Top critical review
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So-so for visitors to France. Not for serious French students.
on May 26, 2011
In a nutshell, Instant Immersion French is not bad for the price if you are not serious about learning French. If you want to dabble, learn some words, see if a child will hold an interest in a language, or very cheaply get your feet wet before a trip to France, the lower price tag for this compared to Rosetta Stone may well make this a good purchase for you if you are on a budget. If you are truly hoping to learn French or need high school credit (i.e. homeschoolers), this is not a good choice.
The game format is appealing, especially to younger learners. Learners need to accumulate points earned by performance at various learning games, and seeing the number go up with play is motivational.
The accent used by the speakers is authentic and standard Parisian French.
The program allows for multiple user accounts. This is important because each user's progress can be tracked independently.
The software uses multiple modes to teach the material---flashcards, search-and-find games, image-selection games. Honestly, although the look and feel is different that Rosetta Stone, the gist is the same. They say a word, and you select the appropriate picture, unless you are in tutorial mode in which case they just tell you. It's not an awful way to learn some vocabulary and phrases (but don't expect to achieve any amount of fluency). This is like an interactive Berlitz guide--it is not like taking a real French class.
By the third level, some of the phrases/situations are reasonably challenging. There is a direction finding game where a car and a maze is on screen, and a speaker gives directions to find something. You have to click on the square where you would end up if you followed the directions. That would be great practice for someone planning to travel to France, since the examples given are complex and involve several different cues (i.e., go straight to the end of the road, then left, then it's the third street on the right next to the clock.) Still, someone who has completed the entire program (all three levels) would not as a result have acquired any measure of fluency. But they would know a lot of words and be able to understand some simple French, possibly even enough to get along for a week or two in France.
The Interactive DVD is ok. It's less game-oriented than the software, and was straightforward teaching and quizzing. I liked that it has multiple choice answers that include testing on spelling, although I'm not sure how important it is for a visitor to France to be able to spell "allergie alimentaire" [food allergy] correctly. In a quick survey of the DVD, I encountered one spelling error "qu'y a t-il [sic]..." which is hardly earth-shattering but shows a lack of editing.
The choice of words taught is bizarre. For example, in the first level the words for "stockpot," "octopus," "pin," and "hippopotomus" are among the first 50 words taught. Seriously? And the fact that "cassette" is in the list also shows that the fundamentals of the program haven't been updated since the cassette tape went the way of the 8-track. I was also surprised to see a fairly non-authentic vocabulary choice: as every beginning French student knows, the word for "pen" is simply "un stylo," but this program gives the more complex phrase "un stylo à encre" (essentially, "an ink-pen"). It's not wrong per se, but it's definitely not the way pens are usually referred to.
The program is not specific to French needs. They wrote the program and then dubbed it into French (and a bunch of other languages). Sometimes that causes oddities. For example, corn is not generally eaten in France. It's mostly considered a food for animals. So the fact that "an ear of corn" is one of the first vocabulary words taught is rather misguided, as it is a rarely used word in France. Similarly, I'm not sure that "chopsticks" needs to be on someone's must-know list for travel to Paris. Also, there is a video image of a man and woman on some screens, and it's really annoying to see their mouths widely and smilingly exclaiming, "Yes!" when the word I hear is "Oui!" It's like a spoof of one of those badly dubbed Japanese movies.
For a program that works by showing pictures matched with a spoken word, many of the pictures are unclear. Watching my son try out the program, he was confused by many of the pictures and couldn't figure out what he was supposed to be learning. "Is that ice or sugar?" he asked of a picture full of little white cubes. Similarly, we were both baffled by a picture that looked like an onion but turned out to be a melon, and the picture of the airplane looked for all the world like a space shuttle. As far as the pictures that are supposed to represent "Where is the suitcase?"....well, forget it. I have no idea how someone who doesn't already know French would figure out what they are supposed to represent.
The CD-ROM game "Who is Oscar Lake?" did not work for me either on my Windows or Mac system. It appeared to load but then I couldn't get anything to happen no matter what I clicked. The instructions supplied with the game are virtually useless; they just say "use your television and phone a lot" and "explore everything." The loading screen shows a copyright of 1996; I think this is a really old game that they tried to update to work on modern systems. Apparently they failed.
The audio CD only works on an MP3 player, so if you want to listen in your car you need to make sure your car can play off your ipod. You can't just pop the CD into your car CD player and expect it to work. Also, it's super boring. It is a list of words and phrases to imitate at the easier levels, and long conversations to try to understand at the upper levels. It's not well done, as in, say, the Pimsleur CDs which are outstanding and well worth the money. I would not recommend the CD.
In its competition with Rosetta Stone (RS), this product makes some exaggerated claims. In a comparison chart on the back of the packaging, Instant Immersion claims to have sold more units, have more levels, and have more audio content than RS. But a look at the fine print shows that they are excluding the upper 3 levels of the RS French program from the comparison as well as all RS units sold directly by rosettastone.com. So really all Instant Immersion has over RS is a much lower price tag, a printable picture dictionary, an interactive DVD, and a game. The price tag alone may sell you on Instant Immersion (and I think that's not a bad choice) but it's a ridiculous claim for them to say that they offer significantly more language learning than RS. No way.
Basically, this is a moderately fun program for learning some elementary French, and the price is right. I give it 3 stars because I think it pretty much does well what it sets out to do, except for some oddities mentioned above. Just don't expect too much out of it.