CM July 5, 
1996. Vol. II, Number 38

image English Express:
     Everything you need to improve your English.

Writers/Editors: Judy Derksen, Susan Main, Esther Wang.
Art by Tongjun Zhao.
Richmond, B.C.: ACT Laboratory, 1995. Windows CD-ROM & Manual, $199.00

Subject Headings:
English language-Composition and exercises-Study and teaching (Secondary).
English language-Composition and exercises-Computer-assisted instruction.

Grades 7 - 11 / Ages 12 - 16.
Review by Thomas F. Chambers.


screenshotYOU CAN USE ENGLISH EXPRESS as an "Explorer" or "Student." If you log on as a student, your progress is monitored and your work is saved. No record is kept for explorers.

     English Express uses information about Canada to encourage writing and improvement of language skills. The information comes from five categories: Canadian History; Culture; Social Sciences; Great Canadians; and Science and Nature. Each category has sub-headings. For example, Early Canada is a sub-heading of Canadian History. From Early Canada users may choose from a further menu which includes "Canada's First Peoples" and "Early Explorers."

screenshot      Each topic has three levels of difficulty and three levels of tests and assignments. Illustrations from archives and other historical sources accompany the brief text, and each statement is read aloud.

     The choice of topics is highly subjective. Under Heroes and Heroines, for example (a sub-heading of the Great Canadians category), users can select from Sir Frederick Banting, Norman Bethune, Roberta Bondar, Terry Fox, and Tecumseh. Of course, there are many other worthies from Canada's past who might have been included, such as Pierre Radisson.

     Similar comments could be made about the Human Body sub-heading in the Science and Nature category. Topics included are The Circulatory System and Heart; The Respiratory System and Smoking; Eating Disorders; and The Discovery of the Cystic Fibrosis Gene. While these are all important, sections on cancer or AIDS would have been at least as important.

screenshot      Similarly, in Canada After 1945 (in History), the four sub-headings are Lester Pearson, The October Crisis, Pierre Trudeau, and the Oka Crisis. Since these topics are treated equally, in students' eyes they will have equal importance; in reality some are much more important than others. It's also strange that no mention is made of Brian Mulroney and his attempts to change the constitution or his government's passing the Free Trade Agreement. Oka will be a footnote in Canadian History; the Free Trade Agreement has fundamentally altered the way Canadian businesses do business.

     There are several errors of fact, some trivial, others more serious. They are all annoying and should have been prevented, as they seriously weaken the program's value as a teaching aid. For example, Farley Mowat is primarily a writer of non-fiction, not a novelist. Tecumseh is credited with uniting the natives of North America, a feat he failed to accomplish. And Lord Durham is said to have recommended the union of Upper and Lower Canada and the establishment of responsible government, which is true -- but he also recommended the cultural assimilation of French Canadians because he thought they had no culture or history of their own. While Durham's ideas may be politically incorrect in the 1990s, not mentioning it in a summary of his report is misleading.

screenshot      Or again, we are told that "junk food is food that has no nutrients." This is not true. It contains carbohydrates and fat, both of which the body needs. What the authors should have said is that junk food is less nutritious than fresh fruit, vegetables, whole-grain cereals, and so on, and that a diet of only junk food can be very unhealthy.

     But the questions and writing assignments at all three levels are challenging and fun. They require a lot of thought and encourage creativity. Any student who takes the time to use the program as it is intended will acquire a greater grasp of English grammar and spelling and become a better writer.


Recommended with serious reservations. Any teaching aid that contains errors must be used with caution. There is a risk that fiction will become fact in the minds of the users unless the mistakes are pointed out in advance. Will all teachers spot the errors? Will they take the time to point them out?

Thomas F. Chambers is Professor at Canadore College of Applied Arts and Technology, North Bay Ontario.

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Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364