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Self improvement games have been popular on the DS, so its no surprise that Ubisoft have developed a range of their own. The My Coach games, and My French Coach in particular, cater for an audience who are relatively serious about improving themselves.
Self improvement games tap into the popular trend in self development and therapy. Experiences as diverse as Brain Training DS and Wii-Fit have popularised the idea that games can be about more than just having fun - they can improve your brain, body and even mental outlook on life.
Whereas electronic language devices are not new (since the magical translations of Douglas Adams' imaginary Bable Fish translator), until now they have not had a device on which they could come to fruition. The DS provides this platform - with it's portability, clear screen, speakers and microphone it is well built for the task in hand. The game offers a much more interactive alternative to french audio tapes or more recent podcasts. The ability to listen and speak the vocabulary makes for an ideal learning approach.
My French Coach teaches the basics of word use, grammar and construction of phrases through fun and easy-to-play mini-games, and evaluates your progress. There are 1,000 interactive lessons, each of which have been designed with French teachers. It covers 10,000 words and 400 phrases.
The program can be brought at different levels. The first level covers more basic topics and ensures the fun side of the learning is kept at the forefront. When you first start playing you are given a test to determine which level to start you at. This is a nice touch that avoids the need to plough through vocab and lessons on topics you already have down.
Once you get going there are eight touch pad mini-games to work through. Word search, whack a mole, crane attack and multi choice challenges stand out here. Each is well presented, and surprisingly convincing as a game in its own right.
These are complemented by some other tools. The pronunciation tool enables you to listen to words and phrases before practicing them yourself. The use of the DS's microphone is a great fit here - you can record your french then listen to it back and compare it to the provided pronunciation The a reference book tool enables you to instantly look up words or phrases in English or French by list, keyword, categories or by your favourites. Finally, graphs and charts enable you to track your progress not only through the game as a whole, but with individual words and phrases.
Parents will be attracted to the opportunity of getting their DS addicted offspring to learn something linguistic while they play. But just as likely they will be drawn to the idea of improving their own french in preparation. As I overheard one Dad tell a friend, "I bought this for myself to use on my son's DS to brush up my school learnt French some twenty odd years ago. It tests you at first to see what lesson to start you on. This is a fun way to brush up on French or to use an ancillary aid for the kids learning French at school. I would definitely buy it if my sons were in secondary school or even in primary to give them a head start. I definitely recommend it for those wanting to learn a language, brush up on a language or for kids to help them at school. The main thing it is fun but you are learning at the same time."
The game takes around twenty minutes to setup and complete the initial tests. Thereafter lessons and games can be played in as little as 20 minutes. The emphasis here is on regular frequent sessions rather than all night gaming. This, understandably, is the best way to learn the language on offer.
Very young players will find the vocabulary driven games something of a stretch, although the pronunciation sessions are playable by pretty much anyone who can speak.
Intermediates and children with a few years of school under their belt will find this a great way to learn a new skill. A combination of the game's playful approach and the fact it is played on the DS mean that kids and adults alike are always keen to complete their daily session.
Expert linguists are obviously not the main focus here, although the higher levels will extend beyond a basic GCSE level. Perhaps these are more useful to them because they can be suggested to enquiring friends wanting a good way to brush up their language skills before a summer holiday.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: