TOS Crew: Auralog German, Homeschool Version

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We had the chance to use Auralog’s Homeschool Version of Tell Me More French a year or two ago, and loved it! Dh, a computer type, said the voice recognition feature was the best he’d seen. I was impressed with so many of the program’s features… too many to list here, because I’m not here to talk about a previous version of the program, but a brand-spankin’-new version due out in April. It’s even better!

Choice of levels

Auralog GermanThis time we tried Auralog’s Tell Me More German. As you can see from the box, ten levels of instruction are available to choose from, starting with complete beginner and ranging up to advanced. (Just to give you an idea, I majored in German in college, and though I’m a bit rusty I can still hold up my end of a conversation or read through a news article. On the placement test my score put me into level 7. More about that in a minute.)

When you purchase the five-level package, you have the flexibility of starting with level 1, or if you’ve had a year or two of German instruction already, you can take the placement test and start with a higher level. Registering the product unlocks five consecutive instruction levels.

High school foreign language requirement

Working your way through Tell Me More levels 1-5 would easily fulfill the high school requirement for two years’ study of a foreign language. As a matter of fact, your student might be able to test out of a lower level (or even two) of college German.

Everything you need

The package includes everything you need to get started: a DVD-Rom, headphones with microphone, and basic written information that will get you up and running, from installation onward.

Easy installation

Okay, true confession time. I barely glanced at the written material, beyond the instruction that said something like “insert the DVD and follow the prompts.” I might have gotten into trouble, but the program installed without any problems, and the prompts and screens were fairly self-explanatory, even with the minor hubbub of a homeschool household going on around me to serve as a distraction.

Placement test

The placement test took about 30 minutes, and involved reading and writing as well as listening and responding. Having learned German both at university level and abroad, in a full-immersion program, I scored a 7.2. According to the instructions, I could start in Level 7.

…thankfully I stopped and considered and read a little more carefully. Five levels, the instructions said. Five consecutive levels. That meant that if I selected Level 7 for myself, then none of the earlier levels would be available for my beginning students. No way to stretch from Level 7 down to 1, in five levels. The math just wouldn’t add up, not even for this math-challenged homeschool mom. (I found out later that Tell Me More German also comes in a 10-level version, as well as the 5-level; and also that if you buy the 5-level package and wish to continue your language instruction after completing Level 5, you can purchase the remaining 5 levels at a discounted price.)

Since five levels are more than enough to satisfy the high school foreign language requirement, you can save money by buying five levels instead of all ten.

What do you get in those five levels of learning?

1000 hours of multi-media instruction

There is so much in this package, it’s hard to condense down into a single review. Among the exercises, you’ll find movies, cultural videos and role playing that puts you in the scene, listening and speaking the language.

Lesson modes

There are three lesson modes, three ways of moving through the lessons, suiting individual learning needs. “Guided” is suggested for first-time learners, taking the student through the lessons in a predetermined pattern. “Dynamic” makes note of a student’s strong and weak areas, providing more practice where needed. “Free to roam” is just that, allowing you to move to any exercise at any time, great for review.

Speech recognition software

The speech recognition feature is amazing. You look at a picture of spinach, for example, and say “Spinat”.  If you say it right, the computer lets you know!

You find yourself carrying on conversations with the program, and feeling as if you’re talking with a native German speaker. The computer responds to what you say, whether it’s to further the conversation, or to critique your pronunciation (depending on what type of lesson you’re working on).

Pronunciation

The speech recognition software comes into play in several ways: dialogues, as mentioned, and the pronunciation exercise, where a series of words or phrases is pronounced by a native speaker. You see a waveform on the screen, and are prompted to repeat what you heard. As you speak, your own waveform appears below the example, for instant feedback, and the program grades you on your performance. The patient computer will repeat the process as many times as you wish.

Not quite getting it? Then record your voice and listen to the playback. It’s amazing what you’ll catch, listening to the feedback, that you didn’t when you were just repeating into the microphone.

Still having trouble? Watch the diagram of how you’re supposed to hold your lips and tongue in the Oral Workshop.

Intuitive navigation

As you find yourself moving through the lessons, subtle cues prompt you as to the next move. We learned to scan the whole screen, to watch for flashing symbols. At the bottom of the screen, a prompt flashes when you’ve accomplished enough to move on to the next exercise. At the top right, an arrow flashes to take you to the next component of the current exercise (if you’re doing one in a series of crossword puzzles, for examples, or fill-in-the-blank exercises, or pronouncing words, one at a time).

Instant help

Help on using the current screen is available at any time. When you roll the cursor over any of the icons on the screen, a pop-up tells you what the icon does. You can also click on the Help icon to get a guided tour of the current view. You can also access the program tools from within anywhere in the program, allowing you to adjust volume, turn on or off the music or sound effects, or bring up grammar explanations or verb conjugations or glossary (German-English dictionary with audible pronunciation). A host of program options is at your fingertips, allowing you to configure the program’s response and levels of difficulty in the various exercises.

Variety for spice

As you move through the lessons, there are dialogues, games, and exercises to keep you interested. You might find yourself carrying on a conversation with a waitress, watching a movie about birthday celebrations, answering comprehension questions, pronouncing words and phrases, filling in a crossword, playing a version of Hangman (but nobody gets hanged, rather, you’re helping a knight win against a fire-breathing dragon), conjugating verbs, categorizing words, and more.

Help! I’ve barely scratched the surface, and this review is nearly 2,000 words! I haven’t even talked about the tools for tracking your progress, the cultural lessons, the weekly online news feature, the printable workbook pages, and much, much more…

Recommended Computer Configuration:

PC or compatible: 1.7 GHz processor, Windows 2000, XP or Vista 32/64 bits, 256 MB RAM (512 for Vista), 110 MB available on hard disk, 1024×768 graphics car with 16 million colors (24 bits), DVD-ROM drive 16-bit Windows-compatible sound card, microphone and speakers or headset (headset/microphone is included in package), high-speed Internet connection.

Cost comparisons:

Since five levels are more than enough to satisfy the high school foreign language requirement, you can save money by buying five levels instead of all ten. Auralog’s programs offer a number of advantages over other options we’ve tried.

– Hiring a tutor:

Tutors for language learning charge (in our area) between $10 and $20 an hour. A family we know, getting tutoring in German, has a weekly session with the tutor, working at home the rest of the week.

Tell Me More advantage:

You don’t have to leave home; you fit language instruction into your schedule without having to accommodate the tutor; for the same cost as 20 hours or so of tutoring, you have hundreds of hours of interactive exercises.

– Conversational courses on tape or CD from the library:

These courses will teach you to parrot words, phrases, and sentences. The format we’re familiar with includes listening and repeating what you hear, or looking at pictures and naming things. These have been handy, but there’s no true interaction and you’re responsible for catching your own mistakes, if you can.

Tell Me More advantage:

The program is truly interactive. When you practice pronunciation, the voice recognition software compares your efforts to program parameters and gives you a visual representation. The real eye-opener for me was recording my voice and playing it back, to compare my pronunciation to the native speaker’s. I was able to hear my mistakes on playback, nuances I hadn’t been able to hear while in the process of speaking!

You carry on conversations with the computer, usually having several responses to choose from at each point in the dialogue. Full-color visual cues and videos enhance practice sessions.

In addition to conversational language learning, you’re also learning grammar, reading, and writing.

– Textbook course:

If you’ve taken any sort of language instruction in high school or college, you know how it works. You go through lessons that contain dialogues, grammar instruction, and written work. If you’re taking a course, you’ll have several classes a week, plus possibly language lab exercises.

Even learning language on your own, using a textbook, answer key, CDs and DVDs, yes, you set your own schedule. However, you don’t get the same quality of instruction; you can “repeat after” a native speaker all day long, but if you’re making mistakes without realizing it, what you’re doing is internalizing the mistakes!

Tell Me More advantage:

Again, you don’t have to schedule around a number of classes and a lab. You’re practicing your listening and speaking, learning vocabulary, and learning to read and write, but you’re doing it at home, on your own schedule, and (most important) getting immediate feedback.

In short

Actually, when you look at all the factors, there’s no comparison. Auralog’s Tell Me More wins, hands up.

You’ll be able to order the newest version of Tell Me More German, Homeschool Version from the Auralog website starting in April, for $319.99 (for the five-level program).

Other languages available from Auralog include French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic.

To read more TOS Crew reviews about the new Auralog Homeschool Products, click here.

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