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Getting Your Elementary or Middle School Aged Children Started Learning Spanish

November 17th, 2012

Guest post by Debbie Annett
Author of Spanish for You! – A Simple, Effective, Affordable Curriculum for Grades 3-8

You CAN give the GIFT of language. Parent or teacher, Spanish speaker or not, YOU ARE
ABLE to accomplish more than just vocabulary learning with your elementary and middle
school students. It just takes knowing a little about the language learning process and how to
do it.

The Language Learning Process
Language learning takes time and practice, much like learning to play an instrument or a sport.
Becoming fluent takes many years, unless your student(s) is in an immersion situation where
he/she is using Spanish with Spanish speakers for several hours every day.

However, most parents would like their children to become fluent by the time they are adults.
This means that you have many years to accomplish the goal. So, get your students started in
elementary or middle school. You can work on things steadily, over time, in a non-stressful
way.

If you are not a language teacher, knowing something basic about the language learning
process will help you should you decide to get started on your own. You can do this!

We can break language down into 2 elements, receptive and expressive. Receptive refers to
the language we receive and need to understand. That would be listening and reading.
Expressive refers to the language we express and use to make ourselves understood. That
would be speaking and writing.

When we first learn a language we learn the receptive piece. Think of babies learning their
first language. They come to understand all that they receive from those speaking around
them and slowly begin to express themselves. First they say words, then phrases, then more
over time. They learn the receptive piece first and then develop the expressive piece.

When teaching a language you want to provide students opportunities to read and listen, and
then slowly get them to write and speak. Their EXPRESSIVE language should be encouraged
first as words, then phrases, and then sentences.

And know this – speaking is the most difficult piece. Spoken fluency is the icing on the cake.
And that will come after many years of steady practice and study. YOU, as the parent or
teacher, are getting them started and preparing them for higher level learning in high
school and maybe college.

How to Do It
You know some basics about the language learning process. Now, how do you get started?

First, choose a curriculum/product that is:
1. easy to use – meaning it has a lesson guide or something you follow
2. can be used by a Spanish teacher or not, or for self-study
3. provides lots of audio, so you can hear what is in the book – important!
4. provides lots of self-checking practice
5. provides a variety of practice activities to develop listening, speaking, reading, and
writing skills
6. provides opportunities to practice with others – this means the product can be used by
individuals AND has the flexibility to be used with others.
7. does more than just teach vocabulary and phrases. You do not want your student(s) to
just memorize some things. You want your student(s) to learn how the language works.
8. economical - this is not a must, BUT there are some good ones out there that provide all
the above and accomplish A LOT without the big price tag! (Ahem, Spanish for You! is one!)

Second, decide on your approach and schedule.
1. If your approach is to create a class or be teaching in a school, then decide how much
time you have each week to devote to Spanish and how much outside of class you want
students to practice. For example, you might schedule a class 1 hour each week with 4 days
of homework, 10-20 min. each day. OR one class for 1/2 hour a week with 2 to 4 days of
homework, 10-15 min. each day, etc.

2. If your approach is at home for self-study, then decide how much time you have each
week to devote to Spanish. You may schedule your efforts 20 minutes 3 times a week, OR 30
minutes twice a week, etc.

NO MATTER YOUR APPROACH WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS THAT YOU KEEP IT STEADY.
If you “fall off the wagon” occasionally do not fret. Just pick back up and keep going. You want
to look at the big picture. If you have kept things going steadily 80% of the time, for example,
things will be fine. It is when you “fall off the wagon” most of the time that you may not get
results.

(A side note – It is ok to take summers off, or holiday time off. You will not ruin your efforts. During
summers it helps to do a little review here and there, just to stimulate the brain and keep those
connections going.)

As you can see, it is VERY possible for you to begin your student(s) learning Spanish even if
you do not have experience with the language or teaching. You just need to know some
basics about the language learning process and how to do it. You just need to work steadily
over time. Do that, and you will have something of value.

If you would like to learn more about the Spanish for You! curriculum, please visit us at
www.spanish-for-you.net.

I wish you all the best in your language learning efforts!

Product review: Spanish for You!

May 14th, 2012

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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.

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