Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Foreign Language Resources for Home Educators

Free Online Resources: 

  • Duo Lingo... This is a FREE, interactive program that's easy to use! Check it out first!!! It's even been suggested to outperform Rosetta Stone, which is a fabulous program with a hefty price tag.  
  • Live Mocha... A site for older students, where you can choose from a variety of languages to learn. The site combines the community network with language learning. You complete your lesson and it is reviewed by other volunteers in the community who speak the language (usually natives). Each time you submit an assignment, you're asked to grade an assignment in your own language and provide feedback. You may volunteer to grade more assignments if you choose. People learning your language may ask to chat with you. Most participants are adults and older teens. This is a great way to learn a new language and about other cultures. Grammar isn't formerly taught in the free lessons, you're expected to pick it up by doing. As you go, you earn teacher points and mocha points, which simply show who is most active and helpful. If you find someone who's helpful to you, you can add them as friends to send your assignments to more often. 
  • Study Spanish - Lots of free downloadable material 
  • French Assistant - Learn French online. It even has audio samples to hear the words spoken. 

Top Language Learning Software: 
  • Rosetta Stone... This is the Cadillac of language-learning programs... even NASA uses it. It offers over thirty languages and follows a natural learning approach, available for both PC and Mac. Just be warned it isn't not cheap! :) Read a review of it below from an experienced language teacher.  *If you sign up at Border's Books for Border's Rewards to receive coupons by email, they send out coupons every once in a while on a Rosetta Stone purchase. Or you can get $100 off your purchase of Rosetta Stone from the Homeschool Buyers Co-Op. (**UPDATE: I now recommend trying Duo Lingo first!)  
  • Tell Me More... This is the main rivaling software to Rosetta Stone, operating with the same method and style as Rosetta Stone, but at a lower price, and is currently available for PC only. Some home school magazines have even ranked it above RS. They make a home school edition that provides up to five levels of learning in one program, and unlike RS, TMM doesn't mind if you re-sell your program when you're done using it. 

Advice from a certified foreign language teacher of French, Spanish & German: 

    The longer I homeschool my own kids, the more I've come to realize that each homeschooling family is unique.  I wanted to start my reply with that statement because I don't think I'm qualified to recommend any curriculum or method for any family except mine!  

On the other hand, I was certified in TN to teach foreign languages (French, Spanish, and German) to grades 7-12.  I learned French in high school and majored in it in college.  I took Spanish and German in college as electives and ended up minoring in them.  Currently I'm learning Mandarin Chinese.   So in light of my language background, I often feel obligated somehow to respond to questions about foreign language learning in homeschool situations.  

Most people get very frustrated learning a new language.  Studies have shown that the optimum time to learn a language is before age 10.  This is because of the way the brain develops.  It seems God really did design us to learn to hear a language for a few years and then begin to repeat it, eventually understand it, and years later begin to write it.   As adults, we want to rush through that whole process by spending 1 hour per day (or week!) for a year or 2 and then be Wah-lah - FLUENT!   No wonder there's frustration!!  Our expectations are incredibly high!! 

    If you truly want to be "fluent" (i.e sound like a native and be able to say whatever you're thinking in the language) you're going to have to move to a place where that language is exclusively spoken and (just as importantly!) stay away from English speakers and English media while you're there.   

So, O.k., none of you wants to do that -right?  So what's the next best thing?  A live-in maid that speaks your target language?  Oh, wait, you're like me and can't afford that either.  Well then, I guess we've come down to curricula.....

When choosing a language learning method, you need to remember that the more TIME you put into it, the more you will learn and the closer to fluency you will become.  (Not to disappoint you, but you will NOT be fluent without living in your target country.)  My high school students who actually put time in outside of class progressed the most quickly.  The ones who spent 5 hours a week thinking about Spanish for 32 weeks were almost understandable after one year, and passable after 2 years.  Very few of them felt like they could "think in" the target language.   The method used in public schools then (as now most likely) was the standard "read the chapter, learn the vocabulary and a point of grammar" lessons.  (We did what we could to spice it up.)    To me, this is clearly the most boring and tedious method out there.  No wonder so many people hate learning languages!  It's frustrating and boring as well as a LOT of memorization!  People can't wait to be done with it and constantly tell me, "I took [insert name of language here] in high school but I don't remember any of it."  No wonder!

    We have tried various methods of learning Spanish in our homeschool.  The first was playing games (good for learning basic vocab., not so much for sentence structure)  especially with little kids.  You can make bingo cards online, or buy flash cards at the school supply store.  

    After I taught a "speed Spanish" class for the local homeschool group, I wanted my kids to at least not lose what they'd learned in that class.  So we started Power Glide.  It looked good.  It covered lots of material.  But as we got into it we discovered that you have to learn the little pictographs in the text.  The reasoning behind that is to get you to THINK in Spanish.  So that when you see a picture of a clock, you don't think "clock" you think "reloj".    The problem was that some of the pictographs were of conceptual things and my kids found it hard to remember all of those pictographs.  It became like learning a made up language in order to learn Spanish!  My daughter complained that the only thing she could say in Spanish was "The King and Queen sing in the bathroom."  after 6 months of Power Glide.  My son whined about translating so many sentences that were barely different, "The King sings in the bathroom" "The Queen sings in the bathroom" "The King and Queen sing in the bathroom" etc. etc.  

    We recently purchased the Rosetta Stone Spanish (get it through the homeschool buyer's co-op and you'll get $100 off).  So far it has been a winner!  The kids enjoy doing it, and have started using Spanish around the house when they can.  It has a 'modern' feel to it since it's on the computer and the photos are recent enough to not be dated.  I think the best part to them is that they're not doing any writing.  (There are 'workbook' pages that come with it on a cd.  You can print them out and assign them as you want.  I haven't assigned any YET because my main goal for them is to be able to speak Spanish.  Also,  I want to give them a break after their Power Glide experience.)  The program does have a spelling component to it though, so they are getting used to how words look in Spanish.  Their accents have improved dramatically in 2 months!  They're already way better than my high school students!   The program is flexible, so you can choose whether to have your student do all the lessons, or just the reviews, or just the listening/speaking, etc.  My kids are doing the entire curriculum - even the 6 year old.  (I think it would be easy to tailor the program for much younger children as well - if they're old enough to operate the mouse, I'd start them on it!)  It is certainly the most popular subject in our house right now.  (That's saying something after our experience with Power Glide!)   My main reason for liking it though is that it is the closest thing to how we learned English.  You start out learning a few words and gradually add to that.  Many times you're presented with a new situation and you have to figure out what is expected of you - just like when you were 2 years old!   I liked the program so much, I bought the Mandarin version.  My only complaint with the Mandarin is that there are no workbook pages to print out.  (Also, I don't think it's grading me hard enough on the tones in Mandarin.)  If you're more interested in the writing part, I'd still do Rosetta Stone and supplement with a "normal" French text book.  (Amsco used to publish some really thorough ones.  Anything with an answer key will work.)

    So now I'm back to where I started this epic-long e-mail:  I can not possibly pick a curriculum that will match your family.  I've told you what I liked about Rosetta Stone, and what I didn't like about Power Glide.   But that's just our family!  

    My #1 recommendation is that no matter what program you use - try to immerse yourself in that language as much as you possibly can!  Label the nouns in your house.  Use the language when you're at home -even if it's only 1/2  a sentence!  "Mom, do you know where I put mi cuaderno?"  is better than nothing!!! Don't be a perfectionist about it - just try!!!   Watch movies in your language with or without English subtitles.  Listen to your language in the car - there are several foreign language radio stations - at least in larger cities.  (Or you can get them on the internet.)  Make Fridays "Foreign Language Fridays" and don't allow any English that day.  (including t.v. or music - every little bit counts!!)  Invite fellow learners over for Friday night and see how little English you can get by with!   Invite a foreign exchange student over for the summer. (No, I don't recommend the year-long version - frequently turns bad.)  The more you immerse yourself in your language, the faster you'll learn it, the more you'll retain, and the more confident you'll become.  

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