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Une semaine avec My French Coach: Day Six


All week long, we've been taking on Ubisoft's My French Coach in an effort to find out whether or not it's possible to learn (or at least supplement) a language with a DS game. If you missed the overview on day one, you might want to back up a little. If not, then let's get moving with day six of our language training.

With only one more day to go in this diary after today's entry, I must say that I will be sad to see this wind down. However, the time with the training title has been so useful that I think I'll continue it, though perhaps a little less publically; after all, I really do struggle with French, though I find it a fascinating language. It's nice to find a resource that isn't based solely on spoken language, but is rather a blend of different styles. I know a lot of people who benefit from audio-based language training via CDs, and I am not one of them, alas. Being able to see and interact with things in My French Coach, however, has been dead useful.

And speaking of things that are useful, I decided it might be time to check out the dictionary! From the opening screen, it looks exactly as you might expect -- you can do French-English or vice versa, you can see only words you've mastered, you can view words in a list, or you can search. What you might not expect is that every entry leads to a Compare screen, complete with an audio track of the proper French pronunciation, as well as that ability to record your own and sync them up. That is really nice to see on every word!

Of course, once I was in the dictionary, I had to look things up. That's the whole point, isn't it? I started off simple, and entered "dog."

Hmm. Dodge, doghouse ... no dog. The next step was obvious:

Confirmed: cats are clearly greater than dogs. Glad we could clear that one up without any further discussion! But all joking aside, the dictionary, despite the lack of canines, quite impressed me. What was even more interesting was my discovery of the sketchpad feature. When I saw the button, I thought, what could we possibly need a sketchpad for? Take a break, draw a picture? Stranger things have happened, I guess, but it really didn't seem to fit. I had to investigate further.

What I found was just as pleasantly surprising as the Compare screens in the dictionary. The sketchpad offers a clean screen for free entry, and My French Coach owners are encouraged to use it for notes, to scribble down directions, to help with vocabulary, phone numbers, etc. The implication seems to be that users are encouraged to take their DS -- in place of a more traditional phrasebook -- when traveling in a French-speaking country. You don't even need an extra pad of paper! Now that's convenience. And hey, if you're into homebrew, you can add a nifty electronic map of Paris, and then you'll really have everything you need (if you happen to be going to Paris, that is).

But I could only spend so much time playing around with the extra features. After all, there are lessons to be learned here, and I've got a lot of work to do. None of today's offerings seemed particularly troubling, so I went back up to three. The first dealt with the combination of aller with an action-based infinitive to declare your intent to do something.

This was pretty simple: Je vais travailler, which is "I am going to work." My French Coach kept throwing up a handy reminder screen that read: conjugation + infinitive = sentence, just in case you might forget.

After mastering the vocabulary, this lesson was cake, so we moved onto getting more specific with acheter. Not only did I learn to conjugate the verb in question, but the next lesson drilled on many things one could buy. I still love the sight of a conjugation table, however:

Isn't that lovely? Maybe it's just me. So what can you buy? The vocabulary in my second lesson covered a variety of things, from clothing to newspapers. I like that My French Coach doesn't just stick with one kind of item, but branches out a little in these lessons, while trying to keep it practical. What's something you might suddenly need in a foreign country? Batteries -- and lo and behold, it was on the list.

I do hate to gush, but sometimes, the sheer practicality of the title does really impress me, especially combined with the sense of humor we've seen (remember learning "drunk," "dizzy" and "jealous" all at once? oh yes). The combination of things in this game makes learning the language not only simple, but fun and useful at the same time, and since I'm turning it on every day without fail, I appreciate that -- it helps to keep me interested.

Vocabulary wasn't terribly difficult to master, either, so I bulled on for a third lesson, and it was the easiest yet: names of countries. Listen, let me be the first to tell you: it's not difficult to remember that the word for France is actually ... France.

Needless to say, I sailed through that lesson. I opened up a new mini-game, as well: Spell-tastic. This one, so far, seems about as tough as Memory (which I continue to get better at): you're given a spoken French word and you have to spell it, accents and everything. Very useful, but not easy!

When all was said and done today, I was a second-grader, and felt very good about what I'd accomplished in the three lessons. Things are very definitely building on one another from lesson to lesson now, and that's good -- it means that you need to not only continue to drill and re-master old concepts, but you're finding new ways to use them as you learn more of the language!

Don't forget to check back tomorrow for the last day of our week with the training title. Of course, I've been shamed by one of our commenters, who's had the game a comparable length of time and is some thirty lessons ahead of me. I'm not sure how that happened, but clearly, I need to get a move on!

See also: The My French Coach series in its entirety

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