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For Kids : Not Just a Play on Words : The engaging, interactive approach of CD-ROM Spanish language programs is entertaining as well as motivating. Pronunciation gets corrected too.

March 31, 1995|JOYCE SUNILA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Joyce Sunila is a frequent contributor to The Times

Computers have taken language learning to new heights of ease and convenience. CD-ROM programs in particular, with their high-resolution graphics, re cordable sound and enormous retrieval capacity, give the computer an almost human teaching flexibility.

Students can hear words pronounced as they see them, call up precise definitions or click to conjugate a verb in a sample sentence. Such rich learning environments are paradise to the motivated student.

And even the not-so-motivated are served a feast of bells and whistles: Narrative invention and wit have been lavished on the best products in this competitive market.

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* By far the most enjoyable Spanish tutor is "Triple Play" (Syracuse Language Systems, $49.95, 315-478-6729). Based on the theory that people learn best when they're having fun, it replaces boring drill-and-practice with a series of interactive games at three levels of difficulty, each building on the previous one.

One of the games on Level 1 (the vocabulary building level) is the direction-finding game. You hear someone asking for street directions in polite Spanish. Then you interpret the answers, using a cartoon car to navigate around an on-screen map. As you struggle to get your car to the goal, you find yourself cementing the distinction between derecha (to the right) and derecho (straight ahead) quickly and permanently into your gray matter. There's nothing like (simulated) stress to pop your brain into fifth gear.

Level 2 introduces simple sentences, ascending gradually to the intermediate skill level. Level 3 tests your understanding in a comic-book setting. Various droll characters and situations are presented, and you are challenged to contribute appropriate responses in the balloons above their heads.

Your brain rises to the challenge in a cheerful mood, intrigued and amused by the ongoing silliness.

A deluxe version called "Triple Play Plus" ($99.95) has an added feature: automatic speech recognition. With it you can record your pronunciation and have it corrected by the computer.

Until brain implants are available, this has got to be the language learning method of choice.

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* "Berlitz Live! Spanish" (Sierra, $135, 800-757-7707) isn't chopped liver either. Lip-syncing technology gives its 14 on-screen tutors a lifelike realism as they escort you through lessons on practical activities--ordering in restaurants, changing money and so on.

This traditional textbook-like program is excellent for business people who travel in Spanish-speaking countries. The screens are stunning, the lessons logical and well thought out. Information about entry requirements, climate, transportation, tourist attractions and communication for 20 Spanish-speaking countries is interspersed among the lessons.

Here too you can record your voice and check your pronunciation against the correct version.

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* "Learn to Speak Spanish" (Hyperglot Software, $149, 800-726-5087) also takes the practical tourist approach. We follow Tomas, a businessman, as he visits a Latin American city and tries to get around. The lessons cover changing money, hiring taxis, asking for directions, making business appointments. Actors in video clips illustrate Tomas' adventures.

You have many options as you proceed through these stories: You can click on words you don't recognize to hear them repeated, get a full definition (including a mnemonically effective line drawing) and so on. Cultural asides can be called up in the "Cultural Notes" box for added depth and interest.

Each chapter concludes with an interactive game to test what you've learned. These are less varied and imaginative than the games in "Triple Play." "Learn to Speak Spanish" takes students to the intermediate level with a focus on practical, everyday uses.

All these products are excellent and well worth their price. The equivalent in group classes (about two years' worth) would cost much more.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Spanish-Language Tutors on Disk

TITLE MANUFACTURER PRICE* Triple Play Syracuse Language Systems $49.95 (315) 478-6729 Triple Play Plus Syracuse $99.95 (315) 478-6729 Berlitz Live! Sierra $135 Spanish (800) 757-7707 Learn to Hyperglot Software $149 Speak Spanish (800) 726-5087

TITLE MINIMUM HARDWARE Triple Play 386SX, 4MB of RAM 256-color VGA DOS 3.1, Windows 3.1 mouse Triple Play Plus 386SX, 4MB of RAM 256-color VGA DOS 3.1, Windows 3.1 Speakers or headphones; mouse Berlitz Live! 386SX, Windows 3.1, Spanish 4MB RAM, SVGA 640x480, 256 colors Win compatible sound card Learn to 386DX-33, VGA, 4MB of Speak Spanish RAM CD-ROM, Windows 3.1 Sound card, microphone, 256 colors

* Prices are manufacturer suggested retail prices. Actual prices will vary from store to store.

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