One ray of sunshine at the recent Boston Macworld Expo was the foreign language software. Foreign language software has two major categories - instructional and translation. I found an excellent example in each category.
Instructional Software -- In the instructional area, HyperGlot Software sells a CD offering a beautiful multimedia implementation of an excellent curriculum. The Spanish course, Learn to Speak Spanish, version 4.0, (which I now own) is exceptional! Besides a CD, the course contains a user manual and a textbook/workbook. The CD has an excellent screen layout, which makes operating the program a joy. Along with the usual written vocabulary list, you can hear each word pronounced by a native speaker. You can also click on individual sentences to hear them spoken. QuickTime movies use a sound track spoken by native speakers and tell a story that ties together the vocabulary and grammar lessons. The instructional drills also use the story content. Instant translations of words and phrases in the instruction sequence are just a click away.
A number of the drills involve dragging words into their proper place with instant feedback regarding right and wrong choices. Properly match a feminine singular article with a similar noun and a cheerful "bueno" (or other appropriate phrase) issues forth from your Mac. Make a mistake and you might hear "lo siento" (I'm sorry) in a sad voice. There are fill-in-the-blank drills as well as arrange-words-to-make-a-sentence drills. In each case a native speaker immediately tells you if you are right or wrong. During vocabulary drills, the program keeps track of errors and presents that list on completion of the drill, if you desire.
If your Mac has a microphone, there is another useful feature. You can click on a sentence, hear the native speaker say it, then you say it, and the Mac records your response. Then the program plays back both the native speaker and your response so you can instantly compare your pronunciation.
HyperGlot advertises the complete course as being for beginner and intermediate levels of study. As a moderately experienced Spanish speaker, I found the course very valuable. The combination of an excellent curriculum and a well-designed interface makes this program a winner!
HyperGlot offers a series of other language learning aids ranging from pronunciation tutors to drills in Katakana and Hiragana syllabaries and Chinese writing. All products have a thirty day unconditional 100 percent satisfaction guarantee if purchased from HyperGlot. List prices range from $99 to $149 for the CD-based offerings. Languages include Spanish and French (for English speakers). You can also purchase courses that teach English to native speakers of Spanish, French, Japanese, Italian, and Portuguese.
Translation -- In the translating arena, I was extremely impressed by the capabilities of Power Translator by GlobaLink (suggested retail price $249). Power Translator can take an English sentence like "He tried to light the light with a light blue lighter" and correctly translate it into Spanish! It also correctly translated a Spanish sentence that said "The lady who CAME here CAME to buy old WINE" into English - although every upper case word above is "VINO" in the Spanish sentence. The documentation is bilingual. Translations can be done iteratively (sentence-by-sentence) in an automatic batch mode.
During the demonstration, I typed text into one window in English, specially tagged words or proper names I didn't want translated, and then told the program to translate. Within moments the translation appeared in an adjacent window. The reverse process from Spanish to English was just as simple. Based on the amount of time required to display the translated text, it seems that the program does something more than a simple word lookup between languages. That is, rather than doing a simple dictionary translation, Power Translator appears to identify where in a sentence a word appears and to then select an appropriate translation. Not having a copy of Power Translator program to work with, I cannot attest to its capability to handle other ambiguities.
The Power Translator Professional version (suggested retail price $595), comes with one of a number of subject dictionaries (Automotive, Business/Finance, Banking, Brewing, Computer, Legal, and so on), although you can purchase additional subject dictionaries as needed. The subject dictionaries available vary according to language (French, German, Spanish and Russian)., and you can customize these dictionaries to further facilitate your translations.
The GlobaLink programs require a Mac II series or higher, 68020 or higher, System 7.0 or later, 2 MB RAM (4 MB recommended) and 15-36 MB of hard disk space. In automatic mode, the professional version can translate over 20,000 words per hour. Purchases made directly from GlobaLink have a thirty day money back guarantee. Mail order or discount store prices may be less, but check their return policy.
In addition to the Mac versions, GlobaLink has offerings for DOS, Windows, OS/2 and Unix. The MS-DOS Power Translator was reviewed in the January, 1994 publication "Computing NOW!" GlobaLink's literature also discusses a palm-sized computer that runs on two AAA batteries and performs bidirectional translations in Spanish/English or French/English.
Finally, GlobaLink offers programs under the name "VoicePower" which provide interactive training in pronunciation of foreign languages (including a comparison of "voice prints" of a native speaker and the student). Their literature on this product indicates it is currently available only for IBM type machines. (I figured this out when their requirements mentioned specs such as a 386DX25). I don't know if Mac versions are in the works. Given the capabilities of the HyperGlot offerings, and their excellent curriculum discussed earlier, I think this particular market would be an uphill battle for GlobaLink.
HyperGlot Software -- 800/800-8270 -- 615/558-8270 (fax)
GlobaLink -- 703/273-5600 -- 800/255-5660 -- 703/273-3866 (fax)