What about GRAMMAR in our Homeschool Spanish?

What is the best way to meet your homeschool Spanish goals?  How can parents and students get the greatest “return on investment” (ROI) for your time, effort, and often, money spent on foreign language programs?

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A friend of mine is known for saying, “I believe in using the right tool for the right job.”  That bit of wisdom applies to many things we do in life, doesn’t it?  The right tools can help us to save time, save money, save materials, and save us from unnecessary grief and heartache.  The right tools can bring smiles to our faces and a spring to our step!  Could your student use that in his or her school day?  Could you?

The best tools reflect thoughtful design (I can’t help but think of my Dyson here!) and require less effort from the consumer, even while yielding better performance/results.  I don’t know about you, but when I plug in an appliance, I want for it to do more of the work, not me!  Please don’t go believing that tools that make the job harder somehow confer more knowledge to your students.  The wrong tools are simply that, bad tools.

When it comes to homeschool Spanish, you want tools that work with, not against, your student’s brain.  You want tools that take into account how language is actually acquired and what helps us to retain it.  You want tools that are known for producing positive results.

What about grammar?  Well, let’s not lose sight of what we all know did work when we acquired our first language.  It wasn’t grammar study first, then fluency later, right?  What worked the first time, what helped us to acquire and retain?

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The best language experiences come to us naturally.

Laura Zuchovicki of Conversabooks writes this about our early language experience:

Learning “to talk” is a slow process that comprises of listening to adults around us. The adults surrounding the baby use “verbs” without explicitly explaining the grammatical rule behind it. Nonetheless, babies receive continuous repetition of certain words until they are able to use them within the appropriate context. The tangible outcome proves to be successful when the babies are officially communicating in their first language…

We simply continue the language acquisition progress until we perfect oral communication and are ready to enroll in the academic life. It is not until we are about six or seven years old that we discover the purpose of grammar within our language. The process of acquiring language is as long as running a marathon.

If the first language is predicated by pure experience, without opening a book or studying the grammar, why do we insist on reversing the process to acquire a new language? In my opinion, the standard should be as follows: “In my Spanish foreign language class, I will not teach my students about the Spanish language and its grammar. I will teach my students to speak in Spanish so that they are able to communicate with others.”

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Laura is right— it is indeed backwards to flip the entire paradigm of language experience upside down!  Yet this is what foreign language classes and programs have done rather consistently for far too long.  But as homeschoolers, we don’t have to submit to a faulty model of language teaching.  We get to choose educational philosophies, practices, and resources that harmonize with our needs.  We get to choose our tools, and we choose the best!

Still worried about grammar?  Keep in mind that fluency in Spanish will always lead to greater grammatical accuracy than non-fluency ever could.  Excelerate SPANISH is not anti-grammar!  We simply choose to approach grammar naturally and in context.  In so doing, students internalize (rather than temporarily memorize) the patterns and flow— the structure— of the language.  It’s a kinder, gentler, and more effective way of doing things.

If your goal is to provide Spanish I for your high school student, fluency is the key to proficiency, including test-taking proficiency.  Excelerate SPANISH is for you.  If your goal is to become conversational so that you can be better equipped for that mission trip, special vacation, or move, then Excelerate SPANISH is for you.  And if you simply want the opportunity to connect on a deeper level with Spanish speakers, then Excelerate SPANISH is for you!

Accelerate language learning.

Unleash creativity.

Discover the Power of STORY.

Excelerate SPANISH

Your Homeschool Spanish!

90 DAY GUARANTEE Love it or your money back!

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Comprehensible Input Ideas for ANY Language

As young children, we acquired our native language(s) because of relevant, personalized, compelling comprehensible input.  Unfortunately, this is what is lacking with most foreign language programs.  Fortunately, in today’s digital age, finding solutions is easier than ever, once we know what to look for.

Appropriate input can include videos, music, television, news articles, podcasts, books, conversations, sports narrations, and more.  You’ll be glad to know that it’s possible to find TONS of it for FREE!  This article explores 25 ways to access, adapt, and/or create comprehensible input…25 ways to accelerate your way to the proficiency you want!

internet-and-multimedia-sharing

Since comprehensible input is so crucial to developing fluency, you may want to seek out additional resources, too.  As you evaluate the usefulness of these resources, just make sure that the “level” is not too difficult for you (not frustrating) and the content appeals to you personally.  Also, extended contexts are highly preferable to disjointed, rapidly changing contexts— in other words, stories and other connected discourse are best.  Plus, they’re just more fun.  Win-win!

To find comprehensible input for the foreign language of your choice, simply google the words “comprehensible input” along with the name of the target language (e.g., “comprehensible input mandarin chinese”).  Then evaluate the search results according to the criteria above.  Try to spend a little time each day with a good comprehensible input resource.

Things NOT to worry about just yet:  Perfection.  Grammar (conjugating verbs, learning structures).  Translation.  Making the sounds correctly yourself.  These things have more to do with output than input…and that’s putting the cart before the horse.  You can’t give what you haven’t received, so don’t fret over spending the time you need soaking up input.  Relax and enjoy the input.

smiling

If you decide that you want to go with a curriculum, I hope you’ll consider Excelerate SPANISH.  It was created to provide relevant, personalized, compelling comprehensible input—via scenarios that resemble real-life situations, imbued with humor, and rich in content.

I hope this post helps with your personal quest.  If you find some really great free resources and think we should all know about them, please pass on the good news!

 

Bring More SPANISH Practice into Your Homeschool

The key to becoming really proficient in Spanish is practice, practice, practice…but how is a homeschool family to accomplish this goal most advantageously?

Obviously, choosing the most effective curriculum is an important first step.  Make sure that your program’s approach is based on sound principles.  Many common practices are not best practices, and a little research up front can keep you from wasting valuable time and/or money in the long run.

Then, find additional “comprehensible input” to further familiarize yourself with the patterns and flow of the Spanish language.  Here are some guidelines to help you select the most practical resources:

  1. Pick those options that are interesting, appealing, and enjoyable for you.  There’s just no need to settle for tedious or dry material.  Speaking another language is fun, and your activities should be, too.
  2. Use audio, reading, and visual materials that are at an appropriate level for you.  The bulk of the language should be comprehensible to you, with just enough element of challenge to keep you progressing.
  3. Speakers (live or recorded) who are willing to enunciate, speak slowly, repeat, etc. are ideal!  Of course, there are also benefits to hearing Spanish spoken at a natural pace, so that you won’t be thrown for a loop when you face native speakers in real-life interactions.
  4. Remember that when you learned your first language, fluency came first, then grammar study— not the other way around.
  5. Sometimes, the best things in life really are free.  That’s also true when it comes to “comprehensible input.”

free

For conversation practice with native speakers and/or other students of Spanish:

  1. Shared Talk is a little-known but wonderful treasure offered for free by Rosetta Stone.  You do not have to own or use the Rosetta Stone program to access Shared Talk!  Click here for more details or to sign up.  (Parents, remember to always monitor internet use by your children!)
  2. English-Spanish Chat is another such resource.  There are fewer members, but I have heard positive feedback about this site.
  3. The Mixxer allows for language learners to find a conversation partner to talk to via Skype.
talk

¿Hablas español?

For authentic comprehensible input:

  1. Notes in Spanish offers free podcasts at various levels.  If you like, there are also worksheets you can download and use.
  2. Here is a Children’s Digital Library you can access for free!
  3. These sites offer videos and/or TV shows in Spanish: Argentina’s Public TV, TV al Vivo, TVN, Nicaragua’s Canal 15, Spain’s Tele MadridANTV, and Univision.
  4. To listen to music in Spanish, visit this site featuring over 600 stations!  I also liked the music videos here.
  5. For news, see Telemundo‘s site or Madrid’s ABC (or google, of course).
  6. BBC Languages is no longer updating their site, but it is still functional and well worth exploring!

If you find other sites that you’d like to recommend to homeschool families, please tell us!  Also, feel free to let us know which resources were most beneficial to you.

Gracias, y buena suerte con su práctica.  🙂

Su segura servidora,

caryn hommel

 

 

Total Physical Response (TPR) and Foreign Language SUCCESS

What is Total Physical Response and how can it help you with foreign language acquisition?

This awesome introduction to Total Physical Response reveals tremendous advantages for language learners.  Summarizing, TPR has been demonstrated to:

  1. Reduce student inhibitions
  2. Facilitate long-term retention
  3. Reduce anxiety and stress
  4. Help academically weaker students
  5. Train students to guess from context
  6. Increase student confidence
  7. Offer a refreshingly different style of teaching/learning
  8. Provide more effective, comprehensible input
  9. Encourage active listening
  10. Access and capitalize on the strengths of the right brain
  11. Offer easy ways to review
  12. Keep the class in the target language more
  13. Promote goodwill between student and teacher
  14. Incorporate humor
  15. Increase interest and enjoyment

That is quite a list of benefits, isn’t it?  What great news for language learners of all ages!  And it’s important food for thought for parents and teachers as we select our curricula.  After all, couldn’t we all use ways to work smarter, not harder?

Excelerate SPANISH incorporates TPR into every. single. lesson.  All students can enjoy this fabulous “brain-switching” approach and the feeling of success it provides!  Nothing breeds success like success, after all.

success

Whether your student is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner–or has special needs or is gifted or is average–Total Physical Response can empower, motivate, and achieve the success you want for your foreign language program!

Accelerate Language Acquisition.

Unleash Creativity.

Promote Excellence.

Discover the Power of Story.

Excelerate SPANISH

90 DAY GUARANTEE Love it or your money back!

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The Best Way to Learn a Foreign Language

I taught Spanish in the public school classroom for 10 years, mostly at the high school level, then to homeschooled students (mine and others) for about 8 years. I am not a fan of traditional, formal curricula for foreign language learning. Some students will learn in spite of them… but many more inevitably wind up complaining, “I took x number of years and can’t speak a word.”The long-term retention (even short-term retention, in many cases) just isn’t there.

Fortunately, there are brilliant and talented professionals who have analyzed how the brain works and how we human beings acquire language. If you want to be sure that your curriculum choice aligns with how your child’s brain works, check out the following articles by Dr. Stephen Krashen and Dr. James Asher.

Dr. Asher’s article “Language By Command: The Total Physical Response Approach to Learning Language” explains his effective TPR method and describes the results. The claim is phenomenal:

“In study after study for 25 years, laboratory experiments and classroom observations have demonstrated results that were extremely positive. When the instructor skillfully uses the target language to direct the student’s behavior, understanding of the utterance is transparent, often in only one exposure. Also, the understanding is achieved without stress and then retained for weeks, months, and even years.”

My personal experiences as a language learner AND as a teacher of foreign language completely agree with Dr. Asher’s studies and observations!  Don’t we all want those positive results, transparent understanding, accelerated learning, and long-term retention??

A fascinating article by Dr. Stephen Krashen highlights the advantages of natural approaches that offer students comprehensible input or CI.  He indicates that “communicative situations” help students to acquire the language:

“Students in classes that provide lots of comprehensible input (e.g. methods such as TPRS) consistently do better than students in traditional grammar-based classes on tests that involve real communication and do just as well, and often better, on grammar tests. These students have acquired the grammar and vocabulary of the language naturally, and can use what they have acquired in real communicative situations. They are also more likely to continue foreign language study.”

The value of CI and “communicative situations” is confirmed as Dr. Krashen explores the intriguing success story of a Hebrew learner named Armando.  Armando became so fluent that he actually fooled native speakers, prompting Krashen to consider the implications for optimal foreign language acquisition. His conclusions:

“Armando’s case…shows us that one can do quite well in second language acquisition without living in the country in which the language is spoken and without formal instruction. The crucial variables appear to be comprehensible input and having a good relationship with speakers of the language.”

Dr. Krashen also believes that a complete absence of formal grammar instruction appears to be irrelevant as it relates to the successful acquisition of a second language!  Yet what is the focus of so many foreign language programs?  Isolated grammar!

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Why do we keep doing this??

Putting the research into my own words, this is how I would describe effective foreign language curricula:
1. Lessons mimic real-life situations using as MANY senses as possible… sight, taste, touch, etc.
2. Vocabulary words and structures are embedded in meaningful contexts (no rote drills).
3. Interest level is high–topics or situations are appealing to students.
4. Low–preferably zero–frustration for the student. Foreign language learning should be pleasant!

Excelerate Lesson 1

Excelerate SPANISH combines TPR with comprehensible input (CI) and realistic “communicative situations,” and further adds humor and suspense in order to fulfill each of the criteria above.  The TPR element appeals to visual and kinesthetic learners and activates the motor cortices of our brains, accessing more of the brain than so-called “traditional” methods.  Exciting action sequences, fun stories, and stimulating reading material draw upon the retaining power of the limbic system.  24 full-length lesson videos on 4 DVDs provide all of the necessary instruction for the program, and the coordinating lesson book and workbook furnish students with practice opportunities, activity suggestions, and more.  And of course, the answer keys take any guesswork out of the equation!  It’s comprehensive and easy to use.

excelerate-spanish-review

Reviewers agree!  Click the photo above and here for reviews.

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Part 1: Can Excelerate SPANISH be used for Spanish I? Homeschool Moms Want to Know

As the author of Excelerate SPANISH, I’d like to say, first of all, that teaching high school Spanish is what I did professionally for ten years.  I’ve seen what works… and I’ve seen what doesn’t.  When I started homeschooling my own children in 2003, it was fun trying out several foreign language curricula that were popular among homeschoolers.  Some were pleasant enough– even downright cute– but we made very little headway with them.  Others bored or frustrated us.  Enter my experimentation phase!

Over the summer of 2007, I researched harder than ever for solutions.  That fall, I offered a Total Physical Response (TPR) Spanish class to the local homeschool community.  What we found over the course of that school year was that students who used TPR felt confident and successful.  I had never seen such smiley foreign language students!  The following year, most of them came back for more, but they also seemed to be itching to do more.  Enter the story phase!

When my group of (mostly) high school boys were given a lesson that employed both TPR and storytelling/dramatization, they beamed with satisfaction and rewarded me by speaking in paragraphs!  Though I didn’t realize it at the time, we were actually employing Charlotte Mason‘s idea of “narration” in our foreign language study.

Children learning from parents

The students were using whole language to express what they had seen and heard.  And they did so in ways that were neither contrived nor merely memorized, but spontaneous, accurate, and totally internalized.  Finally, the perfect fit.

After a happy, productive year of unprecedented results in my private classes, I began to feel badly for students and teachers all across America who were struggling– and suffering– their way through dry, rote, ineffective foreign language programs.  If only there were a way I could videotape our lessons and make them available to others, I thought.

The first step towards making this vision a reality was writing an original curriculum based upon the sound teaching principles I had discovered to work best.  To be efficient, it would have to feature high-frequency expressions (those used most often by native Spanish speakers).  To be compelling, the material would have to appeal to the students in personal ways and through interesting and varied contexts.  To enhance retention, lessons would need to capitalize on our human traits of empathy, appreciation for humor, etc.  I believe that Excelerate SPANISH balances these needs and interests adeptly.

caryn close-upA terrible candid shot of the author, caught working during a child’s birthday party! 🙂

The second step was piloting the lessons with real students, revising, etc.  The addition of a preface explains the approach, provides some instruction for co-op teachers/tutors, and gives homeschool parents and students ideas for homework assignments, review activities, and more.  A coordinating workbook provides additional practice opportunities.  The answer key takes all of the guesswork out of the equation for homeschool parents who don’t speak the language.

excelerate-spanish-review

Next, I hired professional videographer Jeremy Russell to record each of the 24 lessons in the Excelerate SPANISH lesson book.  I gathered a nice group of volunteer subjects (most of whom had had little to no previous exposure to Spanish), and the taping began.  We were amazed at how smoothly it all went!  For, though I absolutely created this program for high school students, the video class was composed of multiple ages, with students ranging in age from 7 to 17– and they all got it.  Since the language is taught using brain-friendly methods, and because the process mirrors early language acquisition, it simply works better for most age groups.  I think you’ll see that in the faces of the video students.  You’ll see it in the ear-to-ear grins of the younger (perhaps less self-conscious) kiddos in the videos.  And you’ll see it in the mature and composed demeanor (sometimes referred to as “too cool for school”) in the middle and high school students.

Excelerate lesson 9

Smiling and Successful!

I am pleased to relate that private tutors and co-op teachers in multiple states are now enjoying– and reporting– the same success using the Excelerate SPANISH books in their live classes that we have enjoyed in ours.  I am happy to provide training and support for parents and teachers who would like to use Excelerate to teach the material themselves, without using the lesson videos.  But I believe that my main goal, the goal of offering a kinder, gentler, “golden rule” way of teaching Spanish to anyone, anywhere, has been uniquely realized in the production of the DVD lessons.  I invite you to “transport” your student(s) to my quaint and quirky schoolroom– vicariously, that is– to join us.  At your convenience, on your schedule, and from the comfort of your living room.

Accelerate Acquisition.

Unleash Creativity.

Promote Excellence.

Discover the Power of Story.

Excelerate Spanish

90 DAY GUARANTEE Love it or your money back!

90 DAY GUARANTEE
Love it or your money back!

 

Need Help Finding a Homeschool Spanish Curriculum?

I spent a weekend at the Southeast Homeschool Expo in Atlanta this past summer, and it wasn’t long before I noticed that the number of curriculum choices for Spanish is, in a word, puzzling. How is a homeschool mom to narrow down her search?

By Wikimedia Foundation (File:Licensing tutorial en.svg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Among the hundreds of exhibitors at the Expo, there were representatives of Discover Spanish, La Clase Divertida, Homeschool Spanish Academy, Risas y Sonrisas, and Rosetta Stone, plus our own Excelerate SPANISH. Rosetta had a huge showing with distributors like My Father’s World, Rainbow Resources, and Sonlight. Add options provided by A Beka, Alpha Omega, BJU, and Classical Conversations, and our “homeschool Spanish” cup runneth over.

To add to the confusion, most companies claim that their way of teaching the language is “natural” and “the way you learned English as a child,” yet they’re all a bit different. So who’s to know for sure?

Well, I have GOOD NEWS! Even if you don’t speak Spanish yourself, you CAN test these claims. You just have to ask the right questions:

1. Does the program emphasize (or worse, force) production early on? In other words, are students pressured to speak? If so, this aspect of the curriculum does NOT resemble natural language acquisition and differs from how you learned as a child.  And forcing production is almost guaranteed to cause stress!

By GRPH3B18 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsSpanish lessons shouldn’t make you feel like this!

2. To what extent does the program make use of the five senses? Does the sense of touch, or the “bodily/kinesthetic intelligence” take a back seat to the visual/spatial and auditory/musical intelligences? If so, chances are good that your students will learn in a way that’s more passive than active. They’ll be observers, not participants.

3. Do realistic scenarios in the program elicit students’ emotional responses? As a child learning your first language, your responses to your environment were far from academic. When you were nurtured by caregivers, you felt safe and comforted. When your needs went unmet (even for a moment!), you cried. When you saw or heard something amusing or felt pleased or got tickled, you laughed. These responses were commonplace in your experience. The norm, not the exception. What about the program you are considering? How will it touch your student(s) emotionally? “What we learn with pleasure, we never forget.” (Alfred Mercier) Will the material be memorable, or forgettable?

Excelerate Lesson 1Excelerate Spanish: Learning with Pleasure

4. How often does the program capitalize on the power of storytelling? Stories helped the young you to learn much more than just English vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and style. They also conveyed concepts and ideas and passions! Stories invited your emotional response, and in turn, they became part of you… along with the language that communicated them. Will the program you use tap into this incredible, creative resource?

Excelerate lesson 7Humor in Every Skit!

I welcome everyone to test the Excelerate SPANISH program on each of these essential points. Excelerate is different because it was designed by a homeschool mom for homeschoolers. It’s not immersion (immersion can frustrate students), but it is content-rich. The focus is on proficiency, which means real-world value and excellence, and lower stress. You can read more about Excelerate on the Raising Real Men blog and see reviews on Amazon.  In addition, you’ll find that Excelerate SPANISH is mentioned positively in two separate articles in the 2014 Print Edition of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine!

Please comment with your thoughts, questions, and feedback. Inquiring minds want to know!

🙂
caryn hommel

Disclosure:  This post contains an affiliate link.