Saturday, 20 November 2010

EUROCALL symposium on corpora and computer mediated communication

In cooperation with the Eurocall CorpusCALL and CMC SIGs, the Applied English Linguistics group at the University of Tübingen (Germany) is organising the following CALL research symposium:

Authenticating Language Learning: Web Collaboration Meets Pedagogic Corpora
17-19 February 2011


Monday, 15 November 2010

Review of "Talk Now", a CD-ROM for learners of Mandarin Chinese

Further to my November 2010 posting on MYLO, in which I criticised the pedagogy underlying the MYLO project and described my (failed) attempt to use it to learn Chinese, I decided to have a look at an existing commercial product, namely “Talk Now” Mandarin Chinese by EuroTalk, to see how it fared. Here is my review:

The package was extremely easy to install. It is supplied on CD-ROM and all I had to do was pop the CD into my computer and then most of the process was automatic. The package has the following features:

- You can choose which language you want to learn FROM. The default is English, but you can also choose to have the interface and translations of the Chinese in a huge range of other languages. This means, for example, that if you are a native German, French, Spanish or Polish speaker you don’t have to struggle with English as the “Trägersprache”.

- The interface is simple, and the screen is clear and uncluttered.

- I signed in as “Graham”, the name under which my scores and progress would be recorded. Records are carried over from session to session, so that you can see how well you are doing and what you already know. If other students were using the package at the same time they would be able to sign in under their individual names and sign back on from session to session.

- I was presented with a choice of learning words and phrases in the following categories: First words, Food, Colours, Phrases, Body, Numbers, Shopping, Countries, Time. I chose First words.

- I could click on the English translation of each word and hear how it was pronounced both by a native male and native female speaker. At the same time each word and phrase was presented to me as pinyin text, as Chinese characters and with an associated cartoon. The sound quality was excellent.

- I was able to click on a microphone and practise pronouncing each word and phrase as many times as I liked in order to hear how I sounded, using the male or female native speaker as a model.

- I was able to print a full-colour list of the words and phrases that I was learning as pinyin text, Chinese characters, translation into English, and with a cartoon image associated with each word or phrase. I sat down in a comfy chair and read through the words and phrases after I had finished practising pronouncing them on my computer.

- I worked my way through four game-like quizzes at increasingly difficult levels that tested how well I could remember the words and phrases that has been presented to me. I discovered that the program remembered my weak points and homed in on them so that I was offered additional practice.

- I was able to click on a button that stored all the recordings of the words and phrases in iTunes on my computer, and I was then able to transfer them to my iPod and iPhone so that I could listen to them while walking around.

So what’s missing? There’s a lack of explanations about the tone system, the pinyin writing system and how to recognise and write Chinese characters. I also missed images and videos showing real people in China speaking Chinese, and something about Chinese culture – but I found all this at the BBC Languages website:

I needed explanations of Chinese grammar too, but I found it difficult to find anything on the Web that explains Chinese grammar in simple terms. I also needed a dictionary. This was easier to find. The “Useful links” section at the BBC site led me to Other links can be found here:

My verdict: “Talk Now” is not perfect, but it’s not at all bad, and it does an efficient job. After a couple of hours of practice I was actually LEARNING Mandarin Chinese. I could recognise and pronounce about 50 words and phrases, and one day later I could still remember around half of them. “Talk Now” is good value for money at £24.99 for a single-user licence or £110 for a school site licence, but it needs to be backed up by other resources. There are other packages for more advanced learners and the range of languages on offer is enormous. There is already a EuroTalk Facebook page at, and EuroTalk products will be going online early next year. For further information see

I am not alone in criticising the MYLO project. A lively discussion is currently (November 2010) going in in the Linguanet Forum.

Graham Davies

Friday, 12 November 2010

MYLO - a new way to learn languages?

MYLO is a UK goverment-funded project that aims to offer secondary school students a "new way to learn languages", specifically French, German, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. See my February 2010 posting on MYLO.

I have had a quick look at the MYLO Website and the MYLO YouTube videos. My first reactions:

The following message on the homepage (as of November 2010) does not inspire visitors with confidence:

"A new UK Government took office on 11 May. As a result the content on this site may not reflect current Government policy. All statutory guidance and legislation published on this site continues to reflect the current legal position unless indicated otherwise. To view the new website, please visit"

Why does the MYLO URL continue to use DCSF? The DCSF changed its name shortly after the new government took over in May 2010, and most old DCSF addresses have been updated.

As a former teacher of German, I looked first at the section on German Basics, Greetings and Goodbyes. The word "tschüs" (informal "goodbye") is introduced here. There are different ways of pronouncing and spelling this word, depending on the region, personal preferences, etc. The "ü" can be long or short and the spelling must correspond to the pronunciation. In the sound recordings in MYLO the "ü" is pronounced short, and therefore the spelling should be "tschüss", but MYLO presents the written form as "tschüs", which is the correct spelling only if the "ü" is pronounced long. I remember having this discussion when I worked on German Steps for the BBC: You will find "tschüss" in the BBC materials. Not trusting my own judgement or memory, I checked the spelling/pronunciation at This confirmed that, since the 1996 spelling reform, "tchüss" is correct when the vowel is pronounced short and that "tschüs" is correct when the vowel is pronounced long. Duden agrees: 23rd edition (2004) and later. MYLO has promised to correct this error, but someone should have done some thorough checking in the first place.

The MYLO YouTube presentations are slick and the advice given in the “Learning to Learn” clips is sound, but I think it will wash straight over the heads of most teenagers.

I decided to put myself in the position of a learner. This is a bit difficult for me as I speak German fluently, my French is tolerable, and I have good survival skills in Spanish. I don’t know much Chinese, however. I followed a BBC radio course in spoken Mandarin over 40 years ago, and I have forgotten most of what I have learned, so I had a go at MYLO’s Mandarin Chinese exercises. I scored 100% on all the exercises that I attempted (matching sounds with the pinyin texts and the Chinese characters), but I learned nothing about the tone system and how Chinese is structured. Half an hour later I could not recall most of the words that had been presented. These important elements are lacking:

1. The possibility of recording and playing back one’s own voice, which is vital in the early stages of language learning and features in many software packages that have been published in recent years by companies such as EuroTalk and Virtual Languages.

2. There are no “real-life” images or videos. See, for example, the BBC’s introduction to Mandarin Chinese at Furthermore, the BBC materials are much better in terms of presentation, e.g. the tone system, pinyin, Chinese characters, and what the words and phrases actually mean. There are also useful links to external sites.

3. There is negligible feedback in the exercises in MYLO, and I don’t recognise the pedagogical and cognitive principles on which they are based - maybe a variation of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development? Feedback is crucial. We learned a lot about interactivity and feedback (both intrinsic and extrinsic feedback) while working on the TELL Consortium software in the 1990s. See ICT4LT Module 1.1, Section 7.1 and Section 7.2:

MYLO advertises itself as a “new way to learn languages”. Well, not really. Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) has been around since the 1960s, CILT’s first publication on CALL - aimed at secondary school teachers - appeared in 1982 (I was one of the authors), and multimedia CALL has been around since the early 1990s: see my EUROCALL 2010 keynote,
“Where have we been, where are we now, and where are we going?”

We have learned a lot of lessons on this long journey, but MYLO does not appear to have been listening.

I am not alone in criticising MYLO. A lively discussion is currently (November 2010) going on in the Linguanet Forum.