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!

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.


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

Try Excelerate SPANISH at no risk!

Accelerate Acquisition.

Unleash Creativity.

Promote Excellence.

Discover the POWER OF Story.

Excelerate SPANISH.

90 DAY GUARANTEE Love it or your money back!

Love it or your money back!


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.


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!

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 (], 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 (], 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.

FREE High School Transcript Template for Your Homeschool

Need a high school transcript?  No need for a panic attack!  Here’s a fantastic, FREE template that I used with both of my recent graduates (thanks to Wendy McMillian, the creator of this time-saver, and to Heather of PEAH!)  You’ll be impressed with the clean, organized look– but even better, you’ll love the way it performs your calculations for you!  And while a grading scale is included, you can easily customize this amazing “living” document to make it work for your family.

A few tips to keep in mind as you prepare your student’s transcript:

1.  Don’t include too much information.  Textbook titles and the like may be kept in a separate record (which you may or may not need later).  Sometimes over-explaining things encourages the asking of unnecessary questions.  😉

2. Give courses official-sounding titles modeled after similar courses in (dare I say it?) public schools.  For example, don’t name a science course “Apologia Biology;” instead, type in “Biology with Labs.”  Don’t write “Excelerate SPANISH;” write “Spanish I.”  Don’t put down “Tae Kwon Do;” call it “Health and P.E.” etc.

3.  Remember to include classes that were brief in nature if it is reasonable to award some credit (semester-long courses, internships, etc. might be awarded 1/2 credit hours, for example, as opposed to a year-long course earning the student a full credit hour).

4.  List any middle school courses that are normally taken in high school so that the reviewer will know that these have been completed.  (I placed the names of a couple of classes underneath the freshman classes, denoted them as “middle school,” etc).  These do not count towards the student’s GPA but often need to be entered.

5.  Include awards, sports activities, clubs, participation in scouting, rank advancements, part-time work, internships, service projects, and similar items under “extracurricular activities.”  Be as specific as possible and provide dates (or approximations) where possible.

6.  Your transcript will flow better if you order the courses consistently (English, then math, then science, etc.) for each year the student was in high school.  By repeating the same pattern, a reviewer can more easily note the number and kind of courses for each subject area.

I hope the free transcript template is helpful to you and your family.


caryn hommel


How Stories Work With Your Brain to Help You Learn SPANISH

Are we “Wired for Story?”  A recent blog post by MaryAnn Diorio highlights author Lisa Cron’s research into this fascinating question.  The article outlines the brain-story connection and postulates that a strong cognitive response to stories is pre-programmed in our psyches.  The implications of this discovery are far-reaching and should inform our teaching in virtually every subject area!

When I first began using Comprehensible Input approaches (including storytelling, dramatization, action sequences, and gestures) to teach Spanish, the students’ performance and euphoria amazed me.  I have since observed that many programs and curricula– spanning all kinds of subject areas– owe their success to the power of stories.  We use several such programs in our own homeschool- Life of Fred, Story of the World, Memorize in Minutes: The Times Tables, I Laid an Egg on Aunt Ruth’s Head, and Themes to Remember, to name a few.  Their stories make learning (math, history, grammar, music) so enjoyable and effective!

Of course, Ms. Cron’s research aptly reveals how storytelling taps into “cognitive secrets” that explain these programs’ advances.  Her observations make perfect sense to me, in light of the response I see from my students during each of our Excelerate SPANISH lessons.  The stories and skits are their favorite part, and they help to increase retention like nothing else I’ve ever implemented in the whole of my foreign language teaching career.

Excelerate Lesson 1

The key points in Ms. Diorio’s post harmonize with my experience in many ways:

1.  Since “the brain thinks in stories” and students naturally “[want] to know what will happen next,” students who get caught up in the Excelerate SPANISH stories/skits momentarily forget that: this is all part of a foreign language class, and the words being used to tell the stories are vocabulary words, and the structures used are grammar, and this is supposed to be tedious (or at least, that’s how it generally seems in a foreign language class).  Instead, their brains are going:  I wonder what he’s going to do about that crazy guy eating his fishing worms!  Meanwhile, we’re sneaking tons of Spanish into their unsuspecting brains!

excelerate book

2.  Because “the brain is goal-oriented,” students identify with the goal(s) of the protagonist in the stories.  When this happens, students are literally buying into the scenarios!  That, my friends, is magic No “drill and kill” approach to teaching Spanish is ever going to compete with that.

Excelerate lesson 7

3.  Due to the way “the brain thinks in specifics,” the gestures that we tie into each story become a useful element of concreteness, aiding students’ comprehension.

Excelerate Lesson 11

4.  Cron says that “the brain resists change.”  In foreign language teacher-speak we call the brain’s subconscious resistance to unfamiliar language the “affective filter.”  Excelerate SPANISH stories distract the subconscious brain, keeping students so interested in the stories themselves that the affective filter falls flat.

5.  Cron points out the tendency of the brain to “continually [make] cause-and-effect relationships.”  Our short, compelling stories and skits make cause-and-effect clear.  When the story is clearly understood, the student perceives that he has an excellent grasp of it… and consequently also feels confident of his grasp of the words and structures that convey the story.  What a win-win scenario!

In the final analysis, our predilection for stories is a gift– one to treasure and one from which we may all benefit!  We are incredibly fortunate to have options that provide our homeschools with lovely, stimulating, and/or intriguing contexts to aid in our teaching, to accelerate our students’ progress, and to bring memorable delights to these precious days with our children.  I hope that Excelerate Spanish will become a favored option for your homeschool.  If you do decide to try it, please let us hear your stories!  🙂

Thank you, and many blessings to you and your family!

The Power of STORY: Charlotte Mason, Living Books, and a Lifetime of Learning

Stories allure and compel us.  The themes and struggles and victories of stories captivate our imaginations whether they are packaged in books or plays or movies or even gossip.  Good stories appeal to every generation and to every culture.  They speak to the deepest part of each of us.  They are universal!


Of course, the value of a good story extends far beyond its plot or its entertainment value.  Stories are superb vehicles for imparting wisdom and moral teachings, for drawing inferences, and for communicating timeless truths and ideals.  Parents who draw from magnificently penned tales of heroism and brilliantly conceived tragedies will find in them a ready and able partner in character training.  Which is more pleasant, sharing a meaningful story with your child, or nagging and lecturing him?

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  -Philippians 4:8b


Moreover, in a purely academic sense, stories provide a wealth of context from which to teach our students what might then be rightly termed language arts.  As home educators, we—and our children—have the freedom and luxury of partaking of a feast of eloquence consisting of masterfully written stories as fodder for our studies.  Rather than unnaturally isolating vocabulary, spelling, grammar, capitalization, punctuation, etc. for rote or mechanical exercises, we may expect to achieve greater gains, and with fewer pains, by availing ourselves of the best works, on the most excellent themes, by the most skillful of writers!  What better way?

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”       -Albert Einstein

bk hca

Unquestionably, many great thinkers were educated with such a holistic approach and/or advocated such methods.  Charlotte Mason, the esteemed British educator whose model we aspire to incorporate within our family’s own homeschool, promoted the use of “living books.” She believed that children derive much more when presented with a rich tapestry of ideas than when laboring over tedious drills.

“Do not let the endless succession of small things crowd great ideals out of sight and out of mind.” -Charlotte Mason

bk ois

Like Miss Mason, I believe that students are more likely to be inspired by books written by single authors who are passionate about their subjects than they ever will be by those curricula which are pieced together during committee meetings with artificial and contrived benchmarks as their rule and guide.  I also believe that delight-driven learning carries our students further and offers more promise than requirements which seem to be little more than dry rigor for the sake of rigor.

Unlike Miss Mason, I have a heightened appreciation for some degree of silliness.  Now, I’m not referring to “twaddle” in the sense of dumbed-down texts, but rather a little well-placed (or well-timed) levity for the sake of firing up the limbic system.  You see, Charlotte Mason could not have known in her day what we now know in ours: that laughter enhances the learning process by reducing stress hormones, improving memory, and aiding our ability to process information.  How fortunate we are!

Excelerate Lesson 1

In keeping with these ideals, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Excelerate SPANISH.  I designed it to bring the awesome power of story to your student’s foreign language study.  To delight you with themes and situations designed to evoke smiles and laughter, not tears of boredom.  To provide you with contexts that mimic real-life contexts, using language that mimics real-life language.  And to fire up neurons in your student’s brain like no other foreign language program ever.

Ultimately, teaching kids Spanish is only a small part of the goal.  The true culmination of our students’ studies lies in their acquisition of the wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and experience that is attached to language ability.  Our students’ proficiency in Spanish opens the vast treasures of Spanish-language literature, history, philosophy, theology, arts, and media from over 20 countries, spanning centuries and even millennia!  How is that for incorporating living books? How is that for instilling a lifetime love of learning?  What an incredible gift to award to our children!


Accelerated acquisition.



Rewards to last a lifetime.

Excelerate SPANISH.

I think you’ll like it.

Try it in your homeschool now!

90 DAY GUARANTEE Love it or your money back!

Love it or your money back!

Please Come to the Heart for Home School Conference this Weekend!

Please register today for the conference this weekend, February 7th and 8th!  I hope to see you there!  (Psst… I have it on good authority that you may register online through Friday morning, and attendees will not be turned away at the door… but please do pre-register!)

13th Annual Winter Conference

Heart for Home School Ministries, Inc.

“Firm Foundation”

 Friday, February 7, 2014                       Saturday, February 8, 2014

Registration – 6 pm                                                  Registration – 8 am

Workshops – 6:30-9                                     Workshops – 8:30-3pm

Church of the Holy Cross

2301 W. Millbrook Rd.

Raleigh, NC 27612

Keynote Speakers

James and Tanya Dickens

Greensboro, NC


Other Speakers

Angela and Torino Armstrong                    Lamar Melson & Shanette Jones

Janice Campbell                                            Sharon Puryear

Anna Cunningham                                          Lynne M. Taylor

Lyndon Hall                                                    Deborah Watkins

Sharon Henderson                                        Mari Fitz-Wynn

Beth Herbert


Includes Kid’s Track programs (K-9th), lunch, handouts

Full Conference:

Individual       $20

Family                         $30

Single Day:

Individual       $15

Family             $25

Limited number of scholarships available

Support Groups with 5 or more attendees can become eligible for discounts.

Be sure to mention when pre-registering.



**No at the door registration**

Pre -registration ends midnight, Feb 5, 2014 (this has been changed; you now may register through Friday morning!)  click on “Events”

Use Pay Pal option or pay at the door


Call 919-872-2782

Be sure to ‘like’ us on Facebook, too!


Children’s Workshop Track
students grades K-8

NC Museum of Natural History presents
From the Mountain to the Sea
Grades K-8
Come travel our great state with us as we discover the diverse geography, history, economy, traditions, and culture. Join us as we visit the Mountain region where the difficult terrain was once the homes of the American Indians and t hardy settlers. We’ll discover the traditions, and industry of this part of N.C. We’ll learn how the invention of the railroad connected the Mountains to the rest of the state. Then we’ll travel to the Piedmont and learn about the farming and manufacturing that helped to make it the center of North Carolina’s government. We’ll conclude our journey with the Coastal region where we’ll learn about the Lost Colony, lighthouses, and the exciting lives of the pirates!

Mari Fitz-Wynn Mari Fitz-Wynn, Founder, Heart for Home School Ministries

FREE Workshop for Your Homeschool Support Group or Co-op!

I’d like to offer your co-op or support group a FREE workshop on teaching foreign languages in your homeschool, to benefit all families no matter which language(s) or curricula you choose! We will discuss:

1. How and why so many students fail to achieve proficiency with ordinary methods
2. What brain researchers and language acquisition experts are saying
3. Simple techniques that improve retention
4. How to provide contexts that increase appeal and enjoyment (because learning another language is AWESOME and should feel   that way!)
5. The difference between various curricula, programs and methods
6. What kinds of free/cheap resources are most beneficial
7. How you and your family can work smarter, not harder, and jump over this hurdle successfully!

I’ll be happy to give the workshop at your location (within reasonable driving distance of NC) and at your convenience. Bring your students, of course! We’ll do a few mini-lessons in Spanish to give you a better idea how the various approaches work (and feel for the students).

If you are far outside the NC area, I would be happy to meet with your group via Skype!

Please contact me by email (see “ask a question” fields on this page) to make the arrangements.  I’m here to help!

Su segura servidora,

Caryn Hommel

Homeschool co-op family pic 2012

Incredible Music Videos in Spanish- Watch for FREE!

Now here’s a resource that’s just begging to be shared– authentic music from every Hispanic country under the sun, clearly pinpointed on the world map for easy reference!  These songs are a sure-fire way to further engage your homeschool students and to synthesize their language study with geography and culture.  Click on the pushpins and enjoy a song or two!

We’d love to see your favorites and your comments on our facebook page!  Please be sure to let your friends know about these awesome Spanish music videos specially chosen for foreign language learners by Spanish Teacher Zachary Jones.

Excelerate SPANISH Receiving Positive Attention in TOS Homeschool Magazine

Be sure not to miss the 2014 Annual Print Edition of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine!  It’s a wealth of information for your homeschool- whether you’re a newbie or a veteran.  This incredibly packed issue features articles covering tons of homeschool needs, including everything from how to start mid-year to how to teach your children Spanish at home!

Especially exciting is veteran homeschooler Marji McIlvaine’s article “Teaching Foreign Language:  You Can Do It!”  You’ll be encouraged and inspired as you glean from Marji’s 25+ years of experience teaching multiple foreign languages to homeschool students, and you’ll learn how Excelerate SPANISH addresses a critical need of the homeschool community.


Order your copy now, and enjoy a year’s worth of support in over 275 full-color pages at a phenomenal price.  It’s a treat you deserve, and a valuable resource you’ll come back to again and again.  Click here to learn more and place your order today!

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.