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Jack Burston, editor of Temple University's Calico Review
http://astro.temple.edu/~jburston/CALICO/
asked Marianne Morales, ESL/EFL specialist of McGill University, to write a review of Real English. Her very thorough (and enthusiastic) comments are found below.

CALICO Software Review

Real English Interactive
Level 1 Version 2.0

Marianne Morales - McGill University

Product at a glance

Product type:  Interactive multimedia program
Language: ESL/EFL
  - Level: Beginners and False Beginners  
  - Activity: Interactive communicative video clips and activities with the innovation of listening opportunities for candid, natural, and native English international dialects
Media format:  CD-ROM Set 1 (CDs 1 & 2 )
Computer platform: Windows 3.x, Windows 95 / 98 
Hardware requirements

With voice recognition:
Pentium 120Mhz
16 MB RAM
12 MB hard-drive space
2 x CD-ROM drive
Hi-Color graphics card (64,000 colors),
Sound card, microphone, headphones or speakers

Without voice recognition:
486 DX4 100Mhz
8 MB RAM
12 MB hard-drive space
4 x CD-ROM
High-color graphics card(64,000 colors),
Sound card, microphone, headphones or speakers

Price  Individual copy: about $80 US 
Site License: Contact producer for details

General Description
Real English Interactive presents us with the innovation of communicative ESL / EFL listening opportunities for candid, natural, and international English dialects on video clips of numerous street interviews with passers-by in various locations in England, Scotland, Ireland, and the United States. The dialogues from the clips are then studied phrase by phrase, with the student's viewing of the video clip (subtitles as an option) as many times as desired; self-recording their repetition of the new phrase and then comparing the two by listening to the combined playback. Help files, presentation, grammar notes, and bilingual glossary are presented with a translation in the student's choice of language (French/ German/ Spanish).The learner is constantly checked for listening comprehension. The exercises are multiple choice with voice recognition so that the activity becomes more realistic with immediate feedback, both aurally and visually. Additionally, there are word order and fill in the blank exercises. In this manner, all four language skills are actively being employed: Listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Background Information:
The creator, Michael Marzio, owner of a language school in France and creator of other ESL / EFL course material, felt the need for students to be exposed to more authentic listening dialogues than the usual artificial classroom atmosphere allows: "Why are the social banalities so much more difficult than the seemingly complicated technical, administrative or business topics? One reason is probably that relaxed conversation lends itself to imprecision" and the motivation is heightened by " people who are simply fun- fun to watch & listen to." Marzio correctly asserts, "Spontaneity, after all, is what the student is going to have to deal with when he leaves the classroom". Advertising claims list the features that are found to be true and not exaggerated. There are no grandiose claims to the learning guaranteed to be acquired nor the time required. Previous reviews have been very complimentary. Levels 2 to 4 will be available in 2000.

No printed manuals are available, nor is it necessary (and in any event would probably increase the price) as the online help is easily accessible and available in either French, German, or Spanish. The absence of online documentation in English is, however, problematic since teachers using the program may not necessarily be fluent in the learner's language and there are many learners (Chinese, Arabic, Native American, etc.) who would prefer English as the lesser of a challenge. On the positive side, the developer of Real English Interactive has agreed to add on-line help in English in the next version.

Evaluation
Technological features:
 Screen management, navigation, and the user friendly interface were great, with large intuitive icons and roll-over text and menus . The learner can easily return to the main menu in order to get in and out of any activity at any time. This program operates with user controllable sound, pace (including options for stop, pause, and exit), and subtitling options. The high quality of the audio and video is clearly understandable and consistent. The self-recording and comparison features are simply a click away; but it is important to remind the students to click the record icon and hold down while recording. The user can select any desired dialect to mimic from the corresponding video clip. Exploitation of computer potential is almost optimal. The only notable omission is the lack of a graphic comparison facility to allow learners to compare their recorded speech with that of the target speaker and thus more easily identify any differences. In the absence of a graphic display, the user has no reference for the comparison of user speech to the target speech, other than the user's subjective auditory judgment. Compatibility is only with PCs, to date there is no MAC version. This program will immediately entice teachers and learners alike to want to incorporate it into their repertoire of tools, as it is easy to immediately jump into the program anywhere, without any time or effort involved. Each CD has a main menu which displays the lessons and identifies each "point and click" component:

 
Figure 1

Activities (Procedure)
The language objectives are clearly defined, thus contributing to the learner's and the teacher's sense of control. Four main attributes of CALL are all predominant: Increased interaction, individualization, motivation, and immediate feedback. Real English Interactive follows the grammatical and communicative taxonomy of the majority of accepted ESL/EFL course text books:
 

Level 1, Disk 1 Level 1, Disk 2
Lesson 1: Hi and How are you?

Lesson 2:Hi, How are you? & What's your name?

Lesson 3: The alphabet in 4 English-speaking countries

Lesson 4: Where are you from? & What's your nationality?

Lesson 5:What's your name? How do you spell it?

Lesson 6: Revision Plus

Lesson 7:Numbers (number chart, "how old are you?", telephone numbers & license plate numbers)

Lesson 8: What time is it?

Lesson 9:The Jones family (to be + adjectives)

Lesson 10:What's your job?

Lesson 11: What's the weather like?

Lesson 12:Directions: "Can you tell me the way to?"

Real English Interactive has a linear sequence as outlined by clicking on any lesson on the main menu. This sequencing can be followed by clicking on the bottom right arrow. It is also possible to repeat any section with the bottom left arrow on the screen. One can be selective and follow any desired order by returning to the main menu from any screen:

1. Presentation with illustrations for lexical content as needed ( nationality/accent is denoted by the top right graphic on the screen);
2. Repetition with listen/ record/ compare;
3. New vocabulary with listen/ record/ compare;
4. Exercises (for listening comprehension, reading, and writing/keyboarding language skills): multiple choice with voice recognition or click of the mouse, word order, cloze, transfer (from listening to 1st or 2nd person forms to 3rd person forms), and fill in the blanks.

The program offers a suitable variety of individual interactive learning activities contained within each lesson: word order utilizing the drag-and-drop response, fill the blanks, multiple choice grammar and comprehension checks (which could be enhanced with some suggested exploitative activities). Activities not so much "drill" as practice, as well as dialogue reconstruction (which are essential to both the behavioral and communicative approach to language learning), are provided for the learner in a non-threatening environment. The learner is given two opportunities to produce a correct response before  the close-captioned version of the video is automatically played. This subtitling feature is also activated after a correct response. "But it is enabled only after 'forcing the listener to listen. The principle of 'listen many times before reading the corresponding text' is an important one, providing the user with better listening habits and better pronunciation." (Marzio) Unfortunately the program accepts lower or upper case responses although it converts the answer to the correct capitalization required. The feedback will supply the desired response (See Figure 3). There is no possibility for alternative answers, only slight variations of the expected response are accepted in the controlled learning environment.

The innovative stimulation of these entertaining video clips is augmented with the sense of real learner interaction which occurs with the program's speech recognition. The students can answer some of their exercises orally and obtain instant feedback, simulating a conversation.The choice of responses is distinctly different and therefore can be easily distinguished by the software in order to determine the correct feedback to the learner. Facilitative learning strategies complement the presentations and activities. Text and audio instructions can be readily available in the selected language (French, Spanish, German) by clicking on the flag icon. New vocabulary and notes which explain grammatical and cultural points in L1 (or at least an alternate language option) are accessed by clicking the main menu icon. The main menu also offers the learner a glossary icon which, when clicked, opens the bilingual glossary with repeatable audio of the selected word or expression, an example of its use in context, and video illustrations for many of the words in the glossary.  (See Figure 1)

Real English Interactive is consistent in its selection of focus in the areas of communication and tutoring in the use of syntax and lexis. This program is flexible in adapting to the needs of the instructor, whether it be complementary and/or supplementary to the set curriculum, as the predetermined order or sequencing of the program need not necessarily be followed, thus allowing modification to suit one's purposes. The program can be followed without the teacher, for self-study, although its brief explanations of grammar points lends itself for review rather than new learning purposes. From the learner's standpoint, the greatest benefit can probably be derived by accessing the program for supplemental activities and exposure to natural dialogues with speakers of distinct English dialects and accents (as is intended by the developer). Not all the interviewees are native speakers of English; some participants in the video clips are ESL/EFL speakers, giving the learner the role models of practical usage of ESL/EFL as an international language.

Teacher fit (Approach)
This educational software program supports the communicative language teaching approach in an interactive environment, under the cognitive development theory of structuring and processing teaching and the active learner. Whatever one's linguistic theory, we all yearn for more learner opportunities to interact with the target language. Linguistic accuracy is maintained throughout the program. The principles of behavioral learning theory - contiguity, repetition, feedback and reinforcement - are also evident in the activities. So, too, is cognitive learning theory in recognizing that learning is built upon prior knowledge and recall, as each previous structure and/or area of communication is embedded in the successive one(s). Adolescent and adult learners can reasonably be expected to increase comprehension and second language acquisition through exploitation of the facilitative translation tools which are provided.

The program works best with individual users, but pair work would also be possible. Use in the classroom situation would be dependent upon the availability of computers. The video clips could be listened to by the class as a whole, with the instructor exploiting the authentic and contextual language situations and/or preparing the learners for further practice. Ideally, this software would be used in a language or computer lab.

Accurate socio-cultural representation is one of the main features of Real English Interactive. Each area of communication is presented in multiple video clips with variations for listening comprehension which is a high motivation factor in itself. The program provides for incidental learning with background notes about the dialect and/or style of speech. ( See Figure 2) The content is free of ethnic or gender bias: "The varieties of cultures, accents, walks of life, and their different combinations, seem to be endless." (Marzio)


Figure 2
 

Learner fit (Design)
The audience at which the program is aimed is the adult learner, young or old; it could also be suitable for the adolescent learner. This review is based solely on Level 1, where the linguistic level of the grammar and vocabulary was found to be suitable for the functional context of the lessons. Independent learning is fostered by the user friendly technological aspects, selective order of implementation, and total learner control, as described previously. The adult as a self-directed learner will be satisfied with the autonomy that the program supports. Learners can proceed at their own rhythm and access the same grammatical presentations numerous times without tedium, as each video clip portrays distinct interviewees and dialects. As self-monitoring learners, users can also record their responses in order to compare the speech with that of the audio.

The program automatically remembers where the last user left off when returning to the program, which is fine for individual users but a hindrance in a language lab environment. However, you are given the option to ignore this feature. Another shortcoming of this software in a classroom situation is the lack of record keeping of the learner's activities and results. Such information is particularly valuable to teachers and its availability would substantially enhance the program's usefulness to instructors.

Response handling/ feedback was befitting, at times amusing, and supportive with immediate audio and visual feedback to responses made by the learner. There are also hints supplied to facilitate the correct response by color coding of the correct and incorrect responses. Good use of graphics relevant to the content augment listening comprehension.


Figure 3
 

Summary
Experience teaching ESL/EFL in the Quebec region and abroad has reinforced my objective to offer an opportunity for students to increase their self-confidence and consequently their motivation and learning. Presenting a variety of practical situations in which they can exercise their newly acquired L2 skills is an excellent way to achieve this aim. I found that Real English Interactive makes accessible a long-desired, realistic exposure to authentic interaction in the target language and is an encouraging foray into the real world of spontaneous communication with others.

Scaled rating (1 low - 5 high)
Implementation possibilities: 5
Pedagogical features: 4
Socio-Linguistic accuracy: 5
Use of computer capabilities: 4
Ease of use: 4
Over-all evaluation: 4
Value for money: 5

Producer Details
Developer/distributor:
The Marzio School & Ipse Communication
7, Rue des Baumes
13800 Istres, France
Phone: (33-4) 42 55 01 25
Fax: (33-4) 42 55 10 83
Email: mike@realenglish.com
WWW: http://www.realenglish.tm.fr/

Reviewer Information
Marianne Morales, B. Ed., Specialization in TESL; with ESL/EFL teaching experience since 1976 in Montreal, Peru, Venezuela, Northern Quebec, and Tenerife (Canary Islands); as well as TEFL methodology lecturer for the Canaries Education Commission in Spain. She became a practitioner and proponent of CALL and CBI in 1985, founding her own ESL/EFL learning center in Tenerife. Presently, Marianne is completing her M. Ed., Computer Applications in Education, at McGill University; creating web sites to encourage student and teacher potential with ICT (Information & Communication Technology).

Reviewer Contact
Email: MaltinMorales@yahoo.com

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