Friday, January 6, 2012

Get REAL...Homeschool Spanish

Do you remember your high school foreign language classes? I do. They were BORING. I chose to take French thinking it was "romantic" and boy was I wrong! It turned out that the pretty French I teacher was just out of college, was easily flustered by the students (all the boys had crushes on her, which was distracting to say the least!), and she talked so quietly it was hard to hear her. I made it through that first year by studying hard using the book on my own which worked all right since we rarely did any oral exercises or anything interactive. It was mostly: go over the assignment in class, do the assignment at home, check the assignment in class, take a quiz...and so on.

Year Two was taught by an older teacher who was a native speaker of French. That sounds great, doesn't it? However, she was known for her strict and demanding nature, and what few oral exercises we undertook were harshly picked apart, leaving me too unsure to volunteer very often. Her own former first year students basically "ran" the class while I was left sitting in the dust. By Year Three I was done with my romantic notions about French and only stuck with it to get the coveted "Advanced Placement" HS diploma which required three years of one language, or two years of two different ones.

I was relieved to be finished with foreign languages for good (or so I thought) only to discover that college had a language requirement, too. UGH! College was no better in involving us in actual conversations or in bringing us opportunities to "immerse" ourselves in the culture or language. I plowed through the required courses and emerged on the other side definitely feeling as if I'd wasted my time (I have only used my French a hotel where I assisted a couple in checking in) and as if I was not good at learning foreign languages.

Now you tell me, how is a homeschooling mother supposed to teach a foreign language to her children when SHE doesn't feel she has any talent in that area? When SHE feels that learning languages is a fruitless exercise with no benefits? When SHE thinks learning languages is drudgery?
My suggestion for this mom (ME!) would be to try REAL Homeschool Spanish. REAL Homeschool Spanish is a language curriculum that is meant for the entire family to study together throughout their day, integrated into their regular curricula and everyday life. While the current program is geared mainly towards the interests and abilities of K-8th grade students, a high school supplement is in the making (April 2012). However, the truth is that K-8 program offers the interactivity and variety a more intense high school program might big brother will probably enjoy participating alongside little sister for the conversations, practice, puzzles, games, culminating activities, and more before heading off to do his textbook (or online program) verb conjugations.

REAL Homeschool Spanish is the brainchild of Dr. Karyn Williamson-Coria, a homeschooling mother of three, who is also a professor of languages. She found that many language programs were geared towards large classrooms of students, and did not translate well to a homeschooling situation. She also found that many homeschool language programs required quite a bit of prep time to use, which she did not have. Those programs that did not require much preparation (computer-based ones), did not offer much in the way of real-life or conversational language practice, leaving students unable to communicate what they had learned. What she really wanted was a way to incorporate language learning into the daily routine, and enable parents to easily learn along with and guide their child, even without prior experience with the language. Since that sort of program was not available, she decided to write her own.

Here's what she came up with:

Learn Spanish

REAL Homeschool Spanish is built upon a conversational Spanish foundation. Dr. Williamson-Coria believes that reading, writing, listening, and speaking are all necessary components to language literacy. You can learn a language without learning to speak it (as I did), but you will not retain it, and it will never feel "natural" to you, unless you apply it to your "real world" in everyday situations. For this reason, she offers many suggestions about how to integrate REAL Homeschool Spanish into your daily activities and existing curriculum. By doing this, speaking Spanish becomes second nature and retention and understanding are increased.

It reminds me of how we used ASL with the younger kids before they could talk on their no time at all, we were all gesturing "thank you" and using the signs for food, drink, sleep, and many more as we went about our daily business. It became natural to us, and to this day, even though all the kids are beyond needing ASL (or rather, baby ASL) to communicate, we still find ourselves using it without thinking (especially in church when the signs for STOP and LISTEN are very effective and quiet!). It is now a part of us.

There are multiple components to REAL Homeschool Spanish. First of all is the textbook. There are ten units which are divided into smaller lessons by topic. Some topics include: colors, numbers, time, food, family, the body, clothes, weather, days and months, sports, animals, household items, nature, and more. You can see the actual Table of Contents HEREEach unit contains vocabulary words, definitions, pronunciation (audio files), conversational phrases to practice, and invaluable tips which are specifically targeted towards the home educator. To see some sample pages and tips, click HERE.

There are also excellent ideas for integrating Spanish into your daily life, as well as fantastic supplementary activities, game suggestions, and ideas for digging a bit deeper. For example, one idea suggests that you bring out various food items and play I Spy in Spanish using the color words. My Three Amigos loved this one. I Spy is a favorite of Cowboy's and he eagerly participated, as did the other two Amigos. Boo just wanted to eat usual. He'll get the idea eventually! You can see some more examples of activities HERE.

Another fine idea is to get out that play food you have packed away and have your kids play restaurant with it using only Spanish (as much as possible...scripted conversations that fit this scenario are available in the lesson, as well as the appropriate vocabulary words and audio files for pronunciation). This is a great idea and reminded me of going to our favorite Mexican restaurant in Florida where we always got the waiter to talk to us only in Spanish so we could practice our meager Spanish (going to a restaurant together is another of her ideas). I hadn't thought of having the kids act this scenario out at home, too, though.

I imagine that given enough free time, I could come up with some of these ideas on my own, but remember, one of the goals of this curriculum was for parents to NOT have to have to commit a huge amount of planning time towards implementing it. Since the author has already come up with all the great ideas (and there are a TON of them), all you have to do is choose which ones to use. There is no way you could possibly do all of the ideas in this book in one year (at least, it looks like more than I could manage in a year). It will potentially provide ideas for many years of fun, integrated language practice for the whole family (besides, the kids will want to do their favorites over and over again, right?).

Next, you have the activity book which contains puzzles, written activity suggestions, and questions based on conversations you read aloud together (or silently). There are a wide variety of puzzles from crosswords and word searches to cryptograms and word scrambles. You can see some examples HERE. You also have activity suggestions such as writing a journal entry in Spanish, or writing a letter to someone in Spanish.

There is also an answer key, the invaluable audio files (especially handy for those of us who never took Spanish and do not know any native speakers), and a Curriculum Guide with all the lessons being divided into a 48 week schedule (if you want someone to tell you what to do and when instead of deciding how the available resources best fit into your existing curriculum yourself). Lastly, the site offers a growing collection of additional links which add to the cultural and exploratory aspect of the curriculum, offering recipes, information on native Spanish-speaking countries, holidays, history, animals, and more.

REAL Homeschool Spanish costs $49.95 for the downloadable and printable e-book, activity book, answer key, and audio files or $89.95 for the hardcopy. An extra $9.95 with either set will get you the Curriculum Guide.

What We Thought About This Program:

We liked it. It is exactly what the youger set (ages 2-8) need to start adding Spanish (the language our family feels best fits our mission-focused outlook) to our homeschool days. Currently, I do not have time to do a "set" daily foreign language curriculum with them. They are too young for that anyway (iin my opinion). But we've all heard how much easier it is for kids to learn languages when they are young. I mean, look at how quickly babies become fluent in a language...just from hearing it spoken every day.

My Amigos LOVE learning ASL by watching the Signing Time videos (if you haven't checked those out yet, go do it after you check out REAL Homeschool Spanish. They are always showing someone the sign for "bird" or "happy" or something else, just from having watched one of the videos while we are driving in the car. They remember those signs because it is a game for them...pure fun. That is what REAL Homeschool Spanish does for foreign language learning. It puts the "fun" into learning the language, and makes it an enjoyable and natural part of every day (or however often you choose to incorporate the program into your day).

I can see this program working very well as a pleasant introduction to Spanish for individuals or multi-age groups. It would be a valuable family project instead of just another worksheet to fill out. I can also see it as a marvelous supplement for an older child who does it in conjunction with a computer-based language program. This would enable them to learn the more detailed and complex grammar rules (there is some grammar in this program, but it is not the focus of the lessons) without losing sight of all the excitement that comes from actually using the language in every day life.

The variety of the activity ideas and the interactivity of the lessons (from making family photo albums with Spanish familial relationship labels to making a special meal and speaking in Spanish) makes this curriculum ideal for families with diverse types of learners. There will something for every tactile, auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learner under your roof...and everyone benefits from the variety and multiple modes of reinforcement!

Taking into consideration the reasonable price, the quantity and variety of materials, and the potential longevity of this product (using it over and over again throughout the years), I think this is a good investment for anyone who wants to get their family started on the road to REAL language learning.

Consider hopping on over to the TOS Review Crew blog and check out what some others have to say about how this product worked for their families.



Disclaimer: We received the downloadable e-materials from REAL Homeschool Spanish for the purposes of reviewing this product. What you read here reflects our experiences and opinions about the product and is not a guarantee that your experiences will be the same. If you have any questions regarding this review, please feel free to comment or contact me.

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