Tick-Tack:  a novel approach
to language learning


Extract from a presentation by David Sephton                  

The problem

The main difficulty in learning another language is our inability to think of the right words and phrases to use - or even to think of any suitable words and phrases at all.  We may have learnt lots of them but they do not spring readily to mind.  And if any do come to mind, we may not be sure  how to use them in context - or if writing, how to spell them.

In consequence it can be hard work - and not much fun. And any text that we compose may well be disappointing and inaccurate, so we are not proud of it. 

The cause

I like to think of our language memory as consisting of two parts:  a small basket and a large store-room. The small basket contains the words and phrases that we use everyday, and others that come readily to mind when we need them, even if we don't use them very often.

The large store-room contains all the words and phrases that we have learnt and which do not spring readily to mind - even with some effort.  They are not in our little basket.

The difficulty is getting things out of the store-room and into the basket.   It requires a lot of effort and is frequently unsuccessful so that we have to go to a dictionary - or manage without them.

This is true in our mother-tongue, when we have to write something thoughtfully, that is important.  In another language the problem is much more acute.  It often requires a huge effort and can be very frustrating.  We may know the word or phrase but simply cannot recall it - or cannot recall it accurately.

The result 

We have all experienced misery, and faced the "cosmic terror" of the blank screen and the blank sheet of paper - particularly first thing on a Monday morning.

This generates a lack of confidence, a loss of interest, and reduced motivation.  Many people start to learn a language with high hopes.  But once they feel they are not making progress and not enjoying it, they lose interest.  And too many simply give up, saying that they are "no good at languages".

The Tick-Tack solution

This is where Tick-Tack comes to the rescue. It offers a unique solution: a library of sentences, in mother tongue and target language, relevant to the matter in hand.  It adds a wonderful selection of appropriate words, phrases and sentences to what you have got in your little basket.

The sentences are grouped by themes and each has a code-number:  the letter indicates the theme or subject, the number its position in the theme.  And the sentences correspond across all the languages, so that L5 means the same thing in English, Greek, Welsh, Irish, Estonian, Swahili & all the others, including Latin.

The Tick-Tack result 

Using these sentences you create your draft text, easily and accurately - all ready for the task of editing to make it say what you want it to say.  This is often challenging work, but is fun, and gives great satisfaction.  The final result is likely to be far more authentic than if you had created it on your own.  You have contributed to the result and you can say, with some pride:  "I did it myself".

An added advantage of this system is that it offers a host of ideas for you to choose from:  an aide-mémoire, already accurately expressed in mother-tongue and target language.

Once you have on the screen a piece of relevant text you begin to feel that your task is already half-completed. You see words that you recognize, but had forgotten, and this rekindles your interest and activates your memory.

Extensive library

Each of the Tick-Tack programs provides a library of 300 to 500 sentences.  This offers you the possibility to create a huge range of interesting texts. 

The sentences are not word-for word translations. They have been recreated by native speakers using the words and structures that a native speaker, with a sensitive feel for the language, and plenty of time, would use in the same situation

Tick-Tack:  a new approach and change of focus

Since we started we have changed the way Tick-Tack is seen and used. The main emphasis is no longer on writing letters, though this is still a valuable facility.  

Its focus now is to give learners practice in manipulating text on the screen, to rework it by taking the language to pieces, undoing the nuts and bolts and putting them back together again in a different way.

It is easy to call up a list of sentences and print them out. The main educational value of Tick-Tack is to enable the learner to transform text, to edit it, to make it say different things - by carrying out exercises and by creating their own texts. Having displayed a sentence on the screen and listened to it, users can pick up the microphone and practise their pronunciation.

The latest flagship version: TT2010 for Windows XP, Vista & Windows 7

The latest Tick-Tack software helps with all aspects of language learning:  reading, writing, listening and speaking. The first step on the road to creative writing. 30 programs now available at many levels covering 50 languages.

David Sephton, Primrose Publishing (Cambridge)