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CD-ROMs help put a new spin on Spanish

I know there is no substitute for Senior Joven, who teaches my daughter Spanish at Brighton High School.

But I'm hoping CourseWare International's Spanish I software program is the next best thing.I handed her the program after she staged a mini-rant, shouting, "I need verbs. I need the imperfect, the subjunctive, the future tense and preterit."

Fine, I said. Here you go. Hasta la vista, baby.

The program is the creation of Del Shumway, chairman of the foreign language department at Utah Valley State College and a 30-year veteran Spanish teacher.

Shumway spent four years working on Spanish I. He designed the software for students who want to supplement their class work - whether they're behind or ahead of their classmates.

He also had in mind people who want to pick up basics of the language, particularly travelers and professionals. His goal: get users to understand Spanish at the level of a first-semester, introductory college class.

Notice I didn't say "speak" the language. While you may gain or improve your ability to speak Spanish with this program, conversational Spanish is not the object here. A basic comprehension of the language and its nuances is the aim.

Spanish I consists of three instructional CD-ROMs and a music CD featuring Los Hermanos de los Andes. There's also a manual/workbook that accompanies the lessons.

Shumway organized his program to mirror curriculum-based instruction in schools. It's not just dumpware.

"If you were to look at what's out there, the basic idea behind a lot of the software, with all due respect, is like plunging you in an ocean saying, `Here's the water, you're immersed. Learn to swim,' " Shumway said. "I'm not just going to dump a lot of Spanish on you and say `swim.' "

He gives you a foundation and lots of opportunities to practice what you're learning.

The fact that it takes three CD-ROMs to work through the nine-level program is a clue to the depth and breadth of the instruction. The program starts off with pronunciation and spelling and works through irregular verbs. You can start at the beginning or jump ahead to a particular topic you need to work on - verbs, for instance - with its easy-to-navigate windows menus.

Shumway starts each lesson by explaining a concept and then moving on into written drills and oral repetitions of material.

Research, Shumway says, shows learning occurs best when as many senses as possible are involved. This multimedia software lets users read, hear, see images and interact with material. Plus you get to prove what you've learned in exercises at the end of each lesson.

It's an instructor, language lab, test center and workbook all rolled into one.

But Spanish I does not track your progress like some language programs do. The program also isn't "smart" - it won't hold your place until the next time you start it up. If you finish in the middle of a lesson, you'll have to click through it again to pick up where you left off.

Spanish I is not a game; it's a serious learning program. But Shum-way weaves a little fun into the software with a character named Don Pepe. He appears at the introduction of each level and sets up a "mision posible" for users to accomplish as they work through the lessons. Don Pepe also drops in tidbits of geography and history along the way.

So, I'll have just one question for my daughter at the end of the trimester: "?Donde esta la A?"

CourseWare International's Spanish I, which includes three instructional CD-ROMs and one music CD, is $100. It's available at the UVSC Bookstore and by phone at (888)252-6474 or on the Web (http://www.spanish1.com).