Traveler's Guild: German. (instructional software) (Evaluation)
by Eddie Huffman
Learning a new language means stepping into previously unexplored territory, a prospect both exciting and a little scary. Discovering familiar signs in the form of words similar to those in your own language helps gradually clear a parth, but forge ahead too quickly and you might find yourself lost in a jungle of convoluted rules and complex verb forms.
Traversing the world of umlauts and guttural utterances becomes easier with Traveler's Guild: German as your tour guide. Using rudimentary graphics and a deceptively simple format, the program aims to make learning German as painless as possible without ignoring the unavoidable complexities.
Traveler's Guild: German keeps would-be polyglots waiting during a lengthy installation process, thanks to the multiple disks accompanying the optional digitized speech package. When run, the program begins by showing a self-explanatory table of contents. Starting and progressing through a series of exercises takes only a few simple, obvious keystrokes or clicks of a mouse button.
A supplemental tutorial program holds your hand through a thorough demonstration of the capabilities of Traveler's Guild: German. It's a nice introduction, but the language program seems patterned after models of simplicity and really doesn't require much explication. The program has two basic sections: the beginner's phrase book, accessing such topics as useful phrases, shopping/money, and clothing, and the language review, for those more experienced with the language. Both break down further into various types of teaching exercises, including flashcards and matching.
The exercises vary widely in type and complexity. They range from multiple-choice, single-word translation tasks to more demanding blank-line sentence reconstructions, which requires use from memory of the proper spelling, capitalization, and verb tenses, whether translating an English sentence into German or vice versa. Help comes in the form of pop-up special features, such as a dictionary that defines a word, shows its phonetic pronunciation, tells what part of speech the word is, and demonstrates additional forms or tenses depending on the part of speech. The optional digitized vocabulary provides fair, if a bit scratchy, audible examples so you can hear what you learn.
The dictionary feature can be both a blessing when you're stumped and a dangerously easy out if you lack the self-discipline to avoid it. On multiple-choice questions, for instance, the program will define each word in the potential answers if commanded to do so, effectively answering the question for you. Once you're inside a dictionary entry, there's usually a related topics option offering further detail. Some exercises also offer a language reference option, providing useful information on a topic relevant to the task at hand, such as masculine and feminine word endings.
Despite its simplicity, there's a sound pedagogical approach here. The basic teaching methods won't frighten away novice users, yet veterans will find plenty of detail to build an array of language skills. Accompanied by Traveler's Guild: German, you experience the thrill of discovery along with the security of a friendly, knowledgeable guide.