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Angela Buckingham & Norman Whitney (2000)
Oxford: Oxford University Press
Although it was designed to complement the printed Passport textbook, Passport Online could easily stand alone as a valuable and fun resource for learners planning to travel overseas. The site is functionally organized to give learners practice using the language they are most likely to need in various traveling situations, such as ordering food, going through immigration, asking directions, and so on. Furthermore, although this series was designed for Japanese learners of English, much of the material on the website will be valuable for learners from other linguistic backgrounds. [-1-]
The Passport Online homepage opens with a list of topics that correspond to the units in the passport textbook. This makes it easy for learners who are actually using the Passport textbook to match the website sections with the topics studied in the textbook. For learners who are not using the Passport textbook, the topic titles (Can I have your passport, please?) are easy to understand, so they should have no problem finding the function they wish to practice.
The topics covered in the series are designed to walk learners through the whole experience of traveling abroad, starting from the plane ride overseas, continuing on through various situations learners are likely to encounter overseas, and finishing with units on Goodbye and thanks! and checking in for the flight home. All of the standard topics one would imagine for a text of this type -- such as shopping, getting directions, mailing things, eating out, et cetera -- are covered, as are a few Japan-specific topics (how to describe Japanese culture, and answering common questions about Japan). Incidentally, the activities are color-coded to indicate the level of difficulty.
After the learner chooses and clicks on an activity, the screen shows a picture along with a brief explanation of the activity at the top of the page. The pictures on the website are the same as those found in the textbook, and they are colorful and visually pleasing. The left margin contains a simple menu that contains sections like Instructions, Notes, Study, Report, and Start. Learners can choose to display the contents of most of these sections in either Japanese or English by clicking a clearly marked button, or the Japanese/American flag. The homepage can always be reached by clicking on a button in the top-left corner of the page.
The activities themselves are of several different types, but generally focus on the vocabulary or set phrases that are likely to come up in a given situation. For example, in Unit 7 (How do you feel?), learners are shown a picture of a person and a list of various body parts. Learners then click on the words and drag them to the appropriate body part. In Unit 2 (At the immigration desk), learners first study vocabulary such as passport and immigration officer. When they are ready, they click start and one of the words appears on screen along with a clock counting down. Learners must find and click on the appropriate picture within the allotted time. These activities as well as matching questions and answers, and unscrambling set phrases are common types of activities. My personal favorite activity is in Unit 5 (Where are you going?). Learners are shown a map and a starting point. The learner must then follow the directions given with the mouse pointer step by step. Spatial learners will especially benefit from this type of activity.
In general, the activities are challenging and fun. The fact that some activities are timed and learners scores and improvement are recorded naturally increases ones motivation to repeat the activities. This type of repetitive practice would seem helpful in improving learners ability to use the target vocabulary and phrases more quickly and automatically, and therefore, more effectively. [-2-]
The only complaints I have about the activities on Passport Online are rather minor. First, I felt that the timer in some of the timed activities was a little too fast! If it was challenging for me, a native English speaker, I imagine it might be very difficult for lower level English learners. My other complaint is that when unscrambling sentences, occasionally grammatically correct sentences were rejected as incorrect. Specifically, please was only allowed at the end of the sentence when it could correctly be put elsewhere (in lesson 1B, for example). However, since the aim of the material in these instances is simply to provide learners with set phrases useful in certain situations, this is indeed a rather minor point.
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