An Interactive Model for Learning a Foreign Language: Japanese katakana - Page 2 of 2 | First Page


1. Introduction | 2. Background | 3. Language Learning | 4. Interface Design Issues
5. Representational and Design Features | 6. Implementation | 7. Conclusions
8. References

5. Representational and Design Features

The prototype begins with a looping splash screen featuring the title and a sequence of images representing Japan. Traditional Japanese Enka music plays while katakana characters are randomly displayed to give the user a foretaste of the application’s subject matter.

The splash screen offers two standard Windows style pull-down menus both for navigating to the lessons and tests and to invoke an information box giving further details of the content. The user is able to select any lesson, sub-lesson or test from the Lessons menu.

Lesson 1 consists of five sub-lessons (1.1-1.5) and three tests. Each sub-lesson consists of a presentation of katakana characters.

In the first sub-lesson characters are animated onto the screen. It is intended that the movement will make the characters more memorable. (Characters are presented statically in the remaining lessons due to development time constraints).

A title is displayed showing the current lesson.

Apart from a home button the user is offered no interactivity during the presentation of characters. This is intended to promote concentration on the material being presented and is not thought likely to cause confusion or frustration due to the relatively short duration of each presentation.

At the end of each presentation the user is given a quick review of the material covered and is then given the opportunity to explore interactively. When the end of lesson 1.1 is reached for the first time in any given execution a help movie is shown demonstrating how each symbol may be clicked to hear its sound. This movie is available at the end of every section by clicking the help button.

The navigation buttons used take two forms. For buttons for which there is a katakana equivalent (i.e. lesson, test) the button shows both the English and katakana word forms. It is intended that this will reinforce the learning process as the user will connect the two forms. For buttons for which no such equivalent exists, universally recognisable symbols have been used, e.g a question mark for help, a picture of a house for home and a backward curving arrow for repeat. To resolve any confusion, tool tips have been provided on the symbolic buttons; after the mouse has been over a button for a second a box pops up describing the button’s purpose in English.

Navigation buttons are designed to provide feedback on rollover and click. This feature informs the user that the object is a button with functionality attached. A button is activated on release of the mouse. This gives the user the opportunity to change their mind after clicking. The visual changes are disabled during presentations due to demands on the cpu.

At the bottom of lesson one review screens a set of buttons leading to each sub-lesson is displayed. The current lesson’s button is shown in “greyed-out” form to allow the user to determine their position within the application.

Whilst it is unrealistic to expect a beginner in Japanese to suspend all thought in their L1 (native language) I have tried wherever possible to ensure that using this application does not require the user to use their L1. Although intended primarily for native English speakers this approach means that this application could be used effectively by speakers of any language.

Lesson one contains tests after sub-lessons 1.1, 1.3 and 1.5. The aim of each test is to review the material presented so far. Test 1.1 reviews the first ten katakana, 1.3 reviews the first thirty and 1.5 all forty-five, although only thirty (randomly selected) symbols are presented during the test. Two styles of test are offered at the end of sub-lesson 1.5.

The first three tests are all of the same format. Four katakana are displayed on the screen and a sound is played. The user has to select the katakana symbol which represents the sound. User feedback is given by one of two anime faces briefly displayed after each response, a smiling one represents a correct answer whilst an angry one means the answer was wrong. In addition a wrong answer is greeted with a shout of “chigau” (meaning “it’s wrong” in Japanese). In addition to feedback being a very important part of the learning process the use of the word “chigau” teaches its meaning directly. Ongoing feedback throughout the game is provided by the image of Buddha rising up Mount Fuji. The Buddha rises one step for each correct answer, eventually sitting on top of the mountain for a 100% correct response to the test.

On completion of each test a results screen is displayed showing the percentage of correct answers together with the time taken. The time factor means that the user can measure his/her progress and continue to benefit from the application even after all the katakana have been mastered by trying to reduce the time taken to complete the tests.

On completion of the third test a movie is opened reviewing the katakana which the user wrongly identified. The movie continues to loop until the user uses a navigation button to move elsewhere.

The final test in lesson one (i.e. the second of the tests after sub-lesson 1.5) is of a different format. A single katakana is presented surrounded by four Japanese male faces (the voice of the symbols is male). The four faces are highlighted in turn and a sound is played. The user has to select which face “read” the symbol displayed. The symbol’s sound is repeated upon rollover. The same anime face and audio feedback used in the first three tests is provided together with the Buddha ascending Mount Fuji. However, in this test the user has ten seconds to find the correct answer, otherwise a time-out sound is played and the application moves on to the next question or result screen as appropriate. A timer is displayed showing the user the time remaining.

Only the basic katakana are presented in lesson one. Various modifiers exist which change the pronunciation of symbols, e.g. the sound lengthening symbol and the small “tsu” symbol in words containing consecutive vowels. These are not presented explicitly but examples are given in lesson two and it is hoped the user will gain some understanding from this form of ostensive definition. Obviously a full implementation would consist of many more than the twelve words covered by Leson two. It is expected that most, if not all, of the word sounds will be recognisable to a native English speaker, although katakana pronunciation can vary significantly from its English equivalent (a fact that often causes problems for Japanese learners of English).

The words are split into two groups of six.

In the first group each word is displayed on the screen and read three times. The first time it is read no picture is displayed. After the first reading one or more pictures illustrating hat the word (i.e. group of symbols) represents is/are displayed. Where possible these images have been taken from Japanese culture, e.g. authentic Japanese beer ads & taxis are used along with a picture of a capsule hotel. The pictures are animated onto and off the screen to improve memorability.

After the first six words have been presented a review screen is displayed. The words are highlighted in turn and read once more together with a single picture for each. The user is then able to click on words to hear the sound and view the picture at will. The same screen offers the user the option of repeating the presentation, going home (i.e. the splash screen) or moving to the second group of six.

Due to time constraints the second group of six words id presented more simply, i.e. on a review screen. Each word is highlighted in turn and its sound played three times whilst its picture is displayed. The user is then able to review the words at will. Navigation options exist for home, go back to start of lesson, review group of six or take the test.

In the test four katakana words are shown and either a sound played or a picture displayed. The user must select the word corresponding to the sound or picture within ten seconds. The same anime faces and audio feedback for wrong answers or time-out from lesson one are used here. A timer is displayed showing the user the time remaining. At the end of the test a results screen is displayed and Japanese guitar (samisen) music played.

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6. Implementation

The prototype was constructed with Macromedia Director 8 on an NEC Direction PC with AMD Duron 700MHz CPU and 128Mb RAM. Images were prepared in Adobe Photoshop 5.5 and ImageReady 2.0. Sounds were edited in Sonic Foundry Sound Forge 4.5.

The prototype is designed to be run on a PC/Windows platform. Given the amount of multimedia elements included a user machine with specification equal to, or better than, that used for development is recommended.

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7. Conclusions

The prototype created is a first attempt, offering a sampler of various computer-based language techniques. It is intended to stimulate discussion between client and developer concerning further development.

The prototype was produced on a zero budget. It was not therefore possible to specifically obtain or commission the production of any assets (e.g. sounds, graphics, video). The assets used have been drawn from a variety of sources and necessarily represent a compromise in terms of appropriateness and quality. E.g. in place of the Buddha rising up Mount Fuji as an indicator of success in the lesson 1 games I would have preferred to use anime style drawn images of a climber climbing the mountain (it is an ambition among many Japanese to climb Mount Fuji).

It is envisaged that this prototype would form part of a larger “Japanese for Beginners” package which would include simple dialogues as well as cultural information. After studying basic dialogues and katakana it would be possible to combine the two. E.g. a simple dialogue is played in which one of the previously presented katakana words is used. The user must identify the word in the dialogue. Each dialogue would be graphically illustrated to demonstrate its meaning.

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8. References

Calleen Coorough; Getting Started with Multimedia; The Dryden Press; 1998
The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design; ed. Brenda Laurel; Addison-Wesley, New York 1990

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All information correct and links valid at time of writing, January 2001

© ( 2005