Monday, April 21, 2008

English Language Learning Software Hunt

The other day a friend asked me if she could borrow some of my CD-ROMs (or DVD-ROMs) for English language learning OR for some suggestions. I was a little embarrassed that not only didn't I have many (aside from a couple old ones), but I also couldn't think of any besides Rosetta Stone and TELL, which are a little more than I can afford.

My interests have included CALL-related topics for many years, but it's been a long time since I paid attention to instructional software. I've focused for so long on the use of ICT that I am clueless on the state of "traditional" disk-based software.

I have NEVER seen a software that impressed me. They have all been warmed-over grammatical syllabi with little other than multiple choice, fill in the blank drills to fill space between cute animations and lame texts (can you tell I'm skeptical?).

I'm not against drilling. I think that there is a place for it and a software might be the right place. However, these also don't seem to have much relevance to the average classroom. That is unacceptable.

Can anyone prove me wrong? What have you used that you loved? If you do make any recommendations, please describe why it is good.

Don't bother sending on things that can be modified for language learning. There are countless materials to do that with. I would like to know a good, dedicated software (CD, DVD, Downloadable, or even online) that learners can use on their own. If there is interaction with other students or teachers, that's great, but students still have to be able to use it on their own.



Updates: I'll update here with suggestions that I receive.

  • EuroTalk
  • Qedoc - Quiz-maker and cache of quizzes.
  • EduFire - Flashcards and collection of videos in various languages (mostly YouTube).


Craig Howard- Dekist Street said...

Um, how many times can I write "Absolutely, I agree with you 100%!" Yes, I haven't seen anything new in computer based language learning software for a long time. Curious what you mean by the acronym: ICT? Do you mean what I have traditionally heard of being called Network Based CALL? I think the strait forward drilling is useful to, but not all that useful and one needs to be very motivated to. One thing worth motioning on this one is the use of artificial agents. Glenn Stockwell, who is now at Waseda in Tokyo, used to use an artificial agent, which was unique. I couldn’t locate his homepage with the agent when I went to go find it last however. But it introduced something new at least. That was in 2000. I expect that with all the Web 2.0 hype the focus is actually leaving software, and the development of “collectively intelligent” websites will take a bigger role until somebody comes up with a way to make the CBT stuff a little better. Is it me or has CALL slowed down since the 1990’s? I think the hype is returning a bit, but I am yet to see much substance to it. I would like to see some better approaches to web site design and with the easy access to most books and journals; rosetta stone herself should be free beyond the web trial they offer. Not being free just postpones the disaster instead of facing it and proactively changing, like the sad demise of Britannica and world book encyclopedias. I saw the Pimsleur learning tapes I used to learn introductory Japanese in 1996 on the shelf in the public library AV section. Had I known!! I don’t see any reason to keep it proprietary and force people to download the bit torrent versions—not that anyone I know would ever do such a thing just to learn a language of course. :)

Dan said...

Hi Craig,

Thanks for coming by.

There really isn't much that's new AND accessible these days. I've been hearing about these great systems being developed for the last 10 years that promise (good) voice recognition and intelligent CALL, but NOTHING has been delivered. I can't complain if I'm not doing anything to develop these, but it's still frustrating.

Richard Dabrowski (IST alum) used a fun RPG for his dissertation that fit this bill perfectly. However, it is a military project and is not available to the public, plus, I think that it's still in the research stage. This was for Arabic and, though it had problems, it was really cool.

ICT stands for Information and Communication Technologies. I was mostly referring to Skype and other audio/video communication technologies. At this point, those are the power technologies for language learning in my opinion.

People like me have been proven wrong over and over again, but I don't think that the free content/services approach will last. Many areas of the world have moved to micropayments very successfully. A good quality program (like Rosetta Stone) could make money by charging little amounts for usage (i.e., pay by page or pay by time). Unfortunately, we simple don't have a framework for this in the States. In addition, we have to wean people off of free stuff.

Ad-supported only goes so far. We need to find better ways to monetize services to take them beyond simple web-based worksheets and sample dialogs. As it stands right now, it doesn't seem like there is a lot of venture capital out there for language sites (though places like Mango might prove me wrong). However, beyond the social networking functionality, they aren't doing anything new.

Ok, rambled too much. Time for bed. :)


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