It is a brave man and software manufacturer who attempt to package twelve original 'made for ELT' songs with accompanying exercises on a CD-ROM. Three elements need to be addressed here: the songs themselves, the usefulness of the accompanying materials, and the user-friendliness of the whole package.
On of the great advantages of using a current popular song in the classroom is that the students already know it, probably like it, and often find it totally incomprehensible. Not only do they want to know what the song is about, but they are also willing to wade through the mire of slang, street language, slurred speech and grammatical nonsense in order to understand and indeed memorise it. It is the song that matters.
In the 12 songs on Back Home, it is the language that matters. The songs themselves are catchy rather than memorable and get as near to real pop as semi-authentic material can. The language explores the theme of each song, there being enough roughly-tuned input to stretch andextend the vocabulary of lower intermediate learners, but it is not the language of pop or rock. The themes, ranging from aspects of relationships to being poor and feeling homesick are generally appropriate to the young adult or late-teen learner, but one senses that the songs themselves would be appreciated more by younger students.
The accompanying comprehension, vocabulary and grammar practice activities have beeb created with Wida Software's 'Authoring Suite' for Windows and consists of fairly standard CALL material adapted from familiar software such as 'Storyboard', 'Gapmaster' and 'Matchmaster'. There is certainly room for innovation here, since the practice exercises tend to reduce the value of the song to that of any semi-authentic reading or listening passage.
Installation and running are fairly straightforward. There is no need for great technical expertise here. The copy reviewed was poor in terms of sound quality and the packaging not particularly attractive. Aside from the practice exercises, however, there are 'help' pages which offer useful grammar notes, and, in most cases, the full text of the songs, offering the teacher the opportunity to make his or her own use of the texts.
In conclusion, much here depends on the age-old debate on the use of authentic or semi-authentic/scripted material, and the more recent debate over the practicalities of CALL in the classroom. Given that music and song are best integrated into a lesson, perhaps we should be thinking about what the teacher might do before and after each of these songs as well as with the song itself. At £150 for a 25-user option, there may be a lot more food to be bought in Tom's Diner.
160 April/May 2001