Software review: Instant Immersion French Delux 3.0
The Instant Immersion series, available in various languages including French, Spanish and German, provides a whole package of themed exercises, games and information for languages learners. In the case of the Deluxe version reviewed here, it also includes a separate point-and-click adventure game, interactive DVD and set of audio CDs.
The main program contains of a number of varied types activity, organised by theme (e.g. introductions, talking about oneself, at the airport etc). The themes provide a mixture of topics that will be useful for business learners or for general learners following a basic course, say at school or evening class.
An interesting feature of the software is that many of the activities involve speech input— in other words, you speak French into a microphone as part of the activity. Activities, many of them involving speech input, include:
Overall, there's a wealth of information included. A minor niggle is that it can occasionally be difficult to find your way around the various menus used to locate the activity and topic you want. A better means of indexing/seaching for the activity you require is possibly in order.
In general, it's probably fair to say that the software is aimed at beginner to lower intermediate learners. A notable exception is the grammar section. This contains a series of explanations of various grammar points, organised into five levels, from "Elementary" to "Specialized". Where relevant exercises exist within the rest of the product, these are linked to from the grammar sections. In reality, the categorisation of certain items is questionable (for example, I wouldn't have personally put the forms of -ayer verbs on the same level as the subjunctive), and categorising some of the "Specialized" level items as such as a bit of an exaggeration (the section on "compound tenses" is advanced GCSE/SAT level— certainly not degree level— material). But overall a range of levels is catered for. Another minor criticism is that some of the basic-level material is not explained in very beginner-friendly language, with terms such as pronominal verb cropping up in the elementary section, pretty much without explanation. I wouldn't buy this product just for the more advanced level information, but if there are learners at different levels in your household, it may give the more advanced learners a "little extra", even though it's the basic level learners that'll have more to get their teeth into.
You've probably gathered from the above description that in order to get the most of this software, you really will need to budget in a microphone if you don't already have one. Luckily, you probably don't need to spend more than a few dollars on this. I actually tested the software with the simple microphone headset provided with some dictation software I have, and it generally performed adequately, bar very occasional sentences that the software appeared to have trouble recognising.
In terms of value for money and the breadth of activities that it covers, Instant Immersian French is an excellent product. A few improvements could be made. For example, the abstract "scoring" of pronunciations, although a rough guide on how you're doing, offers little direct feedback on how to improve your pronunciation. Occasionally, the system highlights a particular word of the sentence that it believes you pronounced wrongly, but offers no other hints. It would be interesting to see a next generation of the system that could offer clues such as "vowel pronounced as diphthong", "too much aspiration" etc. The grammar exercises similarly generally offer little direct feedback on what mistake has been made. It would also be nice to see the grammar section and exercises better integrated, with more readily available on-screen guidance on the grammar point being practised, and help when you go wrong. I should stress, these are improvements that would require more development time and surely an associated price increase, so are not necessarily to be taken as too heavy a criticism of this product at its current price. The exercises are still extremely useful and excellent value overall.
As well as the main program, the Deluxe package includes 5 audio CDs for practising your vocabulary away from your computer. The marketing material is very proud of the fact that you can download these CDs on to your iPod, although I guess that's a bit like saying that Coca Cola can be drunk from a glass (as far as I can tell, no extra facility is actually provided by Instant Immersion to help with this transfer or to customize the CD content as you transfer it). A so-called interactive DVD contains recordings of various simple phrases. The phrase appears spelt out on screen, with its translation spoken; then at the next touch of a button, you can see and hear a French speaker pronounce the phrase. A simple quiz is also included. It's not groundbreaking, but it's a nice "little extra" to have for moments when you're away from your computer and want to keep practising.
My favourite of the extras, however, is the Who is Oscar Lake? game included on the final CD. This is a simple point-and-click style adventure, featuring a more intermediate level of French. It's not the most cutting edge game you'll ever have played, but as far as educational activities go at this level, it's reasonably absorbing and will hopefully prove one of the more engaging end-of-term activities in your repertoire. Again, it's a nice little extra.
All in all, and despite the few usual niggles, Instant Immersion French is a highly recommended product for basic level learners of French. At that level, there's a range of useful activities. You'll get the most out of the program by using its interactive features, which does mean investing in a (luckily quite cheap) headset or microphone if you don't already have one.
Intermediate level learners will also get something out of the package, being able to try the adventure game, possibly improve their pronunciation, and look through some of the more advanced grammar information included.
On the other hand, advanced-level users won't get anything out of this package. Boring as it sounds, at that level, your money is really still better invested in a comprehensive grammar book.
All comments and material contained on this page are accurate to the best of the author's knowledge.