on February 17, 2008
(If you don't have the time to read this whole review, please at least read #1 in the list below.)
I bought this game feeling confident of its quality due to the positive reviews here, but after putting in many hours of play time, I've concluded that it has some serious flaws. I would not recommend it to Spanish students of any level. Unfortunately, my negative review may be ignored in the midst of all the 5-star reviews, but I feel obligated to take the time to let people know about this game's serious flaws.
First, a bit about my background to assure you that I know what I'm talking about. I took 4 years of Spanish as a public high school student in the United States, and then enough university Spanish to complete a minor in Spanish. I stopped taking formal Spanish courses about 10 years ago and haven't had much chance to practice since. So, while I still know basic and advanced Spanish grammar, I've forgotten a lot of vocabulary.
My Spanish Coach seemed like the perfect game for me: I could spend a few minutes a day learning (or re-learning) vocabulary and reviewing grammar, and I'd get to do it by playing fun games on a portable game system, instead of boring flashcard drills or reading a heavy textbook.
I purchased the game and spent several weeks working through the first 60 lessons. Gradually, the errors I noticed and the misgivings I felt about the game's instruction built up to a point where I had to stop playing. Here are the concerns I have, from most to least serious:
1. Mistranslation of vocabulary:
This is the most serious error, which cropped up over and over again in the first 600 words of the game. In total I found 15 mistranslated words out of 600--and those were just the ones that I noticed! I'm sure that there were many more mistranslations I didn't notice since I was learning many of the words for the first time. This problem, more than any other, is why I stopped using the game: I don't want to be learning the wrong words! This problem is the fundamental reason why I cannot recommend the game. Even ignoring the game's other errors, it is simply not excusable to teach someone the wrong words, period.
2. Mispronunciation of words:
My Spanish Coach pronounces each Spanish word for you. You can also record yourself saying the words to compare what you say to the correct pronunciation. Well, you could do that if the words were pronounced correctly--but not all of them are. I'm not talking about dialects, accents, or syllable emphasis. I'm talking about words that are pronounced incorrectly, where whole syllables are added or dropped.
3. Nouns--gender not specified:
In Spanish, nouns are either masculine or feminine. It's important to know the gender of a noun, because it affects the words that go along with it. Adjectives take different forms depending on the gender of the noun that they modify. One rule of thumb in Spanish is that nouns that end in "o" are (usually) masculine, and nouns that end in "a" are generally feminine. However, there are exceptions to this rule, as well as many, many Spanish nouns that do not end in "o" or "a." For these nouns, students need to memorize the gender. My Spanish Coach does not specify the gender of any of the nouns it teaches. Any Spanish dictionary or textbook would give the gender of nouns--it's an essential thing to know, but My Spanish Coach neglects this crucial information about the nouns it teaches.
4. Verbs--irregularities not specified:
Some Spanish verbs are "regular," meaning that they can be conjugated by following a basic formula. Others are "irregular," which means that you have to memorize the verb conjugations, because they don't follow a formula. Still others are somewhat irregular, called "stem-changing," which change slightly when conjugated, but otherwise follow the formula. So when learning a new verb, it's important to know which kind it is. Again, here is a situation where any Spanish dictionary or textbook would give this information, because you can't conjugate irregular or stem-changing verbs correctly without it. My Spanish Coach doesn't bother to give this crucial information about the verbs it teaches.
5. Inappropriate vocabulary:
In the first 40 lessons of the game, players are taken through lessons that have vocabulary grouped into categories: for example, there's a lesson in which the vocabulary is all about clothing. After the first 40 lessons, the vocabulary words in each lesson have nothing to do with each other. This wouldn't be so bad if the words were at least appropriate for the level of play, but they aren't. In lesson 40, for example, after students have mastered only about 400 Spanish words, the word for "oriole" is introduced. Now, I don't know about you, but I don't think that "oriole" even makes it into the 1000 most important words to know, much less the top 400. What's even more ludicrous is that the word for "bird" hasn't even been covered at that point in the game. A few lessons later, the word for "foothills" is introduced, before students have learned the more basic geography words for "mountain" or "hill."
6. General lack of grammar instruction:
While players of My Spanish Coach can learn all 10,000 words in the game's dictionary, knowing vocabulary is not all there is to learning a language. The game has 1000 lessons, but what it doesn't tell you on the box is that only the first 40 lessons have any grammar instruction. The rest of the lessons are just groups of unrelated vocabulary words to master. Even in the 40 lessons that contain grammar instruction, very little is taught. Some basic phrases are taught, and a few verbs are conjugated in the present tense. No instruction is given on the basic types of verbs (-ar, -er, -ir) and how to conjugate them. Essentially, the present tense of verbs is talked about, but not taught, and no other verb tenses are even mentioned. Adjective/noun agreement is not mentioned. Word order in sentences is not mentioned. If someone made it through all or many of the lessons in My Spanish Coach, s/he might know a lot of Spanish words, but would be unable to string them together into any kind of meaningful conversation or written communication.
Overall, I'm very disappointed in this game. The idea of learning 10,000 Spanish words was appealing, and I'd hoped to later buy the French game from the same company. However, I can't convince myself to proceed with the game after finding out how much of the vocabulary it teaches is simply wrong.