I have been teaching my kiddos Spanish for years. Well, I have been teaching them Spanish vocabulary for years. Actually speaking Spanish, that is another story. I am NOT fluent in Spanish, but the the folks at Homeschool Spanish Academy are so you can imagine my excitement when we were asked to review their on line Spanish lessons via Skype video conferencing! To say that there was a fiesta going on in this house is an understatement!
For the past 5 weeks, our youngest son, age 6, has been enrolled in the Homeschool Spanish Academy's Early Language Program for ages 5-12. Lessons are 25 minutes long and you can choose whether you want to have 1 or 2 classes a week. Teachers begin teaching kids as young as 5 in this level, but do recommend age 7 as ideal to begin. Because CJ was adopted from Guatemala and has a pretty thorough introduction to the Spanish language we felt he would be ready. With one on one instruction with native Spanish speaking teachers your child is bound to learn something...I think you will be surprised at just how much they will learn.
There are a few hurdles to overcome before you can begin lessons like making sure your system will support the video conferencing. The teachers, after all, are in Guatemala. Before you begin lessons customer support will contact you, help you test your system and make sure you are set up on Skype. Just prior to your lesson you will ask to accept your teacher's name so you can converse.
After that the only thing left for you to do is schedule your lessons. This is done easily by choosing the time of day you want, the day of the week, and the teacher you prefer. There are pictures of all of the available teachers along with their bios to help you choose. Because the demand for classes has been high lately, they are in the process of adding even more teachers to choose from. I cannot speak highly enough of the two teachers we have used! Elda and Rosa have won a spot in my heart and have enamored CJ! Just watching his face light up when he sees them on the camera sold me on this program from day one! While I would have initially preferred to stay with one teacher, Elda has gone on maternity leave and therefore we had to pick a new teacher. I was concerned that the transition would be hard for CJ, but instead it was seamless and now he has two teachers he loves. Homeschool Spanish Academy actually recommends you use several different teachers so you can get use to different accents and teaching styles. I see now the wisdom in this recommendation. The teachers take detailed notes about each session they have with your child and therefore if another teacher teaches next, they know just where to pick up.
24 hours prior to a lesson you will be sent a reminder of your lesson time and then you are off!
Let me tell you, I am not sure who was more nervous, my son or me that first lesson! But Elda asked questions, smiled a lot and even acted silly to break the ice. She asked him to share what he knew already, asked him about himself and told him a little about her. Within minutes CJ was conversing with her like he had known her forever and my heart stopped beating a million miles an hour, knowing things were going to be great!
Each week a new theme is introduced and discussed, as well as the previous lessons reviewed. In addition to being able to see the teacher, she is able to bring up a screen with the material that is being taught on it for your child to see. She can then use her mouse to point to the pictures or phrases she is talking about. Then, after the lesson your child receives their "homework". For this level, it is a copy of the pages (usually 4-6) you just went over with the teacher for further review and practice. We have used these pages daily to review the material, going over each section in about 15 minute session.
So far we have studied vowels and the sounds they make, the alphabet, greetings and titles, and fruits. By far the hardest lesson for CJ has been the alphabet. I am sure this is because for a child who is learning to read in English and pronounce English letters, it is a little more challenging to now see the same letters pronounced differently. I do think that is one area that it would be easier to have an older child in the program, but other than that he has had no difficulty picking up new words and phrases.
One of the areas that I have seen the most growth in is his comprehension of questions being asked of him. Like I said, he knew a lot of vocabulary prior to these lessons, but understood very little back and forth conversation. Both of the teachers we have had are very good at asking a question first in Spanish, waiting a few seconds for CJ to process it and then repeating it in English. As time has gone on, I see that he understands more of what is asked without it having to be repeated. From my personal experience I can tell you that part of that is just being comfortable with a native speaker! When we were in Guatemala I did pretty well understanding native speakers until the conversation turned towards me. At that point I would panic and freeze up. The longer we were there the less that happened because I relaxed and got use to the different sounds being used. I have a feeling that is the case with my son as well. The more comfortable he gets hearing Spanish the more comfortable he will be at using it. While we try daily to use some Spanish in our home, we now find ourselves using it more and CJ loves quizzing everyone in the evening with the new words he has learned for the week. Let's face it- it is always fun to have more knowledge than your older siblings, right!?
So what do we think?
Can you guess? haha We LOVE this program! So much so that we have signed up for another 7 week session. In my opinion, while learning a foreign language can be done with just a book, it is far better to learn from someone who is a native speaker.
It gives you a broader base of knowledge, makes you more comfortable with the language and is just much more fun!
I also am impressed with the professional quality of this program. I have no doubt that setting up lessons via Skype with teachers in another country has many moving parts to it that could fall apart easily. We have seen no hiccups in the program at all! As a matter of fact, when Elda had to leave early for maternity leave, we received an email explaining the situation and telling us exactly how to reschedule the remaining lessons we already had on the calendar. The website is easy to navigate and there is a members' section that keeps track of your scheduled lessons as well as homework assignments. If any questions arise contacting customer service is easy and they respond back super fast.
Fellow CREW members reviewed additional levels of the Homeschool Spanish Academy program, so if you have an older child, I encourage you to click over to read about their experiences.