I love teaching Spanish. I love helping families find the best method for them to learn Spanish. I TOTALLY LOVE IT! So. There's that. And here's my necessary disclaimer: These are my opinions. I'm not a statistician or a scientist. I'm a bilingual, homeschooling, Spanish teaching, mom of five.
All joking aside, in my years of teaching Spanish, since 1999, plus a previous 6 years of studying, learning, and living it, I have met zero people who said that the software program Rosetta Stone worked well for their family. ZERO! So. There's that as well.
Rosetta Stone Spanish was developed for the United States Military. The prime usage and design was for men over the age of 20 who would dedicate 8 hours or more daily to the program. Thus, for that specific purpose, teaching adults who are dedicated to mastering a language in a short amount of time, I think it's effective. The initial learners on RS had huge blocks of time to dedicate to clicking and repeating. The motivation was there (their job) and the ability to sit and study was simply part of the requirement. So, it's not all bad. I mean, their marketing department is top notch!
How does it work? The software program shows the learner photo cues (not cartoons) and the target language or phrase both spoken and written to help you absorb the new words. As you conquer the words, more are added and longer sentences (sometimes silly sentences) are created for the learner to click a corresponding picture.
RS does NOT give you the exact English translation for your new word. Happily, there's a reason for that. The purpose of their design is to mimic language immersion, natural language learning, and is good in theory. The thing is, unhappily, learning from a computer screen is not natural nor is it immersion. As infants, our learning was organic, and motivated by relationships and needs. What's happening instead, by leaving out the accurate word or phrase translation, a road block to learning is actually created, especially for the more analytically minded student or learner. The interesting thing about that, is the analytical mindset will flourish more on a software program. So, missing the English translation (or any native language), while good in theory, is a substantial detriment, a large learning obstacle, in practice. This fact about RS makes me a little crazy. The learning personalities that would have flourished by learning on a computer screen now has a built in detriment because of the design flaw. (*Heavy sigh.*)
The next issue is length of lessons: Adults (well about half of us) have the staying power, the interest, dedication, and attention span to sit in front of a screen, click, look, and repeat. At an age younger than sixteen, not only do most of us not possess that power, but it creates a secondary roadblock: "Drudgery." The motions are similar, the reaction and process is the same. No matter what activity is on the screen, the screen is still the teacher. No change of mood, no change of location, or method, no relationship. This consistency is definitely a plus in learning a language, but is a huge detriment in engaging a younger brain. In order for the consistency to be effective, a good amount of time, more than 30 minutes, must be dedicated to this method of clicking and repeating, to transfer the new information into long-term memory.
Finally, what about application? When learning a second language, having it modeled and used in an interaction (however simple) is paramount. Without this step, the new information is just that: information, a list of words, drill.... drudgery. This is what makes language so daunting to learn. Learning a second language is wholly different from every other school subject. It's not just information. Language is a tool. Without using the tool, you can't say you actually know how to use it. "I've seen it done," is a far cry from applying the tool to real life. RS simply can not give us application. The biggest issue is that the learner is sitting, alone, in front of a computer screen. There's no one to talk to, no one to respond, no one to react. Why, oh why, are we learning to speak to a computer screen?! This is yet another RS fact that makes me crazy. There MUST be another step to complete the learning. Someone needs to be near you, learning the language along with you. Otherwise, much of your absorption is simply wasted without the final step of use.
So, what's the solution? When you're choosing a method, a curriculum to use for learning Spanish, here are the three questions to answer:
~1~ Can I learn this while facing another human? (This is a BIG deal. Facial reactions are the main reason you learned your first language. "Mama" and "Dada" BEAMED at you when you uttered your first words! Your brain is hard wired, not literally - but you know what I mean - to receive language and dedicate it to memory based on the reaction of the humans around you. learning the same vocabulary and in the same way as another friend is a plus. A DVD isn't too bad, really, if you're sitting next to someone, and if the DVD is contains real life people. If it's a software program like RS (single user) or an app with icons (like Duolingo: Learn Languages Free) then your brain has a block to overcome. You'll need to repeat those words in the lesson for that day while NOT looking at the screen. You need to get your knowledge into REAL LIFE. The way to do this is with a notebook. We have the Personal Learning Dictionaries I hand out to my own students at the Community Homeschool Center here in Bryan, Texas. Really, any Notebook will do, but this shape somehow encourages us to make a quick list (or doodle!), and the smaller size helps the students to keep going. Motivation to fill in smaller pages is higher than filling out a larger notebook.
~2~ How do I learn? If you're not sure, check out The Key to Learning Anything. There are three basic learning styles. Most of us are a mix. Choose a method that matches your best method, or most comfortable way of learning. If you enjoy reading, and you see information in your head, choose a visual method. Textbooks, flash cards, lots of white space on a page are all beneficial to you. Do you need to be DOING something when you learn? (Have you been called a fidgeter?) Make sure you have something to hold or move around as you learn (flashcards are great for this). Even Silly Putty will work. We use this exercise Balance Disc to sit on for those days when we just can't get our wiggles out. Give yourself permission to fidget so you can more readily absorb. And if you're primarily audial, be sure you hear each and every bit. Hopefully the product you have has an audio section. A product like Pimsleur Spanish is ALL audio and has several options from which to choose. If there's no audio option, there should be a phonetic spelling for the new words, like on our Flip Flop Spanish products and you should be SURE to say aloud each and every word. No slips, no skips, and no excuses. Every word needs to be said aloud. By YOU.
~3~ Finally: Do I want to use this product? You've determined that you either want or need to learn Spanish. If the method you chose makes you groan, the likelihood of you sticking with it is minimal. Do you LIKE that textbook? Do you ENJOY that teacher on the DVD program? You'll need some motivation. Being accountable to a partner is great way to overcome any drudgery, but you MUST start out with a spark. It WILL turn into work. Learning a language is hard.
ALL this is why I developed See it and Say it Flip Flop Spanish. I looked for good methods to follow for my students. I was prepared to simply purchase a curriculum and follow it. That's how I was trained to teach, after all. I shopped and bought and looked and tried to make interesting weekly lesson plans. They were DRUDGERY. The idea of creating obstacles instead of removing them for these motivated little souls crushed me. (Back in 2002, I had a whole eight students to teach after all!) So, I made each and every lesson relational. From scratch. We learned and communicated, communicated and learned. NO, it wasn't Language Immersion Education. Students wanted to know WHY and HOW and WHAT ELSE, and I told them, showed them, and let them try creating Spanish sentences on their own. Just like my flashcards do!
With my Flip Flop Spanish Flash Cards, we look at a picture, but we also can flip that same card over to read and study the English translation. The student get to choose the sentence to lay out. My flashcards have nouns verbs and adjectives. Students are not left translating a sentence that I've deemed as a good example, but that you likely will never use in your life. (My favorite Rosetta Stone sentence picture click activity was, "The horse jumps over the fence." I can't imagine ever exclaiming that phrase in Spanish. Honestly, in 20 years of speaking Spanish, I've never turned to a Spanish speaking friend to ever utter that sentence.)
I HAVE wanted to say, "Your horse is on my foot," and I was able to do so! I already knew el caballo, el pie, and está. How did I learn those words?
"Tu caballo está en mi pie."
(too kah-bah-yoh eh-stah ehn mee pee-eh)
All those words are taught in my Homeschool Spanish lessons in my Flip Flop Spanish Curriculum Series.
When you use your flashcards, you can use them alone, but you can use them face to face with someone as well. Cards are FUN to move around. No matter what is on them, pictures engage our brains, flipping them over fires off synapses as we look to see "What's under THIS one?"
But, Hey. I do not believe any curriculum, for any subject, is "one size fits all," and that includes my own. So, let me give you the low down on what I DO believe will work for you based on your answers to the above three questions.
I like keeping things simple and concrete, so I made a chart. I like charts. I hope this one below, comparing all the most popular Homeschool Spanish Curriculum and lessons available, helps you. If any of the information has changed since I typed this up, please feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I'll correct it. It's not my goal to misrepresent anyone or anything, ever.
Now, back to those important foreign language learning questions:
~1~ Can I use this face to face with another human? (Meaning, you need to learn it the way you'll use it. With PEOPLE.) Here are the ones we can say YES to.
- Flip Flop Spanish - all the Spanish Learning Titles from Flip Flop Spanish are relational. No one is supposed to sit alone and watch the Movie Magic, or do the Flip Flop Spanish workbooks and CDs without a parent or sibling around. The flashcards in See it and Say it can of course be practiced alone, but it's designed to be used WITH your people, not separately. EVERY product I produce is designed for family use.
curriculum title means "Open Doors." The lessons are on DVD, and it's a high quality set up - cute intro with interesting pictures and well done songs. The students will sit to get their input in front of a screen, so, not face to face, but the n the workbook part can add in the face to face element. Only one workbook comes with the initial set, so you'll have to get more workbooks for each additional student, but you CAN speak face to face, after the initial lessons and songs.
- Homeschool Spanish Academy - These Spanish Lessons are set up where your input comes from a native speaker, so YES, face-to-face learning! Yeah! The only thing is, you're on a screen, but it's still a human. My hope would be that the people you are living with are also learning the Spanish lessons and words along with the student, so that they can practice with one another, not just with the person on the screen. I do love this business model, though! They provide jobs for people in a Spanish Speaking Country, and your student receives authentic Spanish lessons directly from the teacher. They also allow you to have two students at a time learn from the computer screen teacher via skype. Homework is provided as well.
~2~ How do I learn? Take a look at the column in the Spanish Curriculum Comparison chart above that is labeled "method." All the Visual and Audial learners really have their pick of any one that is there. You can skip to question three. If you are a tactile learner, the ones labeled traditional likely won't be a fit without some adjustments. You can always adjust your Spanish lessons to become hands on fairly easily, but it'll be the smoothest transition if you choose from the Spanish Lessons labeled hands-on, Montessori, or Charlotte Mason.
~3~ Do I want to use this product? This is the super personal part. Do you WANT to sit in front of a computer, do you WANT to log on and meet a new person in another country, do you WANT to watch a DVD, do you WANT to play with flashcards with your children?
Here's the thing: Motivation really is the key to learning. If downloading a program and installing something on your computer makes you groan, that may not be the best start. If opening a textbook feels bad, don't use that method. Follow the peace. Which method says to you, "Oh! Well, I can do THAT!" Choose that one!