MY SPANISH COACH / Ubisoft / Nintendo DS

I happen to be taking Spanish classes in college at the moment, so I thought I would give My Spanish Coach a look and see if it could provide any kind of a helpful boost. What I've found is that it does indeed help to some degree as a supplement, but I seriously question whether it is worth your time and money versus other avenues of practice that you could be pursuing.

The software starts out with a "placement test". You get quizzed on the meaning of 50 common Spanish words and if you do well, you start out with up to the first ten chapters of the game unlocked. Even though I've only been studying the language seriously for three months, this test was a breeze and the game started me out on Chapter 11, which is apparently the earliest chapter you can begin with. Even with the jump ahead, however, Chapter 11 focused on common greetings and proved to be so basic that it was kind of a waste of time to go through.

 In each chapter, you are given number of words and phrases that you will learn and focus on in that chapter. You get a definition of the word/phrase plus an example of a native speaker pronouncing it, and then you play games in which you correctly identify the words/phrases to improve "mastery level" of each. When you've maxed out the "mastery level" for all the words and phrases in a chapter, you can then move on to the next. What this entails, pratically speaking, is doing the same exercises over and over again until the game decides you have been exposed to "buen dia" and "buenas noches" enough to proceed.

A Mary Tyler Moore-esque woman is your guide through the exercises. She has rather large and firm breasts, and appears to both not wear a bra and be a bit chilly (these details presumably added to keep the gentlemen awake and focused).

The little games are pretty much the meat of the software, such as flash cards (multiple choice) and word seek. There's a card-flipping Concentration game that is particularly bad, as you are not given very much time and you feel like you are being tested more on your ability to click fast than your Spanish vocabulary. There are eight types of games in total and the neater games, like Whack-A-Mole, don't get unlocked until you are very far into the software.

There doesn't seem to be an easy way to check what words you've not mastered yet in each chapter - the software forces you to fish around in old lessons skipping through multiple screens of dialogue and playing redundant games just to figure out what to do to proceed. Needless to say, the structure of the game is a bit questionable. I had to replay lesson 11 literally five times because the game didn't feel I had the word "bueno" alone down well enough to proceed (seriously). It's quite totalitarian.

Probably the most promising feature of the software is the "compare" function - you hear how each word is pronounced by a native speaker, and then say it yourself into the DS microphone, and can use the two recordings side-by-side to spot the differences. While it is a good feature, it is cramped by the fact that you cannot look up any given word at any given time - which would make it a great portable translation dictionary for basic purposes. There seems to be no reason why this couldn't have been done, the software just seems to refuse to do it because of the rigid format that it has locked itself into.

The advertisements for the game tout that "10 to 20 minutes a day is all you need to learn fluent Spanish" with this software. I find that to be an exceptionally questionable claim, and potentially a case of false advertising. You will not learn to speak fluently using this game alone. It's too limited, too rigid in it's progression and too unsuited to individual learning styles. To some degree it works as a supplement - the exercises aren't bad, but again the rigid structure of the game forces you to spend more time than you really need on certain areas before it will let you move on. Really, a good textbook, or one of the many free multimedia websites that are now available is a better choice than this for study, more flexible and more effective in focusing on what it is you most need to work on at present.

The game is like real-life Spanish classes in one regard though - many people will be doing it to ogle a comely Latina rather than actually gain strong command of the language. I suppose the software can't hurt your Spanish development, and as a portable multimedia flash card set it's probably unrivalled, but the repetitive drill-and-kill style is highly limited, sometimes frustrating and should by no means be considered a substitute for a good instructor.

Links :

* Rolling Rs - free video podcast Spanish lessons
* Coffee Break Spanish - free audio podcast Spanish lessons

Videos :

* FragDolls Video Review
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