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Software Review: FlashCards by Ectaco, Language Learning For The Mobile Generation Print E-mail
Written by Richard Bloor   
Wednesday, 15 December 2004
In today's global village an understanding of several languages is invaluable to the international traveler. Finding the time to learn a new language can however be a problem. Now with Ectaco's FlashCards for Series 60 it can be anytime. We see what this application has to offer.

Flash cards may not be something many of us have recent experience of, at least since our elementary school days. However that certainly is not to detract from their usefulness as a tool to learn words. Ectaco's FlashCards for Series 60 brings the concept up to date blending together this old technique with new technology to create a solution for today's mobile lifestyle.

FlashCards provides four options, the basic Flash Cards, Pockets, Translation Test and Spell It Right accessible from a simple features list.

Before you can start using any of the features a vocabulary database or dictionary has to be selected. This is done from the main menu using the Dictionaries option. Our review application is supplied with English to Finnish dictionaries and includes three general databases and one each for business, law, medicine and computer related words.

Once a database has been selected you have the option to review words in either direction - Finnish to English or English to Finnish. If you should forget to select a vocabulary database before starting for the first time, with any of the features, FlashCards will prompt for one.

The next step for all the features is to select a Block from the dictionary, in the Finnish-English each dictionary contains between 13 and 30 Blocks with each Block containing 50 words. The Blocks are numbered so there is no obvious way of telling what words they contain, but as we shall see FlashCard records statistics about your progress in each Block which helps locate the one you want to work with.

Having selected a Block of words you can now put one of FlashCards four tools to work.

The basic Flash Cards is a screen which initially shows the source word in the upper half of the screen with its type (noun, adjective, verb etc.) below with is a space in which the corresponding translation will be displayed. There are then three options to show the translation (from the left softkey), skip the word (from the right softkey) or accept the card and move to the next one (from the jogpad select).

Each word skipped is held in the card deck and presented again later. The order the word are displayed in is dependant on whether the random option is selected or not. Until a word is accepted it continues to be displayed. To finish you use the left navigation to move back to the Block select view.

This is perhaps one of the disappointing features of FlashCards, it has not implemented the standard Series 60 tabs to show the active application page. This means that on any of the feature pages there is no indication of how you get back to the Block list. Given that the Flash Cards include a significant amount of empty space it certainly does not seem that a space limitation is the reason for excluding the tabs.

Once you have completed a session and return to the Blocks list you can see the number of words you skipped, waiting to be reviewed in a future session.

Obviously there comes a time when you want to return and check that the words you thought you had learnt you still know, to do this use the reset dictionaries option from the main menu.

The next feature is Pockets which is a variation on the basic know/don't know word selection available in Flash Cards. In Pockets each word that has been remembered gets moved up into a higher pocket with the unknown or forgotten words remaining in the active pocket. Unlike the Flash Cards Pockets allow you to review both those words you have remembered and don't know before a Block gets flagged as complete.

Option three the Translation Test provides a multiple choice test of your new vocabulary, each word is presented with four alternative translations from which you have to select the correct one. The answers are navigated with the jogdial and "guesses" made with the select key, errors are shown as three dashes and the correct answers flashed up in an information dialog.

Once the correct answer has been selected you are automatically taken to the next test word. As with the Flash Cards you have the option to skip a test and FlashCards keeps a count of the word you have skipped, redisplaying them according to the chosen "random" setting.

Finally there is Spell It Right which works in much the same way as Flash Cards or Translation Test, except this time you try to spell out the word. If you make any errors you are given a warning which displays the number of errors. You continue until you get the spelling right or take the usual skip option. Again FlashCards keeps a count of the words you have left to spell correctly.

Getting the spelling right can be tricky when trying to find unfamiliar letters, such as those with accents or umlauts, from the keyboard.

There is one big problem with this screen, as the left and right jogpad keys are used to navigate the text string being entering it does not seem possible to exit this screen without correctly spelling all the words in the Block. Even selecting show, which hides the text entry field, does not activate the left key to return to the Block list. There is a solution however, the # keys can be used to exit from this screen.

Overall FlashCards provides an effective tool for learning a new language, but you need to have gained a basic understanding of the grammar and pronunciation in your chosen language as FlashCards is currently no help with these aspects of language learning. (We could not help wonder how much more useful FlashCards could be with audio support to play the word and perhaps, as voice recognition technology improves, even check your pronunciation). FlashCards is let down by a poor implementation of the standard Series 60 UI, specifically not including view tabs and the fact that the Spell It Right feature has no obvious way to exit mechanism. At $14.95 US better Series 60 support should be expected (however the developer has informed us that many of these issues will be resolved in the next version). Having said that FlashCards is relatively easy to learn and effective at its tasks, it should certainly should be a useful tool for anyone wanting to expand their foreign vocabulary.

Ectaco's FlashCards is available from LingvoSoft at www.lingvosoft.com. The trial version appears to be unlimited but does interrupt every fifth card with a please register message. FlashCards is available in many language versions covering 18 European languages and Indonesian.

FlashCards was also successfully tested on a Nokia 6600.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 15 December 2004 )


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