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Article:    Foreign Language Software 

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If parents are wondering when they should introduce their kids to foreign languages, the answer is right now, according to experts. In fact, the earlier they are exposed, the more easily a second (or third) language will be to absorb. There are a number of software products available that will help the process along. Most contain fun games that help boost vocabulary.

Kids under 12

There are a few software titles available that help introduce kids to foreign languages, and help supplement their foreign language school courses. None of these focus on verb conjugation or fine-tuning language skills--that comes later-- but for informal exposure to new languages, these programs can be helpful. Refer to the chart below for comparisons and more information.

For the very young, JumpStart Languages is moderately fun and age-appropriate. Done in the familiar and cutesy manner that is typical of JumpStart titles, this program features four language pavilions, each home to a few games and activities. Children play a board game, look for matching pairs, listen to stories, and more. Each pavilion features the same types of activities, but is hosted by different guides. [Buy JumpStart Languages at Amazon.com]

Jumpstart Spanish is a decent product in that it provides a colorful backdrop for introducing the Spanish language. This title is best for preschoolers and Kindergarteners. [Buy Jumpstart Spanish]

KidSpeak 6-in-1 Language Learning is a strong title that uses a full immersion approach to learning new languages. The learning is embedded into games, and no multimedia flashcards are used. Consider this point when purchasing a foreign language software for your child. Your own child may prefer a more straightforward learning environment. However, the approach used in this title can be very effective because children learn the language almost effortlessly. Games include tic tac toe, jigsaw puzzles, dominoes, connect-the-dots, and bingo. Songs are incorporated into the program and include Happy Birthday and The Alphabet Song. Vocabulary learned includes days and months, greetings, fruits, school items, body parts, numbers, clothing, and more. A total of 6 languages are covered in separate sections -- Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Hebrew. [See our full review. Buy KidSpeak 6-in-1 at Amazon.com]

In contrast, Instant Immersion Language Starter for Kids relies on rote learning to accomplish its goals. Children are presented multimedia flashcards. They learn vocabulary by cycling through images and listening to their pronunciation, then turn to games to reinforce their learning. Speaking practice is available--kids can record their own voices into a computer microphone (not included in the package) and hear their voiceovers played back in a cinema-like environment. The graphics are somewhat dated, and the program is very straightforward. [See our full review. Buy Instant Immersion Language Starter For... at Amazon.com]

Though designed for older children and adults, the beginner CD-ROMs (there are 4 in all--1 for each featured language) in Instant Immersion Language Lab are quite engaging for kids approximately 8-9 years and up. These help kids boost their vocabulary skills through lessons and very enjoyable games. There is a point system awarded for users' efforts, which can be very motivating for some children. The graphics are bright and fun, and speaking practice is possible through a record/playback feature. [Buy Instant Immersion Language Lab (8 CD-ROM) at Amazon.com for approximately $29.99 US]

 

  JumpStart Languages KidSpeak 6-in-1 Language Learning Instant Immersion Language Starter for Kids Instant Immersion Language Lab - Beginner CDs
Languages French, Spanish, Japanese, English French, Spanish, Japanese, German, Italian, Hebrew French, Spanish German, Italian French, Spanish German, Italian 
For Ages 3-5 6-10 5-10 9-up
Method Simple games that reinforce vocabulary Full immersion approach; kids play games and absorb the language as they do. Multimedia flashcards, plus games to reinforce the lessons. Multimedia flashcards, plus games to reinforce the lessons.
Pros Playful, supportive environment, snazzy graphics Large variety of activities, full immersion approach is effective Straightforward learning, speaking practice Fun, bright graphics; appealing games with a point system, speaking practice
Cons Too few activities Graphics are somewhat dated; some kids will find the full  immersion approach difficult Too few games; some kids may tire of the rote learning Designed for older learners, but is missing grammar lessons
Best For The very young; informal learning Kids who learn best with a full immersion approach Kids who learn best through rote learning (flashcards). Older kids who want to boost their vocabulary; visual learners
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November 2001
 

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