Typing Pal Junior

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail
Published by: DeMarque, go to the web site
Requires: Pentium 200MHz or higher, Windows 95/98, Me, NT4, 2000, XP; 32MB RAM, sound card, CD-ROM drive
MSRP: $19.95

The best (or at least the most useful) course I took in high school was Grade 10 typing. Really. I mean learning to touch-type helped me get into computing, writing, research and a half-dozen other major interests. The thing is - and I am NOT open to debate here - if you can't touch-type effectively, you can't communicate effectively in personal correspondence, business documents, e-mail and so on. As a matter of fact, even a plain old 40 word per minute touch typist is capable of ordering and communicating thoughts and ideas faster and more effectively than a hunt-n-peck typist. In any event, learning how to touch-type can be taught easily to most Grade two students (kids 7 years of age and up). Typing Pal Junior is a touch typing training program designed for 7-14 year olds.

In order to properly test Typing Pal Junior (I'm way past the target age range!), I dragooned my 9 year old niece into a bit of an experiment. My niece is an active young girl, busy with friends, ballet, gymnastics and school (Grade 4). She's also wrapped up in her computer, MSN Messenger and ICQ. She can't type worth beans however. Since Typing Pal Junior professes to be a pleasant and amusing way for kids to learn keyboard typing, I wanted to find out if the typing games and challenges built into the software are truly appealing to a typical elementary school student. I also wanted to find out if Typing Pal is a true typing teacher, as opposed to a typing game.

Beyond any other considerations, everything in Typing Pal Junior seems designed to be constructive and typing oriented. The main part of the software is structured around lessons for each keyboard character. There are a large number of key practice combinations, a full set of practice sessions for the numeric keypad (very important!) and even a Spy which can be set to track typing accuracy and progress in other word processors and text editors. The two games - Space Cleaners, an Asteroids clone which requires that you correctly type specific words in order to blow up target asteroids; Cosmik Ball, a Breakout clone which requires correct keying in order to bounce a ball to keep it in play - are strictly oriented toward teaching and improving typing skills. Cosmik Ball can be surprisingly difficult. The serious typing practice, transcription and dictation sessions are well organized and progressively sequenced.

Using Typing Pal Junior alongside my niece revealed a few, um, flaws in my own touch typing technique. Needless to say, I'm working on correcting the bad habits. My niece was delighted to see me make mistakes and laughed uproariously every time the error gong sounded from the speakers.

Cons: The statistics module provides a running progress report which is useful to young kids only after a careful explanation. The Space Cleaners game conked out - it stopped responding to typed words during the game session. There are a couple of typos in the otherwise thorough online help system.

Pros: The statistics module is a good progress meter for parents who are not able to directly supervise the Typing Pal sessions. Good sound effects which are also configurable (you can use your own WAV files). My niece and a couple of her friends spent much more time trying to beat each other's letter practice speed than they did diverting attention to the typing games. After two weeks of 30-45 minutes of daily practice, my niece was up to 25 words per minute, speeding up every day and maintaining a low error rate. Her mother is delighted and so am I. Typing Pal Junior is highly recommended.

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