Tuesday, 7 July 2015

A look at The Language Gym

The Language Gym is a free interactive website for French, Spanish and some Italian written by Gianfranco Conti, who also authors the outstanding Language Gym blog which I have mentioned before here.

From the homepage you have three options.

The Verb Trainer focuses on conjugations. There is a menu on the left from which you can choose a language, verb or tense to work with. I initially found the menu confusing, but you quickly get used to it. You then play the game to a time limit, given a pronoun and tense and an infinitive. You type out the correct part of the verb. If you get an answer wrong you are given the correct one. This is reminiscent of similar conjugation programmes online and is fine given its obvious limitations. It may appeal to some students who enjoy playing with verbs to a time limit.

The second section is called Workouts and is considerably meatier. For this section you can choose French or Spanish. So far there are grammar, oral and vocabulary modules, with reading to come in the future. To take an example, in the Grammar module I looked at the Intermediate level set of games which feature various tenses. You can choose a tense which leads you to a menu of games. Activities include: matching, broken words, gapped conjugations, gapped sentences and translation.

A vocabulary module features tasks such as multiple choice, matching, categories, drag and drop multi-choice and translation.

There is a mass of material here at various levels. You should go and have a play.

I found navigating the site a little tricky at first. When you use the back button it takes you back to the home page rather than the previous point in a menu. But once you are into a sequence of activities there are clear arrow buttons to move you back and forward at the bottom of the page. Presentation is clear, uncluttered and not all gimmicky - simple white text on a blue screen. Some may prefer at least a little visual excitement, but it doesn't worry me.

The third section is called Game Room. There are four games to choose from: Boxing, Kung-Fu Grammar, Bench Press and Rock Climbing. The Kung-Fu Grammar is a multi-choice task. If you get an answer right a fist appears to break down the background wall. Students will like it and probably start demonstrating their own moves.

The Rock Climbing game is ingenious. You have a wall of brings, four on each level. You choose one from the bottom then have to move up the wall choosing the right grammatical item in each case. The level is highish intermediate. I like this game.

I could imagine using the Game Room as a reward at the end of a computer room session.

To cut to the chase, I recommend this site if you enjoy presenting classes with controlled practice of language form and meaning. From what I have seen so far the focus is primarily on form and it supports Gianfranco's methodology which leans towards cognition, analysis and practice (I hope I am being fair to him on that). The content is challenging with an element of fun. There are lots of practice examples. It may be too hard for some groups. You could use it in class or have students use it for practice at home. It would be excellent for revision before exams. As the site builds further it could rival Languagesonline as a "go to" site for teachers of French and Spanish in particular.

Well played, Mr Conti!

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