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If my French teacher really attempted to teach French like this, unfortunately I wouldn't be recommending them to anyone! Luckily this is just a DS game, and while it does have some educational value, I feel that it falls short of my expectations in many ways. As well as being a parent of a teen who is learning languages at school, I'm also fairly fluent in French, and a trained teacher myself, so I was really interested to try one of these games alongside my daughter.
The game begins with a character creation, which seemed totally unnecessary in a language tutor game! The character is so small during gameplay that you can't really even see the characteristics that you've chosen, but no matter, kids enjoy these things and it only takes a few minutes to get your character ready to go.
Once you have created your player you have to navigate, using the touch screen, around a classroom and playground. In each area there are people to interact with, and they guide you through the game. Some of the areas contain mini-games, which you play to collect vocabulary in a Word Book. The mini-games are ok, not challenging at all really, and to my mind were more an exercise in using the stylus on the touchscreen than actually learning any French. Words are spoken in isolation and then the player collects the letters in the word. I guess eventually you do learn to spell French words like this, and perhaps their meanings, but knowing a dictionary full of words doesn't enable you to speak a language!
One nice feature was that the game wouldn't let you continue spelling a word if you hadn't used the correct accent on a letter as well - it was no good simply writing 'e' if you needed an 'é'.
Each mini-game works on a different part of speech, and in each 'class' or level of the game, you have to collect a certain number of verbs, nouns, adjectives etc. To me this seemed tedious, although my twelve year old liked it for a while, even she found it boring after a while. And when I discovered that she had been playing the game with the sound turned down I was astounded - to me, any language tutor game should inherently need to have the sound playing in order to hear pronunciation! There is little value in memorising a bunch of words if all you know is how to spell them! However, one nice feature was that the game wouldn't let you continue spelling a word if you hadn't used the correct accent on a letter as well - it was no good simply writing 'e' if you needed an 'é'.
I found the interface to be pointless, I kept getting lost in the classrooms - I would have preferred to have a simple list of activities to choose from, rather than having to find the right person in a maze. Equally, the mini-games seemed futile in most cases, as if the game developers had tried to make it appealing to children by having 'games', when really I think they would have been better to keep it simple, perhaps offering a game as a reward for progress.
Progress in the game is measured according to how many words you have learnt. There are three save files, and when you look at your own progress you can also see others' achievements, which I suppose is a nice touch if your children are competing with one another. Your vocabulary is stored in the Word Book, where you can also click and hear each word spoken - with a good French accent. Again, while this has some value, I would prefer to have heard the words in context as well as individually, as I think this gives more meaning to them, and would also give the player whole sentences to draw on in their bank of language knowledge.
It was as if the developers had tried too hard to make it appealing to children and in the process missed the whole point of the game.
After a certain amount of words have been learned, you have to pass an 'examination' in order to graduate into the next class. These tests were the best parts of the game, in my opinion. However even these were limited; for example the first exam had a short test on parts of speech, followed by a 'fill in the missing word' test which was the only time I ever heard whole sentences spoken in the game. Then, finally, to get through the door into the next classroom, you were given a password to speak - the only time in the game that you were expected to say anything in French, and it was one random word, without so much as a le or a la to go with it!
Now, I don't know how clever the DS is at voice recognition, and whether it could tell what you actually say, or how you are saying it, but I imagine it can to a certain extent, given that Dr Kawashima's Brain Training could tell which colour I was shouting when I played that game! So, why does this language tool not ask for speech? In my opinion being able to speak a language is far more useful than knowing which parts of a sentence are which, or being able to spell random bits of vocabulary. Even if the game couldn't distinguish between well spoken French and not-so-well pronounced language, I would have hoped for more in this area, somehow.
If I had bought the game to brush up on my own French, for example before going on holiday, I would have been equally disappointed, as there is no feature to learn or even hear useful phrases.
I found this game to be sadly lacking, which was a shame, as I wanted to like it - and I wanted to feel that it was a valuable tool to help my children in their language learning. However, it was as if the developers had tried too hard to make it appealing to children and in the process missed the whole point of the game.
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