Monday, February 7, 2011

Getting Ahead with Vocab Ahead

Vocabulary development is essential to success in the college setting. Even before college, the extent of your vocabulary can determine your placement in classes and on standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT. However, by the time you hit the hallowed halls of whichever university you choose and get accepted to, no matter where you were on the spectrum in high school, you need to have reached a certain level, or your performance in your college classes, even those as basic as English 101, is sure to be affected. Knowing what is to come can allow a student to be prepared instead of being caught wanting and furiously struggling to keep up or be left behind. VocabAhead offers two products that can help your students develop their vocabulary and get ahead of the game.

VocabAhead is a company which provides useful vocabulary-building audios and videos. Each track is under a minute long and includes the following features:
  • a pronunciation of the word
  • a definition of the word
  • at least one example sentence or paragraph including the word as it would be used in conversation
  • a drawing of that example sentence that helps illustrate the definition, and remind the student of the definition, if it is the video track (of course the audio tracks are only audio)
  • repetition of the pronunciation and definition of the word

You know how I love FREE stuff, right? Well, VocabAhead is one of those great companies which provides quite a bit of their content for FREE right on their website. If you are interested in checking out what they have to offer, look HERE for many examples of their simple vocabulary cartoons and definitions. In fact, there is so much free stuff HERE (you can do flashcards or develop study lists), that you can do quite a lot of SAT preparation without ever spending a dime (unless your prefered method of study involves some sort of protable device, in which case you should buy the dvd-rom so you can load everything onto your player).

You can also sign up HERE for a Word of the Day to be sent straight into you or your student's e-mailbox (look down on the left for a place to enter your e-mail address). This would be a great way to ease younger students into the world of SAT vocabulary study or to develop your own vocabulary (and influence your childrens' vocabulary by expanding yours!). Pretty great freebie, huh?

If you prefer to have access to the whole shebang, and you own devices such as an iPod, other MP3 player, iPad, or iPhone, you can purchase the dvd-rom from which you can download all 1000 of the videos and definitions HERE for $24.95. This dvd-rom will also play on your desktop computer or laptop, or with a dvd-rom compatible dvd player. We were also able to listen to the MP3 tracks with our car dvd player (my cd player does not play MP3s), which was somewhat interesting, though it was way above the level for my younger kids, and not all definitions were appropriate for their little ears (for example, the word abominable is defined by saying a guy's body odor was abonimable because he chose not to bathe for a week and thus he smelled like a bag of garbage and his odor made people feel like throwing up...this isn't BAD, I guess, but it's not particularly polite either. It's probably memorable to a teenager,

**Speaking of appropriateness, today I randomly reviewed some more of the words, and I have to admit that the overall tone of some of the definitions and pictures left me a bit uncomfortable. It was kind of like watching one of the popular comedy shows of today where the parents are put down and the kids are so smart and doing wrong (as long as they get away with it, which they usually do) is funny. I can't pin it down, but I am not really sure that the worldview of the authors of this product lines up with mine. For example, this is mild, but for "abduct," they showed an alien spaceship beaming a BABY right out of its terrified mother's arms. Creepy, and as a mom, it made me think I didn't want my younger kids seeing that! A more serious example was the word "Bacchanalian," which was defined by describing drunken college students partying. The word "bias" had a negative attitude towards step-parents, and was defined by a sentence describing a step-mother who neglected and malnourished her step-child. Yikes! I really did NOT like this aspect of this product. I just think there were probably better example sentences that could have been used for those words and others. However, if the methodology of this product really lines up with what your student thrives on, you could preview the words, create lists from the ones you approve of, and it would likely be a help to you and your student(s).

If your kids are more into learning through books, or your level of technology does not include the use of devices such as those mentioned above, you can purchase the print version of the VocabAhead program for $12.95. This paperback book includes 300 pictures and definitions, as well as online access to the complete set of audios and videos. It is available HERE. I was not able to preview this item, so I cannot say how I feel about the words, drawings, and definitions in this book.

We received the dvd-rom. Here is what we thought about it:

Tex says:
  • I think the best way to use this product would be for a teacher to send a student five (or so) definitions a day (or a certain number per week) via email. Then the student would check their email and learn the new definitions, and be quizzed at the end of the week. This would be great for a teacher of a group class or of many high school-aged kids.
  • Another way to use this would be to load the audios on an MP3 player and set them to play randomly (by making a playlist). You could quiz yourself by pausing the player after the word is pronounced and then listening to the definition, which would reinforce it.
  • You could also just use the MP3 player to listen to your lists of words for each week, if you made a separate playlist for each week.
  • Or what if you loaded them and set the player on completely random, so the definitions were mixed in with the songs? Then it might not seems as much like you were studying...
  • I think you could load the picture definitions on an iPhone or iPad, but we don't have one, so we didn't try it. I think this would be an interesting way to study while you are traveling or waiting for an appointment or something.
  • I'd be willing to use this product to expand my vocabulary before I take the SATs. I think I might check and see which words I know just from reading first, and not load those words onto my MP3 player. I would just add the words I don't know and learn them, then probably take them off once I've memorized them to get the space back.
Mom says:
  • I believe the best way to develop vocabulary is from listening to stories read aloud (or audio books) over the course of many years, reading many genres of stories written by talented authors (especially classical ones), and by writing (and editing your own writing) extensively. However, you won't necessarily encounter every potential SAT word in this manner, so bolstering your vocabulary and thus your chances at a higher score by studying a variety or words is a good thing. This product is one tool that can help you accomplish that. That said, I do believe that studying the Latin and Greek roots of words is also a very valuable method for increasing your vocabulary, as you can figure out a greater number of words with fewer "words" (roots) to memorize. It wouldn't hurt to do all of these things, though...imagine what your scores could be then!!
  • The cartoons were well-drawn, but I guess I was hoping for something a bit more flashy (they were simple, unmoving drawings and some of the reading was a bit monotoned at times). I think it is a nice idea, though, for kids who are audio-visual learners, and Tex thought the concept was interesting.
  • I am AMAZED and impressed by the amount of free content HERE in the VocabAhead Study Room. You can not only view and lsiten to many of the videos, you can also do "flashcards" online, as well as develop study lists (by signing in, which is free).
  • I had some difficulty getting the MP3s to work on my computer (I am not a techie, just a writer), and when I contacted the company they were VERY helpful. They explained the download process and how I could access the MP3 files in various ways that would work for my family. Their customer service was excellent.
  • As I said previously, I did not like the tone of some of the definitions. I could definitely not use this product without strictly controlling the content of the words chosen. It's not that an older student shouldn't know the definitions of each of the words given, but that I would chose different sentences to illustrate the definitions.
  • The price of  $ 24.95 for the dvd-rom seems reasonable for a thousand audio tracks and videos (check out the word list HERE), though there is a lot of free content HERE in the Study Room. Be sure to try before you buy, and then once you are sure it works for your family, support the company by buying either the book or the dvd-rom.

To read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about this product, click HERE.



**As part of the TOS Crew, I received a complimentary copy of the VocabAhead dvd-rom for the purposes of offering an objective review here on my blog. What you read here are our personal impressions of the product. I hope you find them helpful. If you have any questions about the product that I did not answer here, please feel free to contact me.

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