It's always good to learn something and be entertained at the same time, n'est-ce pas?
While playing Ubisoft's other recent edutainment game for Nintendo DS, My Word Coach, I found it to be an effective learning tool but too laborious to be much fun. In contrast, My French Coach is both entertaining and brisk, and as a teaching tool, it is more cohesive and manageable than the vocabulary builder.
The singular purpose of My French Coach is to teach you more about the French language, one lesson at a time. The game starts with a quick placement test, presented in multiple choice format. Based on your prior knowledge of French, if any, the game will skip forward to the most appropriate lesson. You can always go back to earlier lessons if you think the placement test overrated your skills, but it was perfectly accurate in assessing my skills, which are perhaps best described as "latent". I studied and enjoyed French in high school, nearly ten years ago, and my proficiency in it was almost completely wiped out after so many years of disuse. My French Coach dropped me into lessons full of words that I had seen once upon a time but could not remember the definition anymore.
If you don't know a lick of French when you begin, that's okay too. The game is broken into short lessons that cover ten to fifteen words each, and the progression is very much like you would get in a real French class. The first three lessons are about numbers, colors, and days of the week, which are the typical starting points for a new French student. The virtual teacher explains concepts and gives advice in English, so you'll be able to get started even without knowing a single French word. This is definitely not an intensive immersion curriculum. However, there are many dozens of lessons included, enough to last weeks of steady training, so the game has something to offer intermediate and advanced students, too.
My French Coach does a couple of things that make it really useful and very easy to play. First, the lessons are perfectly sized morsels of information. The virtual teacher is easygoing but doesn't pander to you, and you can always review the lessons for extra reinforcement. Second, the lessons take a multimedia approach to learning. You'll learn vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and pronunciation all at the same time; the latter is achieved by thousands of voice samples, so you can hear every single word spoken aloud in proper French manner. Because French spelling and pronunciation often seem incongruous to native English speakers, the ability to see and hear a word simultaneously is fantastic. You can even use the DS microphone to record your own attempts at pronunciation and immediately play the recording to compare with the built-in voice sample.
New words are always reinforced through mini-games. These activities aren't the greatest mini-games around, but they are quick to play and surprisingly effective in helping you to remember each lesson's new vocabulary. Some mini-games focus on definitions, others on spelling, and still others on audible recognition. Eventually, you'll unlock additional mini-games for building sentences and other skills. Playing the mini-games helps you to master the new words and phrases, which is required to move on to the next lesson. Fortunately, it does not take long to master a word, and you can attempt to earn mastery points faster by playing mini-games at higher difficulty levels. Unlike My Word Coach, this game's more advanced lessons don't shove greater quantities of words down your throat or make you play the same mini-game a dozen times to keep progressing. In fact, the lessons aren't even tied to the DS calendar, so you can sweep through a lot of material each day in order to prepare for an upcoming trip. No calendar hacking is required.
Not only is My French Coach a great tool for people who want to start (or resume) learning French, but it's also a very handy travel dictionary. The game's reference section gives you full access to the extensive built-in word list and phrase book, including audio samples for every single word and full conjugations for every verb. You can even bookmark your favorite phrases or search the list by typing a word in either English or French. The Nintendo DS system with the game plugged in is smaller than most travel dictionaries, and this one lets you hear every word's pronunciation. In other words, this would be a very useful product even without the structured lessons. Getting it all in one package is an absurd value.
My French Coach may not be the hottest game to ever sit in your DS, but it is an unusually polished product that achieves the edutainment holy grail – it makes learning easy and fun. Whether you've always wanted to learn French, or want to refresh all the material you had forgotten, or just need an inexpensive crash course and reference guide for the flight to Paris, this product is very highly recommended.