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Review of SmartFrench: Learn French from Real French People [CD-ROM]
Back when multimedia software first exploded onto the marketplace, excited commentators couldn't get enough of exploring the educational possibilities of CD-ROMs. While today the big headlines are going to flashy games that use multimedia to draw players into increasingly complex virtual worlds, the truth is that serious language teachers never stopped being excited about using multimedia to teach language-including French. The upshot is that there are now a number of high-quality out of the box French learning CD-ROM programs that can help you improve your French-or get a great introduction to this fun, widely spoken language.

SmartFrench: Learn French from Real French People is just one of several French CD-ROM courses available, but its unique approach has earned it recognition as one of the best. Good French teachers can disagree about how best to present the language, but the fact is that students are voting with their feet-and their cash. SmartFrench has stayed ahead of the wave by constructing a course that focuses on the way real French people talk-instead of all that stuffy grammar. While you shouldn't expect to walk way from SmartFrench: Learn French from Real French People speaking flawless street French, you will feel ready to initiate some simple, friendly conversations anywhere French is spoken.

SmartFrench products are well known for their emphasis on phrase-based learning-this means that you'll be practicing sentences rather than simply memorizing vocabulary. The benefits of this are clear to us-back in our first year studying French we would all have happily traded knowing the names of the animals at the zoo for knowing how to ask someone out on a date. The SmartFrench approach is similar to that being adopted by forward-thinking French professors around the world, and sure it has its critics, but let's face it-you're not prepping for the Sorbonne.

If we were to offer one criticism, it would be that for a multimedia program, SmartFrench: Learn French from Real French People is a tad light on the multimedia. We've seen other programs invest a little more into the production values-but then again, you're not looking to pay for special effects. The upside to the low-ball use of tech is that this program can run on older machines that some of its media-heavy competitors can't-it even runs on Windows 95! In fairness, the programmers have made good use of features such as text color-coding-it's effective and it won't eat up tons of system resources. And best of all, it's easy on the pocketbook.

SmartFrench: Learn French from Real French People is an excellent resource tool that is designed to be a nice supplement to other SmartFrench courses. It's best to think of it as the CD that comes with your textbook in a more traditional class. If you have some background in French or are a particularly intuitive learner you might try to go it alone (the accompanying text offers some help), but most students will get more out of the program with a little extra grammar reference. As a CD-ROM showing real French conversations, however, users can't ask for much more.

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