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New language lab offers computers

By Kai Tao

The MIT Language Laboratory has been relocated, renamed, expanded and upgraded. The Foreign Languages and Literatures section of the Department of Humanities moved the lab two weeks ago, from its former location in the basement of Building 14 to a wing in Building 20-C recently renovated for this purpose.

The wing now houses an audio lab, video lab, two classrooms, offices, and a student lounge. To reflect the upgrade in equipment and facilities, the lab, which until recently consisted simply of audio machines, has been renamed the Language and Research Center.

The lab had already begun expanding by purchasing video and computer equipment, but in the process, it quickly outgrew its existing facilities. The recent move and expansion was made possible with the help of MIT and a Hayden grant.

"The opening of the new Language Center serves as the culmination of the many years of concerted effort put in by Project Athena, the MIT faculty, and the students to promote the learning of foreign languages," Ruth Trolymere, the center's director, said.

"We here at the Language Center are dedicated towards that effort, and hope that the students will take advantage of the resources available," she added. Use of the lab is not restricted

to students in foreign language classes.

Interactive computer programs

offer new ways to learn


One aspect of the new center which may be most appealing to students, according to Matthew D. Mattingly, technical assistant in the Foreign Languages and Literatures section, is the video lab -- which recently began to offer interactive video programs as another means of teaching foreign languages.

The video lab now consists

of three Macintosh II computers which are connected to Pioneer laser disk players. Students can use the computer to respond to stories on laser disk.

By answering questions and reading maps, a student determines the outcome of a story -- whether it has a happy or sad ending. Presently, this interactive environment has only been developed in French and Spanish, but similar programs are being developed in German and Japanese.

The French program, "Philippe," features a character of the same name. Students use everyday French phrases to complete the game, whose object is to help Philippe win back his girlfriend and find a new place to live.

Philippe's Spanish counterpart is known as "No Recuerdo" ("no memory"). It tells the story of

a scientist who has forgotten

his identity. Remembering only a piece of his past life, the scientist must find out who he is, since he is the only one who knows a secret formula.

Once again, the outcome of the story is determined by the student's knowledge of the language and his choices. The stories were written by MIT French Lecturer Gilberte M. Furstenberg and Spanish Lecturer Douglas Morgenstern, and the software was developed by Project Athena.

In addition to the Macintosh computers, the Language Center has a VAX workstation which runs software for students studying English as a second language. The purpose of the station is to help ESL students differentiate similar-sounding English words. When a word is displayed on the screen, the student repeats it into a microphone, and then the computer responds to the accuracy of the pronunciation.

The Language Center will also be installing a satellite dish to pick up foreign programs and broadcast them in the classrooms and student lounge. In addition, the foreign music collection will be expanded.

Though the Language Center has already opened, the official grand opening will be held in January, after the center receives 10 IBM PS/2 Model 70s, which will serve as the center's Athena cluster. The PS/2s will also be connected to more laser disk players to facilitate use of the interactive environment.