Product review: Spanish for You!

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I can’t tell you how many foreign language products I have used temporarily over the years. A workbook here, an old cassette tape there, a full program, an online resource. I’ve tried a lot! Some highly recommended, some just cheap alternatives.

The reason I have tried so many is because I really want to learn Spanish and teach my kids to speak Spanish, but I can’t do it on my own. Foreign language is not a skill you can pick up casually. I need to have a curriculum to help me in this area. So, when Debbie Annett approached me about her brand new curriculum, still in the works at the time, I could not resist.

She comes with years of experience in Spanish and teaching in the homeschool community in particular. She has created her curriculum with homeschoolers specifically in mind. I find this a huge benefit as you are not trying to tailor a program geared toward a traditional classroom or the business traveler (the two main targets of language programs, it seems). She made this for you to use at home with your children, or possibly in a co-op setting.

Product: Spanish for You!

Details: (excerpts from their site) Spanish for You! is a flexible, unique self-study curriculum for grades 3 through 8 that establishes the foundations for learning Spanish with just a short lesson each day. The set includes the Spanish for You! Estaciones Book (teaching the seasons — another set teaching fiestas should be out summer of 2012), 24-27 Week Lesson Guides for grades 3-8 (PDF), Self-Checking Worksheets for grades 3-8 (PDF), and Audio Download of entire book (MP3 format)

Cost: $65 for the whole set

Some of what we liked:
The diversity of target ages. This is an all in one curriculum that someone with minimal Spanish knowledge could pick up and use with all of their school age kids. Even though the target range starts with 3rd grade, my 1st and 2nd graders were right in there picking up basic vocabulary as well. (I think 3rd grade is a good starting place, I just generally include all of my kids when teaching if possible).
Abundance of materials. Worksheets, audio files, teacher’s guide, lesson plans, activity ideas, visuals, pronunciation guides, etc. This program is well fleshed out with lots of built in resources. The lessons include pictures in the book, audio files to hear the vocabulary properly pronounced, worksheets for individuals to do on their own, activities to do together, and ideas for review and further teaching.
Lots of built in review. Without becoming redundant, the lessons review, reteach, and repeat the words the kids need to learn. They do not get bored since it is always presented in a new way and language study is such an interactive discipline that everyone stays involved and learning. The lessons are also on the shorter side so they won’t take up a lot of your day, but they will get the job done efficiently.
The audio is at a great pace for learning. It is not rushed through. The words are clear and  easy to understand. I do like my kids to hear a more conversational (fast!) pace as they get more comfortable, but for beginners this is a non-intimidating step into the language. Anyone can learn these words with Mrs. Annett’s gentle teaching.
Adaptable and reasonable time commitment. This program is a gentle introduction to Spanish for younger kids, and a more focused beginners’ course for older kids. While foreign language is better done frequently throughout each day (the lesson plans are mapped out for use 4 days each week), you could easily condense the lessons to 2 times each week, and then try to pepper it in throughout the day as well. You will find you are both quickly learning a new language.

Some considerations for potential buyers
While the curriculum is for multiple grades, it teaches the grades differently. So, beyond the first few days, you would likely go through the material more quickly and to greater depth and mastery with older kids, so you wouldn’t actually teach the class the same way to a 3rd grader and an 8th grader. Just take that into consideration when determining how much time is needed to teach each lesson. Review could still be done together, and kids of different ages could study together, but the teaching times would most likely be separate, or at least branch off after starting together.
Some of the audio, especially early on, seems to be a little light on the Spanish accent. I think especially of “calendario” and “martes” among others in the first lesson. Later lessons do not have this issue, but as students get used to pronouncing these foreign words, they might notice that some sounded a little American at first. This actually seems like another way to gently transition kids into the Spanish language.  You might want to be aware of it, and even point it out, but also be sure to encourage a stronger accent along with the audios as you and your students gain confidence in your new found language.
This curriculum is very user friendly and can be used by someone comfortable with Spanish or someone who really needs a solid Spanish teacher to rely on. You can do this! As a poster in my high school classroom said, “Stamp out foreign languages — learn one!” This program will start you on the road to doing just that.

Disclaimer: This product was given to me in exchange for my personal,  honest review.

TOS Crew Review — Song School Latin

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How many languages can we learn at once? We are in the midst of testing the answer to that question. We of course speak English. We have spent time in recent weeks learning Spanish and Mandarin, and also Latin. So, I guess it is reasonable when I say, “Salve!” that my daughter responds, “Hola!” But, then she grins and says, “Salve, Magistra!” I guess we can learn four languages simultaneously.

I have a love for language for some reason. Whenever I traveled as a child I made a point of learning as much of the language around me as I could. So, I can say words and phrases in about 10 different languages. I can’t get enough of language, and I see the benefit as so many languages overlap here and there. The more we know of others, the more we understand our own as well.

No language is that more true of than Latin. As we delve into Latin words we see hints and clues to the language that even our 10 month old is learning to speak, English.

Latin used to be common place in schools in America. My parents both took Latin. Now, it has seen a resurgence with the classical school movement. Classical Academic Press has taken Latin and created an amazing curriculum that starts off with early elementary students and continues from there.

Here’s some reasons why you might want to bring Latin into your homeschool if you are not already:

I always knew Latin was beneficial to bring into my schedule, but never before found such a fun and easy format to do so. Song School Latin starts for the young learner, geared to kindergarten through 3rd grade. I used it with my five and seven year olds and they both picked it up easily and had incredible fun with it all. Begging to do foreign language? Seriously? Seriously.

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Product: Song School Latin

Details: Student book is a 130 page book with 31 chapters each containing 3-6 pages of activities and lessons. The teacher’s book contains the same pages with answers to all of the activities and a whole host of other activities in the back to supplement your Latin teaching time. These can be used for kids that need extra help, for general reinforcement, or just for some plain old fun.

Price: Student book and teacher book are $22.95 each or buy in a bundle with the flashcard game for $64.95

What we loved . . .

  • Fun from page one. As soon as the package arrived, my kids were drawn to the book and its contents. Great graphics, professional appearance, and appealing to kids.
  • Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce. They see it in print, they hear it in song, they repeat it out loud, they answer questions about it, they connect it to their English knowledge, and they learn effortlessly. This program brings the same words before them time and again, but not in a boring redundant way. The kids enjoyed putting their knowledge to music and then repeating the new found phrases as we conversed.
  • Reasonable writing expectation. Kids do a lot of writing some days in all the different subjects that they cover. So, when it comes to foreign language I prefer to focus on the verbal and save their hands. This material does have them do some writing, but it is mostly in the form of tracing letters already on the page. Just another way to help cement these new words in their memory.
  • Ties in to English. There would be little reason to learn a “dead” language if we did not tie it into our lives. Each chapter includes a section that ties at least one of the vocabulary words into an English word that they already may have heard. This helps build and solidify their English vocabulary even during Latin lessons.
  • Entertaining songs. You’ve got to love the songs. Languages must be repeated often to really sink in. With the songs rolling around in your head, the words are naturally repeated and reviewed. At first I would sing the song now and then and my kids would have a quick review of our Latin lesson throughout the day. By the end of the week, I would catch them singing, “My pater is really my father, My mater is really my mom . . .” They had it. No written test required. 😉
  • Includes pronunciation guide. For you non-Latin speakers out there, you don’t need to be intimidated. There is a guide to the different pronunciations and you can easily pick this up with no prior Latin knowledge and teach and learn right along with your kids.

Some considerations . . .

  • You will probably want a workbook for each child. These are consumable books, so they will most likely each want their own. Just sticking to oral work would lose some of the benefits of the programs design.
  • Could use more built in review. They do offer lots of great review tools, each chapter reviews a few earlier words, and there are a few chapters that are strictly review of all previous material. However, I have found that my kids can never get enough review. We definitely re-sing the songs often and each week would review all of the previous vocabulary so nothing is lost as we continue to add on. Any new language needs continual review and exposure to help it sink solidly into long term memory.

Song School Latin brought a wonderful introduction to Latin for my younger kids. I wish I had this years ago for my older kids, but I will definitely be considering their other curriculums for them as well. They put together a great lesson plan and keep the kids from getting bored with a subject that has significant impact on other areas of learning as well.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through Classic Academic Press as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

TOS Crew Review — Speekee

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“Adios . . . Adios . . . Adios, my amigo, adios.”

Brooke started it, and soon Nathan and Faith joined in. Blake (13 years old) groaned a bit and tolerated their jubilant singing on the way to gym and swim. Paige couldn’t help singing along even though she hasn’t really watched the videos with them.

And so, Speekee has infiltrated our home. The irresistible jingles and repetitive dialogue are really teaching my kids some basic Spanish, and they are liking it.

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Product: Speekee Spanish online learning videos

Details: An online Spanish learning program that includes videos, activity suggestions, and printable worksheets. Ten lessons in all to introduce a child to conversational Spanish.

Price: $7.50 per month

What we loved . . .

  • Foreign language without tears. We’ve tried so many foreign language program I could almost cry. Each one we either don’t learn from, get tired of, or just plain don’t like. Speekee has brought something new to our home — foreign language learning that kids love, and I do, too.
  • Full access. With the monthly fee you can watch and rewatch each video as much as you please. Your kids can watch on their own or as a group, with you or without. My kids did a little of all those arrangements. The printable worksheets can be printed out for as many of your kids as needed and you can even reprint their favorites to do more than once.
  • Likable characters. My kids enjoyed the mix of puppets and real people. The kids spoke clearly and didn’t seem overly scripted or fake. The puppets entertained while educating.
  • Immersion method. Speekee drops you right into the situations with Spanish speakers all around. There is the option of English subtitles which can be beneficial to some kids.
  • Nice accent. The actors all spoke Spanish well with a very natural pronunciation. It was easy to understand them and imitate their words.
  • Enjoyable pace. Not too fast, like some other adult immersion programs I have seen. And, not too slow or mundane like some that don’t seem to really help kids learn to converse. Speekee has a good balance of real life conversation and repetition to help a child learn new words without getting bored in the process.

Some considerations . . .

  • More for young kids.While anyone from preschool through adulthood could benefit from using Speekee, in our home it was more appreciated by the younger group. My 9 year old was okay with it, but it was the biggest hit with my 7 and 5 year olds.
  • Spain Spanish. Most of us in the United States would come in contact with Latin American Spanish rather than Spain Spanish. The accent varies slightly and some words and expressions are a bit different. You could think of it as the difference between our English and British English. We can definitely communicate together, but there will be a few differences. Most of the differences in Spanish I don’t think would make a big difference at the beginner level.
  • Needs repetition. Spanish will never be learned overnight. Kids will not likely watch the videos and instantly remember all the new phrases and songs taught in it. However, my kids did not mind watching the same videos more than once to cement the new vocabulary in their minds.
  • Helpful if parent watches along. While I was kind of hoping I could play the video and then go work with the older students on something I found that my younger kids absorbed and interacted the most with me right there. For example, Speekee would say, “Y tu?” and expect the kids to repeat the previous phrase. My kids didn’t understand that and were just sitting watching. Of course, they still picked it up and sang the songs with gusto throughout the day, but for them to get the most out of the video it is best to watch along with them.

Learning another language cannot start too young, and Speekee can be a great tool in drawing and keeping the attention of children as they learn Spanish.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge through Speekee as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.