Pros: best interface around, easy navigation, good for beginners and medium students alike, good feedback
Cons: uses lots of CPU time, limited dictionary, does only cover latin american Spanish
I had this software for a while now. Back then struggling with the fact that it didn't (and still doesn't) support WindowsNT4.0, I lost kind of track of this jewel of educational software. After I wore out others, and pretty much disqualified them due to a lack of motivation on my end to wrestle with their problems, it seemed like I should take another look at this one.
It was only collecting dust in the shelf so far, and I would not have remembered if it wasn't for the latest investment (Learn Spanish Your Way) that crashed and burned after initial excitement (please see related test report)
Why didn't I remember before?
... is the burning question after installing this on my new computer (WindowsMe, since I was sick of the NT restrictions). Here we go, a beautifully functional interface revealed itself and brought my hopes up. (The one big thing where "Learn Spanish Now! " totally failed.)
And my hopes became more substantial as the program pretty much introduces itself and every time one enters a new window, an initial comment tells you what to do. Then in the lesson you have a choice between normal text view of the taught material or a Quicktime video, sporting a really funny character. The 'Crow' is a funny and nicely animated guide that takes the role of a teacher and fills in where other software lacks.
Of course one can define a learning plan or just follow the guidelines. Another nice feature is the pre-test that evaluates your skills and gives recommendations where to start. In my case, I had 12 out of 20 right and it recommended going to the basics section. The only lesson I could jump was pronunciation, and I dare to say it's absolutely right about that.
The more I browsed through this program the more I got convinced that it is one of the best interfaces around if not the best. Very easy to navigate, fun to watch and very well structured. Good job!
Yes, I want to learn!
... Finally a piece of software that could spark my interest and keep me up exploring a language that I don't speak yet! Each lesson is easy to follow, thanks to the crow ... I mean guide.
Speech recognition is configurable and ranges from easy to hard. The first is good to reduce the initial frustration level and still leaves room to improve and develop. Accuracy is very good. A meter gives you audible and visual feedback as the software compares your pronunciation with the speech pattern of a native. This can be very motivating when you see the gauge going close to native.
Lessons follow the same pattern in either of the 3 selectable categories Travel, Business, and Everyday Life. The number of lessons varies though for each subject. The content includes vocabulary, phrases, grammar and games. Each is interactive.
Finally you have several movies included where you learn things about foreign countries and listen to the language. It can proceed at your speed or just run automatically. The user also configures to show the script and it's translation (of the movies) if so desired.
The only two stumbling blocks that I could find are the marginal dictionary and the exclusive focus on Latin American Spanish. Then again the latter is tailored to the market, as most will not go any further than Mexico anyway. The dictionary is bi-directional and covers only the vocabulary of all lessons.
... here just a quick overview of what you will find inside the box. It's too much to be detailed in this review.
- In Pronunciation, you learn to pronounce vowels, consonants, and vowel and consonant combinations.
- The Basics Course covers the basic words and expressions you need to start speaking immediately. You can practice your pronunciation and speaking skills through simulated conversations with native speakers.
- The Extended Courses contain your primary language instruction. The in-depth courses are designed to help you develop your listening comprehension and conversation skills.
- Internet Lessons allow you to extend your language learning beyond the scope of this program with additional downloadable lessons from our Learn To Speak World Wide Web site.
- The Cultural Movies let you unwind, while you relax and become more familiar with the language and culture you are studying.
Learn To Speak also includes the following features to enhance your studies, which are readily accessible at any time throughout the program.
- The Progress screen charts your progress and performance in the program and shows which lessons you have successfully completed.
- The Customization screen allows you to customize the program to suit your needs.
- The Dictionary incorporates all the vocabulary words from the program, including those from the Expanded Vocabulary and downloadable lessons.
- The Grammar screen includes the grammar from all the courses.
- Online connects you to your personal Study Plan, the online Study Group, or the Learn To Speak web site.
(I copied these from their website, but actually agree with these statements.)
The bottom line
... is that Learn To Speak Spanish is the best tutor software that I was able to find so far. It does everything right and has the stuff to motivate me. It's not perfect, but more complete than any of the competitors. And with the new (lower) price of 30 Dollars, I am very hard pressed to not announce this the best Spanish software ever. (LOL, but you get the point.)
Just be careful installing the Windows2000 patch, it will create problems on other systems (in my case WindowsMe), and you will need to re-install it, using the setup.exe from the disc.
It also uses up lots of resources (especially CPU and Memory), enough to slow my PIII650 with 196Mbyte RAM down enough to make other applications almost crawl. (i.e. Word). When using it with NetZero, it basically works without major problems except one. The permanent bar interferes with the Spanish window title bar and eventually prevents the user from minimizing this window.
The installation is only CD based and saves hard drive space that way (4CDs), but also makes it a little cumbersome to the not 100% dedicated user, who occasionally becomes a disk jockey.
Here is my ranking (so far) ?
1. Learn To Speak Spanish v8.0 (www.learningco.com) - easiest to learn
2. Speak Spanish Now v8 (www.transparent.com) - busy interface, little guidance
3. Learn Spanish Your Way v1.0 (www.languageyourway.com) - seems incomplete