Friday, October 2, 2015

Spanish Immersion at Bedtime...{A Middlebury Interactive Languages Review}

One thing I enjoy about reviewing products is that doing so encourages the children and me to make time for studies that we might otherwise push aside in the busyness of life.  Such has been the case since we decided to review six-months of full access to Elementary Spanish 1: Grades 3-5 by Middlebury Interactive Languages.  

What is Middlebury Interactive Languages?

Middlebury Interactive Languages is a leader in digital online world language study for students in grades K-12Each of their courses in Spanish, French, Chinese and German can be taken as self-paced, independent study or with the guidance of a certified teacher.  All courses give students age-appropriate opportunities to immerse themselves in language and culture in an interactive online environment.

A New Part of Our Wind Down Time

When we received access to Elementary Spanish 1, the weather was simply too good to stay inside doing lessons during the day.  So, we took full advantage of the ability to learn Spanish anytime with this online program and made Middlebury Interactive Languages a part of our wind down routine on many nights.

In the evenings, my children and I would gather around the kitchen table, on the couch, or in one of the kids' beds with our laptop.  We'd log in to Elementary Spanish 1, move through the online menu bar to see what lesson we were on, and, then, let the program guide us in learning.

Sometimes, the children did this on their own while I tied up a days' loose ends.  More often than not, though, we did it all together and Elementary Spanish 1 proved to be easy peasy, anytime learning for young and old.

The program includes 15 units organized by categories and two review units.

Each unit contains six lessons (except the review units, which contain three lessons), and each lesson is further broken into even smaller mini-lessons, which include such activities as:
  • Videos:  Animated videos present vocabulary words in the context of cultural stories and myths.
  • Interactive Pictures:  Some of these are realistic.  Some are cartoon.  All allow children to click n certain parts to learn and practice more.
  • Practice Sessions:  Children click and drag vocabulary words to label items in both cartoon and realistic images.
  • Speaking Labs.  Children can record themselves repeating key vocabulary (and giggling wildly, in our home!) and then listen back to it.
  • Quizzes:  Multiple choice questions offer children a chance for review and immediate feedback.

The program also has a gradebook feature where parents can check up on how the children do with each unit as well as links to print out pdfs with translations for the vocabulary, stories, and songs included in each unit.  My son really appreciated reading these, so he could fully understand the myths and stories presented by authentic Spanish speakers

We all enjoyed the fact that the program is so simple, yet appealing.  Targeted for children with a Grade 3-5 level, the program focuses mostly on learning key vocabulary words, basic grammar, and distinctive cultural practices through stories, activities, games, songs, etc.  In doing so, it gets children comfortable with the sounds and rhythms of Spanish and gives them a greater understanding of Spanish-speaking culture.

Our Thoughts... 

My nine-year-old quite enjoyed the program, saying that, "It's really fun to record your voice."  However, he was a bit nonplussed by the immersion aspect of the program, saying:

I like listening to the stories and trying to guess what they say, but I wish that the stories would also be said in English so you knew what they were about.  It would be much more educational that way.  I think you should know the English right away instead of waiting to read the English later.  I know that the Spanish stories are trying to teach Spanish but it would work better for me to have the English, too.

Having struggled through language learning myself through middle- and high-school, but, then, making some headway in it when I lived and traveled abroad in my twenties and thirties, I appreciate the immersion concept.  I do much better with a language when surrounded by it in a social context and, when a social context cannot be had, I believe online immersion can provide a next best thing.

My son, however, is less of a social learner.  He likes things concrete or logical.  He also loves stories, but lacks patience.  So, to him, having to figure out the meaning of the stories simply by listening to them and viewing the accompanying animated videos proved less appealing than being given a translation would have done.  Yes, my oldest boy wants to be given his proverbial fish on a platter, it seems.

My eight-year-old, though, simply likes to dip into Spanish waters with delight.  Like her brother, she , too, likes that "you can record your own voice and you get to hear stories".  She is proud of her gains in Spanish, stating:

I am learning how to speak Spanish.  I can say "auntie", "Uncle", "Mommy", "Daddy", "brother", "sister", numbers, greetings and other things.  I like speaking Spanish!

She does wish, though, that there was more built-in review from lesson to lesson.  For while each lesson has a lot of repetition of its target concept, few include review of prior concepts.  She does not like this and says, "One bad things is that the new stories do not review the old stuff each time."  She and her brothers noticed by the time we got to the story that went with the greetings unit that the stories really do not contain language learned in prior lessons.  My children have commented in several  occasions that they wish the repetition and review included in the program would cross unit lines, weaving the content of one unit into the next. 

My youngest, at five, did not offer any quotes about the program, but he sure did share a lot of giggles when using the record feature with his siblings and he also could oft be heard saying, "My turn. My turn," when we all cuddled together to do the program activities and quizzes.  Indeed, even though the program is meant for children in grades 3-5, my youngest, a kindergartner, gets things from it, too.

I appreciate that the program:

  • appeals to my children through using stories, songs, simple computer activities, and, of course, the most-loved record feature.

  • weaves Spanish culture lessons in with Spanish speaking lessons.  As someone who has traveled and lived abroad, I am a big proponent of learning language in the context of culture.

  • offers no fuss language learning for homeschool families.  As long as you have high-speed internet, you are good to go.  You do not need to know Spanish yourself.  You do not need to download anything.  You just log in, listen, speak, and learn.
Learn More
 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Speaking.  Listening.  Reading.  Writing.  Language.  Culture.  Ease.  I aim for these things when learning world language with my children.  If you do, too, might Middlebury Interactive Languages be an ideal option in your home?

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