Bytes: Upgrading Your Human

Going Multilingual -- Learning A New Language

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Edutainment -- it's a buzz word that became popular about the time PCs went multimedia. According to the sales briefings we attended, Dads bought multimedia its to play games with, Mums approved the purchases for kiddie education. Hence the CD packages with encyclopedias and games.

We conducted ad hoc surveys at PC shows and the results tend to be as reported -- women see computers as a tool, men are more interested in playing.

Multimedia is touted as the ideal teaching tool, by engaging a variety of senses it is supposed to improve attention and retention.

Upgrading your human is an occasional series where we look at products and services designed to upgrade the so-called warmware: the user.

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Learning another language

The two contributors who worked on this feature had their own reasons for investigating CALL (computer aided language learning) software. Technology editor Chris Clarke is off to Machu Picchu in 2001 and wanted to learn Spanish. Editor Ali Kayn is just a borderline compulsive obsessive information junkie with a secret addiction to Salsa music. Over the coming weeks we will be updating and adding reviews. Remember you can use the netmind buttons to register your interest in a page. Your details are used only for the automatic notifications.

Getting Started

Personal computers are appearing in more and more homes. Today's PCs come with CD-ROM drives and are Internet-enabled. Speakers are often part of the package, but not headsets. We recommend getting a good quality headset if you want to talk to your PC. The better your PC the better your chances of getting good speech recognition from your system.

Using a headset instead of speakers stops you from annoying others in your home or office, and using a headset microphone enables you to always have your mic at the same distance from your mouth -- a requirement for accurate recognition. More later about setting up the hardware.

The software and other resources discussed in this article were sourced from the Web. We contacted a number of developers, including some who release freeware and shareware titles. We ignored any shareware that was time-bombed or crippleware to the point that a user could not make a reasonable evaluation themselves.

In this feature: Introduction
Ali's experience
Chris' experience
Tips on learning another language
Tips on using technology
About learning software
About speech recognition
About translation software
About dictionaries and other useful resources
About hardware requirements
Setting up a multi-lingual PC

Learning software (CALL):
Learn Spanish Your Way
The Rosetta Stone Traveler
The Rosetta Stone Level I and II
Tell Me More (Auralog)
Speech Recognition, text-to-speech:
Dragon Naturally Speaking (Spanish)
IBM ViaVoice
Digalo speech engine and Digit clipboard reader
Dictionaries and Grammars:
Oxford University Pop-up
Word Magic
SeleCT headset switch

EA, in his book Teaching Yourself a Foreign Language makes a number of recommendations for selecting learning resources and approaching a new language. He learnt three languages in four years, sitting for final year high school exams in the languages to test himself.

He aims his system at fast learners, but he gives excellent tips on how to learn a language at home. His recommendation, which predated CALL was to get some idea of pronunciation at the beginning, then to concentrate on written comprehension first, learning enough grammar to get the gist. Getting someone to help with oral comprehension and speaking the language came later. He recommended texts that had reading exercises of a couple of hundred words, and more than one textbook at a time. If the student begins to find the going difficult, he suggested that they change the book, alternating between text books and getting the advantage of different approaches and explanations. He didn't recommend the tape/CD systems often aimed at travellers.

Whether you are learning another language for school, travel or self-improvement, it is worth getting more than one title. You may choose from a wide range of online or CD-based software, and between retail, freeware or shareware. EA estimated that a fast learner using his techniques could become reasonable comfortable in a language (that is, able to read and write non-technical materials) in between nine and fifteen months with fifteen hours a week effort. Can CALL software make learning another language faster and easier?

CALL Software Contemporary speech recognition software like IBM's ViaVoice and Dragon's Naturally Speaking enable the PC to evaluate a user's pronunciation. Sound files, video files and text-to-speech enable the PC to demonstrate the correct pronunciation. Some CALL systems used runtime versions of existing speech recognition software, for example, Knowledge Adventure use ViaVoice in the Learn Your Way titles. Other developers built their own speech recognition modules.

TIPS: voice recognition will not understand if you speak too soon.

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