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'Can my DS really teach me a foreign language?' you may wonder. Unsurprisingly perhaps, that really depends on just how motivated you are - not on how good the game is. If you've got the drive and are willing to overlook the flaws, you'll find that My French Coach is a well-packaged and sometimes compulsive game that can provide a framework for little-and-often learning that will definitely improve your pronunciation and passive skills, if nothing else.
At start-up, your virtual host - a rather dishy redhead in a cardigan - leads you through the preliminaries of setting up a profile, starting with a nifty multiple-choice test against the clock to establish your current level. This done, you're ready to go.
The game is based around lessons which are not time dependant, so you're not made to feel guilty if you don't practice daily. The main menu is simple and clear, and is divided into four sections: Learning, Games, Reference and Options. Each lesson begins with a French fact, before introducing the core grammar and vocabulary. You can go back over the material for each lesson as much as you like and each new word is clearly pronounced.
Once you've taken on board the new grammar, it's time to internalise the vocabulary with some mini-games. If you totally flunk the opening test and start as a 'baby' you can only access two games at first: multiple choice and hit-a-word (i.e. slap the gopher), with the other locked games as a carrot to tempt you into regular practice sessions.
In other words, if you don't learn by seeing words - and don't have quick reflexes - you're unlikely to memorise the new vocabulary quickly.
The mini-games are compulsive and sufficiently brief to maintain your interest, but they appeal almost uniquely to a visual learning style. In other words, if you don't learn by seeing words - and don't have quick reflexes - you're unlikely to memorise the new vocabulary quickly. With all the effort that has gone into the pronunciation it seems an opportunity missed not to have included more aural games, especially at the initial stages.
On the other hand, if you're nimble with your stylus you may zip through the consolidation games without really assimilating the words at all. It's at this point that you have to see through the applause and the fireworks that celebrate your 'mastery' of the new vocabulary and ask yourself honestly if you could actually say and spell those words correctly.
This said, the credit system really appealed to our seven-year old daughter who regularly revisits the game with enthusiasm. She had trouble with the pronunciation until she was steered towards the game's main redeeming feature: the option of recording your own pronunciation and hearing it against the reference native speaker. Even though she usually goes for games with more instant appeal (Animal Crossing, etc.) it was interesting to see how this most simple of features grabbed her attention and had her re-recording herself again and again to try to match the sound of the native speaker.
There is plenty in My French Coach to keep you occupied - especially if you're a visual learner, keen to memorise individual words.
Another handy feature is the reference section in the main menu, which provides you with a veritable armoury of phrases organised by topic: shopping, travel, emergency and so forth. If you do happen to be travelling in France you can quickly access this area for such gems as 'La batterie est morte' (the battery has run out). Although a lot of the phrases here are useful it is slightly baffling that the game designers have opted to include sentences reporting on the activities of other people (she is going to the bread store) over other, far more fundamental, key phrases that you might need in any given situation. At least you can create your own slimmed down portfolio of up to 20 favourite phrases for quick access and learning.
In short, despite the glitches, there is plenty in My French Coach to keep you occupied - especially if you're a visual learner, keen to memorise individual words. For sure, the sketchiness of the lessons and their lack of continuity reflect the fact that the designers never really made up their mind about who their target audience should be. If you're a parent trying to get your 7th grader to work harder you might find this a useful support, if you can persuade him to ditch his shoot-em up. And if you picked this game up because you're ruing the missed opportunities of your school days there are two things you should keep in mind: 1) your tutor is pretty sexy, and 2) she won't charge you $30 an hour to learn French.
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: