Speaking under gum trees with palmtops

  • Larry Nelson Curtin University of Technology

Abstract

Late in 1989 an article in Australian Personal Computer magazine detailed the imminent release of an all solid-state laptop computer which would run for hours on ordinary pen-light cells (AA batteries).

The computer, a PSION MC-400, was to support digital audio, and, to this end, came with a microphone and speaker built in. The digital audio unit itself was to be made available at a later date, and would be designed to install in the MC-400 much as today's PCMCIA cards slip into current notepad computers. It was claimed that the unit would allow up to eight minutes of audio to be compressed and stored in 64 kilobytes of memory.

I bought an MC-400 as part of a research project looking into the use of computers in vocabulary building, and accepted delivery of the unit, learning how to program its structured BASIC language, "OPL", whilst waiting for its audio digitising plug-in to arrive.

It never did. I consequently abandoned the MC-400 in favour of an Amiga, and then, when Microsoft released Windows 3.0, got support from the DEET ILOTES [1] Project to develop my vocabulary-building and pronunciation-practice exercises on a stock 386-level machine with a sound card (see Nelson, 1993).

Using Visual Basic, I was able to produce prototype lessons in three languages, with each lesson fitting onto a single 1.44MB floppy diskette. The lessons featured a set of fixed vocabulary items, ranging from lessons with 40 single words, to lessons with 20 simple phrases. Audio files in Window's WAV format came on each diskette; these featured the voices of female and male native speakers. Lesson users were challenged to learn the vocabulary items via one of three game modes, and could compare their own pronunciation with that of the native speakers, if they so wanted, by using record and playback buttons built into the software.

The "DEET Talk" ten Indonesian prototype lessons have proved to be popular with a variety of Western Australian users, including a few large senior high schools. DEET have given permission for the lessons to be freely copied, and some high school students have taken copies home.

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Published
1998-06-01
How to Cite
Nelson, L. (1998). Speaking under gum trees with palmtops. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.1897