Friday, September 14, 2012

Speaking of Spanish---Try Speekee

We've recently been having some work done on our house. One of these days soon you can read about it here, but it's been so busy, I haven't had time to blog about it. Anyway, several of the crews who have worked on various parts of the house (windows, siding, roofing) have been Mexican and mostly only spoke Spanish (there was one guy in each crew who could say more than "thank you" and "okay," but not always a lot more). It kind of made the necessity of learning a second language sink in for me, Spanish in particular, especially in this day and age when you often see as much Spanish as there is English.

New siding, new windows, new roof, new rooms
(from old porches)...emocionante (exciting)!

North America has long been lagging behind other countries in their desire to have their children naturally learn other languages. Perhaps it is because in Europe or South America, it is not so far to go geographically and you will find someone speaking another radically different dialect or language. Sometimes when we travel, accents or common terminology change and somewhat impede understanding, but it's not like we travel from Virginia to Iowa and speak a different language.

So how do I raise my children differently, if I was not raised in a dual language household and really have no idea how to go about teaching a foreign language? Well, at this point, we've decided that we need to expose our children to language experiences as much as possible from very early years. My older children use a computer-based, immersion type of program for high school credit and have loved it, but my younger ones just aren't ready for it yet, and besides, I want them to already be comfortable and somewhat familiar with languages long before high school. I honestly do think that by waiting until the upper grades to start language instruction you are making a mistake and handicapping your child's potential with languages, especially as some abilities with speech processing and verbal reproduction develop more easily at a young age.

"Hola. Soy Speekee."

Well, we were recently introduced to a well-made program based on that idea of exposing young children to other languages using a fun, low-pressure, immersion method. That program is called Speekee . This program is produced in the UK, and utilizes a cast of puppets and people who are native speakers.

When I first saw it, I wasn't sure I was going to like it because I am not a huge puppet fan. We don't do Barney or Sesame Street. Personally, they both drive me nuts (but if you love them, I think that's great for you). However, the way they use the puppets in Speekee cleverly engages the kids with the material, without being overly simplistic. Even my eight year-old, whom I thought might be less interested by it as she is almost nine and getting a bit more selective with what she watches (or admits she likes), was singing the catchy tunes and having fun quizzing her siblings about words and phrases learned during the programs. All the Amigos, from three-year old Boo to eight-year old Ladybug liked Speekee a lot and asked to watch it with no prompting from me. They even talked about it in the car on the way to church, their grandparents' house, and running errands.

Speekee uses a mixture of children, adults, puppets, and sock puppets (Cowboy really loved those sock puppets and insisted on making some) in real Spanish locations, featuring songs, animations, favorite part...subtitles. As I said in my review of Zane, which uses subtitles to help children retain content on various subjects in English, I feel that using subtitles when viewing educational material really increase understanding and retention. It helps my kids a lot (and me) to comprehend and remember what is being said when we not only hear, but see the materials. The subtitles in Speekee are available in both Spanish and English, so you can choose to help your children focus on visualizing the words being said in the native tongue, or you can help increase their understanding of the content by focusing on the English subtitles.

There are over 150 minutes of learning in the Speekee program, organized into ten themed lessons. Each lesson focuses on words and phrases that would have to do with a particular location such as a park, zoo, school, house, beach, cafe. or party. They not only go over vocabulary, they show you about life in Spain and about the lives of real Spanish children. That is an excellent learning experience itself.

Your child can have a great time simply watching the episodes and singing along with the catchy tunes, which is mostly what mine did. However, there are free downloadable activity sheets, as well as a completely free additional 40 week curriculum package called "Fast Track" available with a Speekee TV Subscription. "Fast Track" is a weekly lesson plan that comes directly to your email account and will get your child through the ten episodes in one year. It generally recommends four lesson ideas and suggests particular episodes or clips to watch, as well as offering engaging activities, such as crafts and skit ideas, and worksheets. The activities take 15-30 minutes to complete, depending on your child's ability and interest level, and help solidify what was learned in each episode. They also help make the learning experience more fun.

In any case, the necessity for learning a second language (and our choice is Spanish for its useability in both our own country now as well as with missions work...) was solidified this past week when the English/Spanish language barrier caused some difficulties in communication with the best roofing team we've ever seen and also with the nice guys who put in the windows in a flash and installed the new siding on our house. I was certainly motivated to give learning Spanish more of a go, and the kids' interest in watching their new Speekee program was multiplied when they saw it had a practical usefulness.

We also saw the benefits of giving trying out new languages a try when the kids won the work crews' hearts quickly by trying out their new basics such as "Que' tal?" (pardon the incorrect punctuation...I have no idea how to do the upside down question mark that goes in front of a question) which means, "How are you?" We received answers of "Muy bueno," (though in Speekee, the response was "Muy bien," which I assume is because it is Spanish from Spain, not Mexico), "Fantastico," and "Excellente."

Doesn't the house look great?
How do you like the new room up front?
(our old porch)
I can't wait to show you pictures!

All responses were given with a big smile and appreciation for the kids trying to speak their language. The kids also said, "Hola, Soy [Ladybug]." "Y tu?" and were kindly answered by several gentlemen: "Soy Maynar" and "Soy Joseph." Then during the day, we would say, "Gracias" and "Muchas Gracias," because we are very thankful for the work that is being done at our home. The men seemed to appreciate the children's attempts to communicate to them in their native tongue, and thankfully, in the end, Hubby remembered enough of his high school Spanish to get most of the needed instructions across.

To make learning Spanish even more "real," we also love going to our favorite Mexican restaurant and finding a waiter who doesn't mind encouraging the children to try using their language skills. Our favorite restaurant in Florida had a waiter who would make Bubba and Tex speak only in Spanish every time he spoke with them (for ordering, refills, etc.) and it was great fun to watch them try and to attempt to do it ourselves (he would sometimes reward them with a complimentary dessert, that's positive feedback!). He'd also sometimes take time to let us practice having a conversation with him. We always appreciated that. Then we'd grab a Spanish paper on the way out the door for free and pour over it on the way home to see what we could understand.

We have a small (and growing) collection of classic children's picture books in our homeschool resource library written in both Spanish and English, and it is always interesting to read those aloud to the children so they can practice listening to Spanish in the guise of a familiar story. There are also Spanish tracks on several of our favorite movies. Have you ever given watching a movie you like in a foreign language a try? It's a hoot!

Since Daddy grew up in Texas and took Spanish in high school, he enjoys talking with the kids in simple Spanish phrases at night around the dinner table. We have Spanish word place mats and sometimes the kids will take turns asking trying out different words. We have Spanish flash cards and can print up activity sheets from the Speekee site, so the kids' interest level will stay high as they develop familiarity and ability with Spanish. 

There are many ways you can expose your kids to foreign languages. Whichever you choose, I do recommend that you begin early. Kids learn most quickly when they are young and you don't want to waste that precious time when they soak up knowledge like sponges without a lot of effort. Speekee is recommended for ages 2-10, so you can start Spanish early and develop that interest and ear at an early age.

Our kids are looking forward to watching more Speekee TV and are more motivated than ever to learn to speak Spanish, thanks to the cute and engaging program.

Someday we hope to find a native speaker we can interact with regularly someday, but in the meantime, Speekee TV makes a fun substitute, with its cheery songs and valuable learning materials. My kids give Speekee TV a smiling thumbs up (as they watch from across the room on this too hot day with construction going on all around us).


If you'd like to see what others on the Crew have to say about Speekee TV, and how they used it with their families, check out the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

If you are interested in Speekee TV, but just aren't sure if it is for you, you can try it for two weeks absolutely FREE! That's a great offer...give it a try.

If you decide you love Speekee TV, it is only $7.50 a month or $60.00 for a year. You can cancel your monthly membership at any time.

If you live outside the US, you might be able to buy the program on dvd, which I would prefer, but the dvds are not compatible with our dvd player. I hope the company will consider formatting some of the dvds for US machines so we can purchase this program on dvd someday. I know the kids would love watching it on trips the way they love watching their Signing Time videos, and I never seem to mind hearing their sweet voices singing the catchy tunes of either program, or watching their faces light up as they learn something new or remember something they already learned.

Speekee was definitely a success in our house, and is a gentle way to approach introducing your child to speaking (and understanding) Spanish in the early years.

Have a blessed week,

Disclaimer: I received a two-month subscription for the purposes of completing this review. All opinions are my own and no other compensation was received.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Hola Heather, This is Jim from Speekee checking in to say a big GRACIAS for your review. Much appreciated!

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