English and French
Ressources Langues et Linguistiques
Anglaises et Franšaises
Jack Burston, editor of Temple University's Calico Review
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
Marianne Morales - McGill University
Product at a glance
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.
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);
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)
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)
Learner fit (Design)
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.
Scaled rating (1 low - 5 high)
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