Everyone has a tale to tell about his Spanish 101 class: the overzealous teacher who refused to acknowledge anything but Espanol throughout the introductory class; the humiliating read-aloud hour; and, of course, the dreaded verbs, mandatorily conjugated on the blackboard, in front of the class.
So imagine our delight when we discovered a language program that claimed Spanish students could say adios to their textbooks as they set out on a road rally through Mexico to learn first-year Spanish skills.
It's called Spanish for the Real World, a $30 Windows/Mac CD from Kaplan and Knowledge Adventure.
At first click, we meet Guillermo, our entertaining and native-speaking racing partner. "Come on in," he says. "The language is fine."
As Guillermo explains, there are four rallies. Each takes you through a number of cities and checkpoints in Mexico. A player needs to complete each checkpoint before moving on to the next level and rally. The checkpoints include "el mercado," the market, and "el Gran Advino," the fortune teller.
In the market, players shop for items by trading with vendors. A visit with el Gran Advino includes a guessing game, in which players must ask certain questions in order to guess the secret item he's thinking about. Logic and language skills are a must here. There is also a dictionary you can use if you need to look up a word or phrase. Turning to it can extend the program, but learning something along the way is the point.
To win the rally, players need to overtake their opponents by beating them at El Juego, a version of the matching-card game Memory. There is also the Verb Shortcut. Face it, there's no escape from conjugation.
Along the way, players learn vocabulary, grammar and a little history through postcards in the glove compartment. Among the postcards is one of Guanajuanto, the birthplace of one of Mexico's most famous artists, Diego Rivera.
As a native speaker, I had my doubts about this one. But I found myself entertained, amused and, at some points, even challenged.
While we wouldn't suggest tossing the Spanish textbook, we admit this program is one huge step up from the audio tapes of years gone by. And, more importantly, it can keep a child, or an adult, interested long enough to practice their language skills. And as Guillermo points out, everyone knows that the best way to learn a language is to use it.
For information, surf to www.KnowledgeAdventure.com.