Learning A Language On The Computer

Learning a language on your own is no simple task.  Back in the day the only way to really learn from home was to use books and audio cassettes (or CDs).  There was no interactive way to really learn.  So the default was going to a class in person.  For anyone who worked full time or wasn’t a student, this was a challenge.

When computers started getting more advanced, language learning software was one of the first things that appeared on on the scene.  At first it was quite rudimentary – basic vocabulary, but all the audio as if it were on a cassette.  The advantage was that you could interact with it more – better than just audio, better than just a book.

The Air Force was one of the first institutions to implement language learning software:

A new concept in foreign language instruction at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. uses individually self-paced interactive videodisc (I/V) instruction coupled with classroom exercises to help cadets live the language.

According to Major miguel Verano, chief of the language learning center and director of software development at the academy, “The I/V instruction is so vivid, it brings the foreign lanaguage and its culture to the students. They can actually interact with the material–something they couldn’t do before with television or films.”

LANS and Lessons

Key hardware elements of this new videodisc-based instruction system include 32 Sony VIEW Systems, advanced interactive videodisc workstations from Sony Corp. of America, Park Ridge, N.J. Each workstation comprises an MS-DOS-compatible microcomputer, a keyboard, a videodisc player, a color monitor and a mouse.

Workstations ar arranged in groups of four or five, in several hexagon-shaped work areas. Students work independently, each in a dedicated space, so that they do not disturb one another.

All student stations are networked to a main computer for data collection purposes. This central processor, which serves as a file server for the local area network, also tracks student activity and provides the instructor with a variety of reports. The reports include counting the number of keystrokes each student enters per lesson, the lenght of time required to answer a question, and what choices a student made during the course of a lesson.

The academy’s new technique for teaching a foreing language uses an icon-based authoring language to develop a blueprint of the entire lesson. Language content is then added in text form using a word processor.

“To create our I/V materials, instructors don’t have to learn computer programming,” says Verano. “All they need to know is what content they want to add to each class segment and then simply key in the appropriate text.”

Dissection of a Lesson

Each student spends the first 20 minutes of the class at a workstation. Cadets first select an overview of the particular lesson. This is usually a one- to three-minute, live-action video depicting a typical scene in the target country or culture–such as being in a German restaurant. The student sees and hears a person ordering in German from the menu. This sequence can be stopped, reversed and rerun at any point.

The next phase is called “manipulation.” Here, students have the option of seeing foreign language text, or hearing it, along with viewing the action video. However, this time the sequences have been “chunked.” “Chunking” refers to a technique in which a sentence is broken up into short segments or phrases. If a cadet needs help, he or she can call up a glossary showing the English translation of each word. Or cadets can get a complete sentence translation in English via a mouse click.

In addition, students can move back and forth through each lesson at their own speed until they totally understand what is occurring in each video segment.

“Air Force Academy steps into future with interactive video.” T H E Journal [Technological Horizons In Education], Apr. 1989, p. 54+

Of course, the best way to learn any language is to try to immerse yourself as much as you can, be consistent with lessons, and stick to a schedule.

I was recently interested in learning German, and turned to Rocket German after reading this review about the software.  I was quite pleased with the course — with a bit of dedication I was able to really dig into the language and come away pretty fluent in the basics.  I still have a long way to go but it’s a start!

If you want to learn a language and you have to do it from home, then getting a good software program is a great way to help yourself commit to the task.  It also makes it easy and fun.

For Those On Windows Boxes: How To Keep Things Safe

computer-securityI know that all of you can’t always work on Linux machines even if you want to.  Whether it’s for work or for your family’s computer, sometimes you just have to use Windows.  And with Windows comes some security risks.  So what are some easy things that you can do in order to keep your data safe?  Here are a few things that you can do without changing your habits too much 😉

1.)  Ensure you have an antivirus or antimalware software program.  This goes without saying, however there are a lot of people who think that antivirus programs are a thing of the past.  Well, this is not the case!  Virus and malware protection is more important than EVER, especially with the amount of banking and other financial transactions that we conduct over the internet on a daily basis.  There is simply no excuse to not have protection!  It’s like a condom folks, use one.  I can recommend a few programs, specifically Malwarebytes, Spyhunter 4, and Norton 360.  I think that having one of those first two along with Norton 360 is the best defense.  An antispyware program will get rid of any malware that might have traipsed its way onto your computer with a download (like what happened with me when I got Conduit after installing RAR File Open Knife).

2.) Ensure that you’re backing everything up.  There’s no excuse for not doing this nowadays.  My absolute favorite set-and-forget solution is to use Backblaze.  I’m not even going to recommend any others because I have used Backblaze myself and it has truly saved my ass.  Seriously.  I had an entire video editing project deleted due to a bad hard drive.  While I did have to footage on my camera’s memory cards, I would have had to start from scratch.  It was truly horrific.  Backblaze saved all my data and I was able to finish the project.

3.) Don’t browse internet bad neighborhoods.  This doesn’t take that much explanation.  I mean, just don’t do it!  If you simply MUST browse adult or gambling sites then get yourself a cheap netbook from Aliexpress to ply your trade.

4.)  Ensure that automatic updates are enabled.  This is a biggie.  I am one of those people (maybe you are too) who close those little update windows when they pop up because you’re like “oh I’ll do it later.”  Yes, we’ve all been there.  But did you know that most of those updates are for security purposes and that they patch critical areas that could leave you open to a good hackin’?  Yeah.  So enable those automatic updates and you won’t have to worry about this at all.  I highly recommend it.  Then you don’t even have to think about it!


Great Linux TED Talk

I have referenced this TED talk to several friends and so I figured I would post it here so that they can watch it at their leisure – however I think there are many people out there that might find this very interesting– after all, it’s a TED talk!


Post Microsoft Monopoly

microsoft-monopoly4The Microsoft monopoly case was a huge deal back in the day.  Linux was seen as one of the reasons that Microsoft wasn’t quite the monopoly that it was reported to be.  However there’s a lot of crap out there that isn’t really true – you have to go back and take a look at how things were going.

Here’s a great excerpt from an article from the time –

If we had for years controlled the pre-eminent desktop infrastructure and also supplied applications to run on it, we’d have been tempted to do a little log-rolling. We might have passed on hidden Windows tricks to our own application developers while keeping them secret from our competitors, something Microsoft would never dream of doing.

And then we’d have turned around and made sure that anyone interested in using our apps would have to install our operating system. But Microsoft has made its popular Microsoft Office available for the Mac in an almost timely fashion, and no doubt it will port it to IBM’s OS/2 one of these days. This is the difference between class and crass.

Microsoft’s plans to enter the value-added network business have us fantasizing again. Opportunities for freezing out the competition multiply deliciously! One company will control the dominant operating system, many top-selling applications, and a proprietary network. “Consider the possibilities,” to quote the ads for an old manage-a-trois movie.

For example, Microsoft’s control of the desktop operating system could vault it way past rival network providers. If Windows 95 ships with access to the Microsoft Network online service tightly integrated, millions of users will find themselves a couple of mouse clicks from an entirely new commercial entanglement with Microsoft. Prodigy, CompuServe, and America Online could air-drop millions of diskettes and still not compete. IBM has tried a version of this by offering single-click installation of the Warp Internet Access Kit, but where’s the leverage in that? The kit connects to the Internet, which nobody owns, nudging users almost unawares toward a for-profit network of one’s own-now that’s something worth doing.

Conversely, Microsoft could use the network to shore up its operating system. Upgrades could be applied as needed, automatically and invisibly, over the Microsoft Network. What a selling point for Windows 95. The Microsoft Network would no doubt extend the same courtesy to users of the Linux, MacOS, and OS/2 Warp operating systems, but if Microsoft kept the capability for itself, the company could really score.

How about using the network to boost applications? Issuing application upgrades directly through Microsoft Network is just the beginning. Networks bulge with downloadable documents; a wily network owner might render them all in Word instead of some neutral format. Microsoft Network could provide an option to see network search results in spreadsheet form–and not just any spreadsheet, if you catch our drift.

Tibbetts, John, and Barbara Bernstein. “Microsoft monopoly? Never!” InformationWeek 31 July 1995: 112.


So you can see the details are a bit more complicated than most people really seem to let on or realize.  There’s not much that can be done if you don’t know the details!