Tell Me More French by Auralog is an amazing software program that offers the eager learner the chance to delve right into the spoken language. As a French teacher, I can attest that this product is up to speed with the most current language teaching methodologies. Its focus is on effectively communicating in French in common day-to-day situations. Not only are users of this program able to hear French while they view the written form on the computer screen, they are also able to practice speaking the language with correct pronunciation and intonation using feedback from the program’s voice recognition software. This program puts the focus on oral and written understanding and expression, with just enough grammatical background to serve general communicative tasks.
The software package contains CDs for four levels of study: total beginner, advanced beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Each of the lessons begins with a dialogue in French that focuses on a particular task: introducing oneself, ordering in a café, buying a train ticket, or asking for directions, for example. For students who find the total immersion approach too daunting, there is a flag button available on the screen for almost every activity. With one click, this button will translate the French into English (or into Spanish, Italian, German, or even Dutch, if you prefer). This feature is particularly reassuring to both complete beginners and “visual" learners who like to listen to the audio with the written text and its translation in full view.
The adaptability of this language learning software to multiple learning styles is just one of its strengths. First of all, the user can chose from three different lesson modes: the guided mode (which is set up for the total beginner as a step-by-step approach to learning to read, understand, pronounce, and speak French), the free-to-roam mode (which allows for skipping from one exercise to the next and repeating exercises at random), and the dynamic mode (which allows students to set their own agendas for what they want to focus on the most: oral expression, listening comprehension, vocabulary acquisition, or grammar, for example). Secondly, each lesson includes a wide variety of exercises that repeat and reinforce skills, vocabulary, and structures introduced in the initial dialogues. Tell Me More French offers matching exercises, crossword puzzles, hidden word searches, fill-in-the-blanks exercises, scrambled sentences, dictations, writing activities, and picture/work association drills, in addition to the wonderful pronunciation and intonation activities and explanations. The exercises come with a solution button for immediate feedback, as well as translations and grammar explanations for many items.
Finally, this program includes another essential element for meaningful communication in another language: cultural information. Through maps, cultural texts of varying lengths, and cultural quizzes, Tell Me More French introduces the user to key aspects of French culture, from cuisine to traditions and customs, museums, monuments, and artists and musicians.
Price to Value (5 out of 5)
While this program is among the pricier ones on the market, it is well worth the investment. If you consider the cost of 850 hours of language instruction in a French class, this program is an incredible deal. Given that it is so seamless, easy to use, and well organized, it is an excellent value.
Installation & Setup (5 out of 5)
If your computer meets the system requirements for this program, the installation is a breeze. You can simply plug in headphones, insert the CD-ROM of your choice, and follow the Quick Start Guide or the online prompts and you are ready to go. More details on installing and running the software are available in the User Manual included in the package.
User Interface (5 out of 5)
One of the really neat aspects of this software is that there are three different help options available in the top right-hand corner of each screen. Using the "on the current screen" option, you can opt for a step-by-step tutorial of exactly how to use each screen and complete each activity. You can also repeat the instructions as many times as you need to. If you use the "on the navigation" option, you can pass the mouse over certain areas for an explanation of how they work. Finally, you can get special on screen help for completing the speech recognition activities. If that is not enough, the User Manual and the Activity Guide offer clear instructions on choosing learning modes and on each type of activity included in the lessons.
While not a real drawback, one thing to note for those users who elect to use the guided mode: if you choose this option, you cannot go back and attempt the exercises involving speech recognition multiple times because of the default settings and the pre-established learning trajectory. If you want to continue with the guided mode, and you want more practice on the speech recognition exercises, simply switch over to the free-to-roam mode, and you can practice the speaking and pronunciation exercises as much as you want.
Product Features (5 out of 5)
Of all of the excellent features available in Tell Me More French, the most outstanding ones are the speech recognition components and the phonetics and pronunciation exercises. The phonetics portion is a French teacher’s dream come true: a 3D visual shows the shape and movement of the mouth, tongue, and lips for a given sound while the user hears the pronunciation and reads specific instructions for how to shape the mouth and place the tongue. In addition, this section provides the International Phonetic Alphabet transcription of each sound, thus giving students the proper tools to look up any word in a dictionary and pronounce it correctly, once the sounds and symbols are mastered. In addition, this section allows the user to view the multiple spellings for a different sound in the target language and to practice this sound in different words and different phrases. The speech recognition component rates the user’s pronunciation of a sound, word or phrase on a scale of 1 to 7. When repeating and practicing phrases, the speech recognition feature highlights the word or words needing the most work in red, so the learner knows what to focus on in the phrase. In addition, not only the pronunciation, but also the intonation is recorded on a graph so that learners can visually compare their speech to that of the voice on the audio. There are several different voices for every exercise so that learners are exposed to more than one native speaker’s pronunciation.
My next favorite feature of this program is its use of comic illustrations in the "key grammar explanations" section. After stating a basic grammar rule and giving examples of it in French, the user can then see the grammar point in context via several comic illustrations with audio. If I could use this section in my French classrooms, I would, because it contrasts with most students’ view that learning grammar is dull and tedious.
Another noteworthy feature is the inclusion of cultural activities. Language educators know that it is not enough to know how to speak, read, write, and understand a language, if one knows nothing about the cultures and regions where that language is spoken. This language-learning program addresses that need in a colorful, interesting way.
One last feature of this program that deserves special recognition is its accuracy. While I did not go through each and every exercise, I did go through many at all levels and in all categories, and I came across no errors in the process. This speaks highly of the editing and revising that has gone into this program.
In the "Key Grammar Explanations" section, there are no translations for the example sentences. While such translations are not absolutely essential, given that most of the phrases and vocabulary have been introduced prior to this point in the lesson, some learners might find translations beneficial in this section.
In the Written Expression section, users are encouraged to write short blurbs and then compare them to a sample text; the software cannot correct this section, however, so it might be of limited value to some users. (To be fair, most people using foreign language software packages are not looking to write the language but to speak and understand it, and the software does an excellent job of helping users to do just that.)
Down the road, Auralog’s designers might consider adding translations to the examples given in the "key grammatical explanations" section. That said, if a user follows the guided mode, this is not absolutely necessary, since most of the examples used in this section are introduced and translated earlier in the sequence.
This program is the next best thing to total immersion in French for anyone wanting to achieve a working knowledge of French with good pronunciation and a background in French culture. The variety, the step-by-step approach, and the humorous elements of Tell Me More French ensure that users will stay engaged, encouraged, and even amused.