A few years back, if a video game even hinted at being educational, it was the kiss of death. Not anymore.
In 2006 brain-training games became all the rage. "Brain Age" and "Big Brain Academy" were designed for the DS, Nintendo's hand-held gaming system. Now comes vocabulary training with "My Word Coach," a new video game that claims to increase your vocabulary with just 20 to 30 minutes a day of play.
"My Word Coach" offers six vocabulary training games, tracking your improvement as you play. Along the way, you're exposed to more than 16,000 words and definitions from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, found in the game as a searchable dictionary. The game was inspired by the ongoing research of Thomas Cobb, a professor of applied linguistics at the University of Quebec.
To start, you enter a training program called an "Institute," and select from one of four word coaches to guide you. A simple test determines your "Expression Potential," which also also takes into account your age.
If you are a child, your words will be easier than if you are an adult. As you progress, new words are added. The better you do, the harder the words become.
Four of the games focus on words and their definitions.
In "Split Decision," the upper screen displays a word. You touch arrows displaying "left" and "right" to toggle between two definitions and select the correct one.
With "Word Shuffle," you toggle between four definitions. "Pasta Letters" shows you a definition on the top screen, and you must unscramble alphabet noodles in a bowl of soup. In "Safecracker," a definition appears, and you spell the word using a dial to rotate to letters.
And you are not alone. The game is available to play with a friend, or a computer-generated opponent will compete with you.
"My Word Coach" also has two spelling games. One shows you a word with one letter missing. You provide the missing letter by writing it on the bottom screen. In the other, a list of words appears on one screen while alphabet blocks fall slowly into the other. The object is to touch the blocks in order to spell the words on your list before the screen fills completely with blocks.
While drilling words is an activity that requires concentration, "My Word Coach" tries to moderate this intensity by periodically introducing two recreational games that aren't tracked. Plus, after 20 to 30 minutes of training, the game suggests you quit for the day.
People who are interested in words will find these training games intriguing. Some adults may resent the emphasis on speed, because for them it is all about learning the new words. But for kids, the speed angle may actually help to sustain their interest. High schoolers who are preparing to take the verbal and writing portion of the SAT might want to add this video game to their backpack — it's more fun than simply memorizing word lists.
A companion title is also available on the Wii.
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Best for ages 10-up
From Ubisoft, http://mywordcoach.us.ubi.com , $29.99, Nintendo DS
Jinny Gudmundsen is the kid-tech columnist for the Gannett News Service and USA Today.com, and is also the editor of Computing With Kids Ezine.