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Using the HP LX and DBLearn as a Learning Tool

Using the HP LX and DBLearn as a Learning Tool

This program asks for words chosen at random from the contents of any HP 100/200LX database, such as a vocabulary or foreign language database.

by Matt Haigh

Volume 6 Number 3 of The HP Palmtop Paper carried an interesting article by Hal Goldstein describing how the HP palmtop can be used to learn any new language or discipline.

Some months earlier, picking up on a thread in the HPHAND forum, I discovered the DBLearn n program on the homepage of the program's author, Gergo Viczian (DBLearn is postcardware). I downloaded version 1.4, registered it, and have been using it ever since to practice German vocabulary in spare moments, between meetings, when traveling, etc.

Like most programs, the best way to review DBLearn is to download it and try it for yourself. Downloading it costs very little, and takes very little time. I'll summarize the use and capabilities of DBLearn in just a few sentences:

DBLearn is a small program (39.5Kb) developed using PAL for the HP100/200LX, but it is quite sophisticated in operation. The program works by posing to the user a random selection of questions based on data in an HP palmtop database (.GDB) file (see Screen 1 and Screen 2). The program also analyses user responses and records success in a knowledge (.KNW) file.

Downloading and installing DBLearn is a breeze! The associated documentation (.DOC) file takes care of any queries that may arise in installing and using DBLearn. The icon provided represents (I believe) an HP LX connected by serial cable to a human brain!

When I downloaded the file it expanded to include a sample Hungarian-French database and a knowledge file. A quick inspection of the database (.GDB) file gave me all the clues I needed to modify the database for English-German vocabulary. I added to the database a few words of translation and began to evaluate whether it was what I needed or not.

The screen background, which consists of two columns of previously answered questions which scroll as newer questions are appended at the bottom right, can be confusing initially. But this concern disappears as one gets used to the way DBLearn works.

A comprehensive range of functions and options can be selected from a central menu (see Screen 3), unlike the usual System Manager compliant programs. As I have DBLearn configured to learn German, my menu options are:

  • German-English: Offers the user a German word and asks for the English equivalent.
  • English-German: Offers the user an English word and asks for the German equivalent
  • Articles of Nouns: Offers the user a German noun and asks for the German definite article.
  • Mixed: A mixture of the above.
  • Selection Settings: Allows user to select any subset of the database, and to adjust the 'random' selection of words, biasing it toward 'new' words as required.
  • Field Settings: Allows selection of preferences for individual data fields including setting which is the 'foreign' language.
  • Progress: An impressive graphic display of one's success in answering the questions posed by the program.
  • About: The usual.
  • Exit Program: The obvious.
My German-English database (GERMAN.GDB n ), which contains 1340 database entries (translations), is 74.2Kb in size, and takes approx. 8 seconds to scan as DBLearn loads. The associated knowledge file (GERMAN.KNW n) is 15.5Kb in size.

The fact that I actually use the program is impressive, since I normally delete most of the software I download because I just don't use it. I find DBLearn really useful.

I have the following observations and criticisms of DBLearn:

  • Version 1.4 isn't sensitive to the capitalization of German nouns, which is important in written German
  • A word can sometimes have multiple meanings. Although one's response to a question about a meaning may be correct, the program may think it's incorrect because the answer was evaluated against an alternative meaning.
Other people are using it to learn French, English, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Italian and German, and the author suggests that you could use it to learn anything from languages to dates in history.

If you think DBLearn could be of use to you, why not give it a try?

DBLearn is asking what the English equivalent of a German word is.

In this dialog box the program supplies the correct answer.

The central menu of DBLearn.

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