Emily has used the Middlebury Interactive Languages program for the past two years and we have been very impressed with the courses. Emily completed the first semester of the regular High School Spanish 2 course last year. I’ve always been curious about the difference between the “competency” and “fluency” courses, so we decided to try out the High School Spanish 2 Fluency Course this year as she continues with the second semester of Spanish 2.
A semester of a high school Middlebury Interactive Language course has 90 lessons, each taking 30-60 minutes to complete. The Fluency course that Emily is using is broken up into 12 units for the year. Each unit includes 8 lessons, a review, 2 evaluations, and 2 projects involving research and writing. Each unit is focused around a theme: food, celebrations, travel, etc. and includes one or more topics of grammar instruction as well. All of the instructions for High School Spanish 2, written or spoken, are given in Spanish.
The student proceeds through a variety of activities each day, including watching short videos that introduce the lesson, matching, fill-in-the blank, and recording answers to questions. Lessons frequently include cultural information as well as vocabulary, grammar, and comprehension.
The Spanish 2 Fluency Course shows days in the the lives of teens that live in Spanish speaking countries. Through video, the student is introduced to these teens and follows them through various scenarios. These actors don’t slow down their speech or necessarily use only vocabulary that has been previously taught, leaving the student to pick up as much as he can as he watches. Each lesson begins with a video and asks the student to answer several questions about the content. Then the activities teach and reinforce new vocabulary and grammar, often using shorter clips of the original video. This creates an immersion effect, requiring the student to listen carefully in order to get the general meaning of the conversations if not the whole conversation, much as he would have to do if visiting another country. Fortunately, the video and audio clips may be listened to multiple times and we found that we both were able to understand a bit more each time we listened.
I don’t see a huge difference between the traditional course that Emily took last year and the fluency course, but she is enjoying this one more. There is still some direct grammar and vocabulary instruction, but each unit is centered around one main video vignette. Cultural education seems to be more incorporated into the story than presented in a separate, unrelated lesson. The conversations that the student listens to are very realistic. The speakers speak quickly and chatter to each other instead of the camera, just as in real life. This really stretches the students abilities.
Emily is really enjoying her Spanish course this year. She often completes more than one lesson a day and is making great scores, which tells me that she is mastering the material. She says:
I like Middlebury a lot this year because they have really improved on it. I am able to understand the audio more and it repeats things that I have already learned, so that I really get it worked into my mind. The evaluations at the end of each unit are also very helpful because they pack a lot of the information I learned into the test. I find it very helpful that it is repetitive. I learn better if I hear something over and over again.
We are very pleased with Middlebury’s High School Spanish 2 Fluency Course. It is a good mix of listening, speaking, reading, and writing, with possibly the largest emphasis on listening. The teaching is challenging, thorough and enjoyable, and there is plenty of review. It is designed to be used independently, so parents don’t have to know the language in order for their students to use the program.