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Computers in Research and Teaching

Prepared by Mark D. Larsen, assisted by Joseph A, Feustle, Jr.


Reviews and Reports


     Spanish Assistant

     Microtac Software

      4655 Cass St. Suite 304

     San Diego, CA 92109

     Designed for the IBM AT, PS/2, and compatible computers, Spanish Assistant is a software package touted to facilitate the translation of Spanish to English and English to Spanish. The program comes on two 3. 5" disks and is not copy protected. Its greatest virtue is ease of use: instructions are clear and the program keeps simplicity in mind. Installing the software poses no problem, thanks to the �auto-install� feature.

     To translate a document, you must first save it as a text file (most word processing programs have this feature). After entering Spanish Assistant, menu options will guide you in selecting your file; be sure to indicate the subdirectory in which you stored it. The prompts will guide you through the translation process. Printing the translations is also very easy.

     Ultimately, the success or failure of this type of program depends on how well it translates. To measure this capability I decided to use the program to translate two files. The first was a sampling of sentences that I use in second year Spanish to check the students' grammatical accuracy. These sentences included verbs in the imperfect indicative, the future and conditional of probability, and subjunctives -among other grammatical points. For the second test I selected a paragraph of English text from a software review previously published in Hispania. I also selected one in Spanish from another review.

     The first test gave mixed results. The program did reasonably well with sentences using the present, preterit, and imperfect tenses. However, it could not distinguish verbs that have a different connotation when used in the imperfect or preterit, verbs such as poder, saber and querer. It did moderately well with the basic uses of the future and conditional tenses, and gave a reasonably strong performance with sentences requiring the subjunctive in a noun clause. However, Spanish Assistant was not able to handle with aplomb the future of probability, the conditional of probability, the subjunctive in adjective clauses, or the subjunctive in adverbial clauses. Although it did fairly well with the sequence of tenses in noun clauses, it was abysmal in this regard when working with the subjunctive in adjective and adverbial clauses. It was also poor in sentences containing the English �-ing� forms. On the positive side, the software did a fine job with indirect and direct object pronouns. However, in sentences such as, �He gave it to me�, the program always assumed that �it� was masculine.

     On the Spanish to English translation from a software review, the quality of the translation was fairly good at times, though a bit stilted, and at other times poor. When a document uses essentially the present tense, the program has less difficulty in producing an acceptable translation.

     Here is a representative sampling of original and translated sentences:

                               Original Texts Translations


I want to go with you. Quiero ir con usted.
I wanted to go with you. Quise ir con usted.
I was studying while they were resting. Estudiaba mientras descansaban.
I was studying when he called me. Estudiaba cuando me llamó.
He gave it to me. Me lo dio.
He gave it to him. Se lo dio.
He said that he would leave at five. Dijo que saldría a cinco.
It is probably five o'clock. Es probablemente cinco. [483]
I want them to help me Quiero que me ayuden.
I wanted them to help me. Quise que me ayudaran.
I am looking for a person than can speak three languages. Busco una persona que puedo hablar tres lenguas.
When he studied, he always learned the information. Cuando estudió siempre aprendió la información.
When he studies, he will learn. Studying, he learned a lot. Cuando estudia, aprenderá.
Studying is difficult Estudiar es difícil.
  Studying, he learned a lot. Estudiar, aprendió un lote.  

     Here are two sentences from a software review published in Spanish:

     Example 1

     Una vez insertado el código para el español, toda revisión ortográfica, como cualquier búsqueda de una palabra en el archivo de sinónimos y antónimos, se llevará a cabo en castellano.

     Once inserted the code for the Spanish, all orthographic revision, like any search of a word in the file of synonyms and antonyms, will be carried out in Castilian.

     Example 2

     Si el cursor está bajo una palabra la información aparecerá en la parte más baja de la pantalla;

     If the cursor is under a word the information will appear in the more part the screen gets off;

     To arrive at a summary opinion about Spanish Assistant is difficult. It seems to me that when users want to translate from their native language to another, they would not know the second language well enough to make the needed corrections. The program offers little benefit, therefore, in such instances. However, if users wish to translate into their native tongue, and have little knowledge of the other language, the software usually produces a translation accurate enough that they could refine it. Suffice it to say that, at its present level of development, the program can be of some value in certain situations. Since computers and programs are continually improving, future programs may be outstanding. This software shows such promise.

Howard Cohen

James Madison University

     Competer Rabbit, v1. 1

     Gessler Publishing Co., Inc.

     55 West 13th St.

     New York, NY 10011

     Copyright 1989

     Competer Rabbit is designed to help beginning students learn basic vocabulary in Spanish. The program is independent of any text and is suitable for levels from elementary through high school. It comes with one 5. 25" disk, three pages of documentation and a binder, and requires any Apple II with at least 64K of memory (or a Macintosh with a IIe card) and one 5. 25" disk drive. The owner can make one backup disk. A color monitor is recommended.

     Users practice vocabulary through a series of graphic-based exercises which present words in the form of pictures. Students may choose from three categories of vocabulary: clothing, animals, or food. Each screen displays four pictures with a total of 32 words. Students may also choose whether to read the vocabulary, write the vocabulary, do both at the same time, or play a game.

     In the reading activity, students see four pictures with the Spanish equivalent (Fig. 1). After viewing, the words disappear and students must match the picture to the word given at the bottom of the page by typing A, B, C, or D. If the answer is correct, [484] students hear a congratulatory sound and the rabbit makes a happy face. If incorrect, students receive a regret sound and the rabbit appears sad. Students have three tries before receiving the correct answer. For each screen, students may review the same words or go on to a new group of four. After completing an exercise, students receive an error analysis displaying the words that they got right or wrong.

Fig. 1

     The writing activity proceeds the same as the reading, except that students must identify a picture by typing the word with its definite article. By using the number keys, students can produce the needed diacritical marks. The game section consists of the same reading and writing activities set to a timer.

     Competer Rabbit provides a more interesting way to learn vocabulary than by studying a printed list. The presentation of the written word with a visual image is not new to language teaching; however, only recently have students been able to use a computer to learn in this manner at their leisure. The program's objective is modest: �to help students learn basic vocabulary�. There are 96 visuals and students can always repeat any section. The very detailed report at the end of each section can be an excellent tool for remediation. It is obvious that Competer Rabbit accomplishes its goal.

     Although the program ran flawlessly, its design needs improvement. The most frustrating aspect is the lack of escape from the activities. Once a section is started, users must practice all 32 words without interruption. It would also be useful if students could print out their results. All mistakes are treated the same way, and an incorrect article receives the same attention as an incorrect word. Finally, there is no editor module. The program is copy protected and cannot be changed in any way.

     Should teachers purchase Competer Rabbits It depends. The program's main limitation comes from the fact that it was written for the Apple II in 1989. At that time Competer Rabbit was ahead of its time. The sheer number of pictures made it an impressive program. The ability to write Spanish with diacritical marks was a difficult programming task; the detailed error analysis was innovative. But it is still a basic drill-and-practice program. If one has used the more sophisticated multimedia or CD-ROM programs now available for Macintosh computers and the Windows platform, Competer Rabbit is a poor choice. If, on the other hand, a school has only Apple II computers and a limited budget, Competer Rabbit will provide an interactive computer-assisted way to learn vocabulary.

Paul J. LaReau

Munster High School [485]

     Dasher (for the Macintosh)


     The University of Iowa, Oakdale Campus

     Iowa City, IA 52242

     Copyright 1992

     Dasher has come a long way since I first used it in the 1980' on a then state-of-the-art Apple IIe computer. This new version for the Macintosh reflects the changes that have occurred not only in computer hardware and software but also those that have taken place in foreign language pedagogy over those same years.

     Dasher runs on a Mac Plus or later Macintosh computer with 512K of memory using system 6. 0. 7 or greater. Unlike some Macintosh programs that will not work correctly on the Centris or Quadra models, Dasher not only runs on these but also on Apple's newest PowerPCs. Conduit does recommend, though, a hard drive for creating exercises.

     Actually, Dasher is but one of three programs that, together with an excellent user's manual, make up the complete package for a single user. It is the one that students use to run the exercises teachers create with the Author program. A third program, the Manager, allows a wide range of control over record keeping functions. Site licenses are available from Conduit.

     The Author allows users to create exercises in English, French, German, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, and Spanish in a number of formats. Among them are: fill-in-the-blank, transformations, substitutions, synthetic sentences, question and answer exchanges, and personalized questions. It also makes it very easy for teachers to augment these exercises with audio (dictation and listening comprehension) and video (scanned images, clip art, or laserdiscs).

     Dasher presents the user with a familiar organizational hierarchy: books, chapters, exercises, and items. A book may contain as many as thirty-two chapters. Chapters, usually focused on one topic, may include up to forty-eight exercises, and an exercise may contain as many as fifty item pairs (prompts, questions and answers).

     Dasher offers users, teachers and students, an extraordinary amount of control over its functions. This ranges from something as simple as changing the size of the exercise windows on the computer screen to more complex issues like whether or not Dasher should judge punctuation and capitalization in its evaluation of student answers. Users can also choose a linear or random presentation of exercise items. They can select the number of times the program presents examples, the number of times each item is presented, whether or not missed items are repeated within the same exercise, and whether or not students must try to answer before they can see the correct answer. Teachers can change the fonts and type styles, and they can have Dasher indicate the pages in a particular textbook to which they may have tied the exercise.

     The user's manual that accompanies Dasher is over two hundred fifty pages in length, and is one of the best written computer manuals that I have even worked with. The first part of the manual takes the user through the steps of setting up Dasher. This is followed by an extensive tutorial which makes frequent use of supplementary materials that Conduit provides on the Dasher program disks. The tutorial lessons cover text-based, audio-based and image-based exercises. Users wishing to experiment with videodisc-based exercises may purchase a copy of the Pics Preview Disc from Conduit. I experimented with videodiscs that we had in our language laboratory belonging to other instructional programs. Subsequent sections deal with controlling the program's functions. Each section is written in clear, easy to understand English, and is accompanied by extensive screen images. This way, users can easily follow the tutorial and see in the manual exactly what they should be seeing on their computer screens.

     Creating a lesson in the Author or running one as a student in Dasher always takes place in a series of windows on the computer screen. (Fig. 1) Teachers write the instructions for their exercises in the top [486] window. Questions or prompts go into the window below it, and answers in the third window. The fourth, or Transcript window, displays corrected orthography and congratulatory messages.

Fig. 1

     As the user's manual points out, Dasher derives its name from the way in which it processes student answers by indicating wrong letters with a dash. Arrows designate extra letters. (Fig. 2) On an Apple IIe, the speed with which Dasher processed answers hardly made it worthy of its name, but it is very fast on a Macintosh, even when processing long answers. The maximum length for [487] any answer is five hundred characters.

Fig. 2

     The actual process of creating a lesson in the Author is simple. After providing the appropriate instructions, teachers type the question in its window, the answer in its window, and then have the Author check it using the Check Exercise function. This process will identify only those problems that would affect how the exercise will run in Dasher, it will not check for typographical or grammatical errors. One extremely nice feature that makes it easier to correct repeated errors is the Find and Change function. This works just like a search and replace operation in any typical word processor. After completing the lesson, users can opt to export it to a text file that can be opened with a word processing program. It is not possible to import exercises into the Author from a word processor, but I had no difficulty cutting material from my word processor and pasting it into the appropriate Author windows to make a simple multiple choice exercise.

     Teachers must still expect to invest substantial amounts of time in designing, entering, editing and correcting exercises, however Dasher's ease of use and power make possible a broad range of computer-assisted materials that would otherwise be almost impossible to create without an extensive knowledge of computer programming. It allows teachers to quickly respond to the needs of their classes for drill material related to specific language problems and to compensate for the lack of quality computer-assisted instructional programs that unfortunately accompany some of today's more popular texts.

Joseph A. Feustle, Jr.

The University of Toledo