by David Sephton
I run a small software company, Primrose Publishing near Cambridge in England. I have a team of about a hundred dedicated linguists around the world working with me developing programs for teaching and learning languages. They all work independently, part-time, “at arms length”.
With my wife I have been developing these programs for over twenty years. As languages and needs are constantly changing so the programs have to be regularly updated and new ones created. As the technology advances so our software has to develop to keep in step in order to exploit the latest possibilities.
The software is called Tick-Tack. It works in a unique way making it very quick and easy for the user to create impressive and relevant text in the foreign language. It offers thirty-six programs and covers fifty languages, though not all languages are available in all the programs. We are constantly adding new ones. The latest version of the Tick-Tack software is called TT2014.
The software is used by universities, colleges and schools in many countries, sometimes purchased in bulk by the Ministry of Education. It is also widely used by companies and organizations as well as by individual business executives, teachers, parents and students.
The programs have proved especially popular for promoting blended learning and helping teachers to integrate software into traditional class-room teaching. The two programs that have particularly caught the imagination of teachers are those for Business and for Travel & Tourism. They are available in more than 30 languages, including Lithuanian and Japanese, but they have been developed in much greater depth as target languages for French, German, Spanish, Italian, and English.
The Business and Tourism programs are project-based and provide a realistic and authentic environment. Everything is in the target language, with multilingual word-lists and voice recordings of all the material. Their special value lies in a wide range of practical tasks which are innovative and challenging. Model answers and solutions are provided.
Student plays the role of a trainee
The programs are based on an International Sports Group called Promotics International. It has a separate company in each of the five countries. Each company has the usual departments including a travel sevice and an associated hotel. The student takes the part of a trainee employed in the relevant company. The trainee does authentic work exactly as in a real company.
All the information and instructions are generated from within the documents and voice-mails. Sometimes they are in the form of memos, or hand-writtem notes by the manager scribbled on the foot of the letter or fax, or a phone-call from the Managing Director on a visit to America or a voice-mail message left by a distributor in Hong Kong.
Working in each department
Working in each of the departments, trainees have to carry out a wide range of tasks relating to sales, buying, service, personnel, accounts, advertising, etc. These involve handling in-coming letters, faxes and e-mails and replying to them, answering the telephone, listening to voice-mail messages, drafting replies and then recording them using the microphone. The trainees have to deal with angry customers, handle complaints from agents, edit leaflets, book flights, draft staff adverts and create web-pages. In doing this they have at their finger-tips a wealth of Tick-Tack material to help them.
Working in the hotel
The trainee then moves on to the associated hotel and assists the hotel manager with the multiplicity of problems that make daily life in a busy hotel especially stressful. These range from making reservations, providing information and dealing with lost property to organizing town walks and pacifying dissatisfied guests. Using the microphone as a telephone he/she has to explain to a hotel guest who has got lost, how to find their way by car from the airport to the hotel.
Library of sentences
To help the learner create a reply, edit a web-page, draft a phone-call or write an e-mail, Tick-Tack provides a wealth of relevant material. At the heart of all the Tick-Tack programs, is an extensive library of sentences and phrases, in mother tongue and target language, relevant to the particular program. This suggests a huge variety of words and phrases that could be used. To make access quick and simple, the sentences are divided into topics or themes and each one has a code-number which corresponds across all the languages. Using these, it is very easy to create an interesting piece of relevant text in the foreign language. Users then edit this draft text to fine-tune it to their needs.
Further help is provided by Multilingual word-lists which can be accessed alphabetically in both mother tongue and target language.
It is this selecting and editing of existing phrases and sentences, this manipulating language on the screen to create an authentic document, that is so motivating and educationally so valuable. The user learns new vocabulary and, in particular, learns how to use it “in context”. It requires concentration and can be hard work but it is immensely rewarding and motivating. Students are amazed at what they find they can achieve using Tick-Tack.
To help teachers get started and to provide useful guide-lines, detailed lesson plans are included for Business and for Tourism. These have been created by dedicated teachers who are using the programs in class.
Many firms and organizations, as well as hotels and travel agents, and individual business executives, use Tick-Tack to help them in their day-to-day work. It is a thoroughly practical tool as well as ideal learning material. I use it myself all the time to help me write emails in a dozen languages and to prepare telephone calls.
In drawing up the programs great emphasis has been laid on developing clarity of expression and on fostering creative writing.
As well as a Survival program and an ABC program for early learners, the DVD includes programs in a variety of languages for Finding a job, Using the telephone, Writing e-mails, Finding your way around on an exchange visit, Going shopping, Working in a hotel, Teaching a class, Making presentations, Conducting negotiations, Essay-writing, Graphs & Charts, Family & holidays, and creating picture postcards for sending by e-mail.
The languages cover an immense range from Basque to Rumantsch Grischun, from Catalan to Indonesian, and from Armenian and Esperanto to Maltese and Greek (both Ancient and Modern). Three Latin programs (Magister, Grammaticus and Rhetor) have their own range of practical tasks, as do the Starter and Everyday programs. The latest DVD contains a number of Tick-Tack programs in Chinese, Japanese and Arabic.
The software operates under Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows XP and Windows Vista. A network version is available. The software is supplied on a DVD which contains all the programs and languages.
Starter and Everyday programs
The Starter and Everyday programs are designed for general language work, concentrating on creative writing, with special attention to grammar, spelling, vocabulary and pronunciation. They contain extensive exercises in French, German, Spanish, Italian and English, voice-recordings of all the sentences, multilingual word-lists and help-files. They can be accessed in more than thirty languages, each of which can also be used as a target language.
Library of sentences
Each program offers a library of sentences divided into topics. The sentences have their own code-numbers that correspond across all the languages. You set the source language to your mother-tongue and the destination language to the target language that you are studying.
Select your sentences
As with the other Tick-Tack programs, you scroll through the sentences in your mother tongue and select the ones required by the exercise, or ones you choose yourself. This puts the foreign equivalent on the screen. In this way you create a draft text in the foreign language. You then have to edit it, making whatever additions and changes are required by the exercise to create your document or to draft your own personal text. The exercises include model answers.
Fascinating challenge. The task of modifying the draft text and turning it into the final document offers a fascinating challenge, which tests ability, provides unrivalled practice in manipulating the language and helps develop vital computer skills. You also learn important vocabulary “in context”.
Free help by e-mail is provided throughout the year. Free updates can be downloaded from the Tick-Tack web-site (click Lesson Plans and scroll to the end). Workshops are run throughout the year in many parts of Europe. Teachers can buy a personal copy of the DVD for use at home for a nominal price.
We are currently developing a completely new range of language programs under the title “Tick-Tack Tech” for students and for people working in the technical & engineering fields. The first program, for Mechanical Engineering, is included on the DVD in English and French. Other languages will follow. Programs are planned for other industrial sectors.
I studied languages at Oxford University, and have spent much of my life in business, as a senior executive in a variety of international enterprises. I have run successful companies in New York, in Singapore, in Kuala Lumpur, in Madrid, and in the UK, and have been closely involved with most European countries. I also run my own business-consultancy operation.
I have distilled my first-hand experience of business into the Tick-Tack programs for Business, for Travel & Tourism, and for Engineering so that everything in them is authentic and practical.