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French Before You Know It Deluxe 4.0: a Language Software Review

By R. H.

French Before You Know It (BYKI) is a flashcard-based computer program that teaches through the declarative learning approach. This lexical-based approach teaches learners a total of 2,000 words and 500 phrases through a three-step approach: review, recognition and reproduction.

Overall Assessment

Byki French French Before You Know It 4.0 is good language learning software, although not all-encompassing in its approach. It maximizes teaching the learner to recognize (in written and spoken form) a high amount of vocabulary content. But it is weak on helping learners with other aspects of French language proficiency: grammar, conversation, and French cultural knowledge.

Although French Before You Know It may not be the best program for overall language learning, it is a highly portable program you can load onto your iPod or similar device. In addition, it does a great job of teaching vocabulary words in French. So if you are looking for a way to jump start, or increase, your French vocabulary knowledge, French BYKI might be the program for you.

Usability - The Approach

French BYKI utilizes a philosophy of "Declarative Learning," based on the idea that the human brain processes a foreign language using two types of memory: declarative and non-declarative. The declarative memory, or "lexical" memory, is used to store simple facts, events, vocabulary and fixed language constructions. The BYKI approach teaches learners little bits of language (either words or phrases that need no deconstruction) that can be committed to memory.

Basically, the BYKI program uses an approach of giving you bits of language to memorize. It does not focus on conversational strength or excellent pronunciation, as much as on building up your mental storehouse of memorized language bits. Although not a complete approach, this approach does work, and the vocabulary words and phrases you will learn through this approach are an indispensable part of speaking a language. It is important to know the grammar of French and the culture of France, but it is also vital to have a mental dictionary of French vocabulary in order to speak the language fluently.

The Vocabulary Content

Progress mapper The content of French BYKI is vocabulary, organized by flashcards (they look like flashcards on the screen, and can also be made into printed flashcards if you wish). The program teaches over 2,000 words and 500 phrases through these flashcards. As you progress through the vocabulary, you can slow down the speech of the native speaker in order to learn the French pronunciation more perfectly and hear all the details of how the spoken words sound. The spoken and written vocabulary words are also supplemented with images, so you have audio and visual input together. Furthermore, the program is "intelligent" in that it keeps records of your progress and "knows" which vocabulary you need to work on more, bringing those particular items back for your review more frequently.

The vocabulary you will learn through the BYKI program is practical, useful, everyday vocabulary. If you use this as a vocabulary-building program, supplemented with other methods of getting grammar drills and conversational practice, you will find it suits its purpose well.

The Learning Structure

Lesson Sample French BYKI is structured simply. The program is straightforward and easy to figure out; even better, it's customizable. You can delete or add vocabulary words from lists, add your own images, etc. But even if you don't customize the program at all, but simply use the information already in the software, you will learn a lot of new vocabulary. Though this isn't a complete coverage language learning program, the vocabulary it will teach you will become an important part of your fluency in the French language.

Before You Know It uses the flashcard method of vocabulary teaching, and gives four basic steps for learning and reinforcing the vocabulary words/phrases on each card. The words and phrases are divided into lists by category (remember, these lists are also customizable by user); and the words/phrases on each list are displayed on virtual flashcards that the program will guide you through in order. Here are the four basic steps by which you will learn the material on the virtual flashcards:

Step One: Look at the French word and hazard a guess as to the proper pronunciation The program will also pronounce the word for you in natively spoken French.

Step Two: Look at the French word and type the English equivalent (obviously, you'll need to be familiar with the word before you can guess or answer correctly, so you will be given opportunity to review and try again until you know the word well).

Step Three: In this step, you will be given the English word, and have an opportunity to guess the pronunciation of the French word. However, be aware that although this program listens to your pronunciation and tries to give you an accurate score, it is really not that accurate. (The only way to really know for sure how good your pronunciation is, is to have a native speaker give you feedback and fine language coaching or honing of your accent.)

Step Four: Finally, in this step, you will be required to not only know the pronunciation of the French vocabulary word or phrase, but you must know the correct way to write it, proper accent marks and all.

Through these four steps, your understanding and memorization of French vocabulary words should increase dramatically!

Product Availability

French Before You Know It Deluxe 4.0 is available online for $69.95. It is a decent price for a good product. But before you buy it, weigh your options wisely. French Before You Know It focuses mainly on vocabulary building, so you will need to supplement it with other programs or language learning methods in order to gain fluency in French. However, for vocabulary building purposes, you will find the program to be helpful and to be a worthwhile investment of your money.