December 2000 — Volume 4, Number 4
Issues in English
- single user license (may be used on one computer at a time)
Australian$160 (approx US$95)
- 5 user license (may be used on up to 5 computers at a time, on one physical site)
Australian$320 (approx US$190)
- 10 user license (may be used on up to 10 computers at a time, on one physical site)
Australian$480 (approx US$285)
- site license (may be used on more than 10 computers at a time, on one physical site)
Australian$640 (approx US$380)
System Requirements (IBM compatible only):
- 256 color display
- minimum 486-66 MHz processor, 8 MB RAM
- Microsoft MS-DOS 3.1 or higher
- Microsoft Windows 3.1 or higher
- Windows compatible mouse or other pointing device
- minimum double speed CD-ROM drive
- sound card with speakers or headphones
- 18 MB hard disk space
Protea Textware’s Issues in English is an “interactive CD-ROM for teaching and testing English language skills in the areas of listening, reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation,” and it presents these skills in eight different contexts or issues: Growing Old, Animal Rights, Discrimination, Gambling, Public Transportation, The Environment, Smoking, and Euthanasia. The program is designed for independent language learners who are either learning English at home or at an independent learning center.
The start-up screen for Issues in English has on it eight small pictures that represent each of the contexts, as well as icons that represent Help, Exit, Print, Level, and Teaching Points (which contain information about the range of skills covered at each level of the program). It is on this screen that the user picks the skill level she wants to practice. There are four skill levels for each issue, and all of the exercises in the program are based on one of 32 video clips (one per skill level, per issue) in which a person discusses her opinion or presents some basic information relating to the issue. As the mouse passes over the pictures, the name of the issue appears and is spoken. Clicking on a picture takes the user to the appropriate video clip for the chosen issue and skill level, and, after listening to the clip, the user then chooses on the language skill she wants to practice. The exercises are all similar in format no matter what the issue or skill level, and they are presented in two modes: the Learn Mode and the Test Mode. In the Learn Mode, the user is corrected immediately. In the Test Mode, users are not corrected, but they are given their scores at the end of the exercise. In the Learn Mode, when the user gets the correct answer, a voice says, “Good,” or “Excellent work,” or “That’s right,” and when the user misses a question, a voice says, “No” immediately. The exercises are quite varied in format–there is everything from fill-in-the-blank exercises to click-and-drag multiple choice exercises to summary writing exercises. Because it would be impossible for the program to grade or correct some of the exercises (mainly the writing exercises), they have to be graded by a teacher or peer.
One particularly helpful feature of the program is that worksheets for each of the exercises can be printed out so that language learners may practice their skills away from the computer. With some of the exercises, the worksheets are generated randomly so that they’re never the same when printed out. Another nice feature of the program is that a user’s scores from the Test Mode exercises can be printed out so that the user’s progress can be monitored.
Although there is written and spoken help available “at all times” and a user’s manual, using the program and completing the exercises is still confusing at times, particularly for a first-time user. The icons are not marked and often the user has to click on an icon in order to discover the action it represents. The manual does describe the purpose of each icon, but this wouldn’t be terribly helpful for the language learner who has limited skills in reading English.
One other rather annoying aspect of the program is that, in the exercises that require a typed, written response, it is very picky as to what it will accept, even in instances where there could easily be more than one correct answer. Such pickiness could easily confuse a language learner, and it could also discourage experimentation with sentence structure and word choice, which could be detrimental to the language learner’s progress in the long run. Similarly, the pictures used in some of the Listening exercises are confusing. For example, in one instance, the user is asked to choose the picture in which someone looks upset. There are, in fact, two pictures in which someone looks upset, and the correct answer depends on one’s understanding of the word upset–it could mean angry or it could mean sad. This is just one example of several in the Listening exercises that are confusing in the same way. One last minor problem with the program is that it has no minimizing button, so it’s basically impossible for one to multitask while using it, which is inconvenient for a user who might want to use it in conjunction with a word processing program.
Although it cannot be considered a problem, the software is Australian in origin; thus, the user should remember that some of the words or phrases used in the program differ in meaning from the same words or phrases found in American or British English.
Generally speaking, Issues in English would be quite helpful to the language learner who wanted to hone various English skills independently. Although a bit confusing in some aspects, the exercises provide useful and extensive practice in all of the six language skills.
Melissa S. Carr
Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky, USA
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