Last year, Emily took the Middlebury High School Spanish I Course. She enjoyed this course and learned a lot, so we were happy to have the opportunity this month to review the Middlebury Interactive Languages Spanish II Course. Foreign languages are one area in which students really need outside help if there isn’t a native speaker in the home. Certainly, a classroom, or better yet, a private tutor would be ideal for learning languages, but homeschoolers can’t necessarily afford, or even have the opportunity to learn languages in this way. We’ve tried various Spanish programs and have found online programs to be a good choice for good instruction in a cost-effective manner. With Middlebury Interactive Languages, Emily is able to listen to a native speaker (which is not typically the case in school classrooms), receive immediate feedback for her lessons, and review lessons as many times as needed.
Each Middlebury Spanish II Unit is 5 days long and includes vocabulary, grammar instruction, culture lessons, listening, speaking, and writing practice. Days 3 and 4 include quizzes, and day 5 consists of a unit test and a writing or speaking test. There are 18 units in a semester, so it is necessary for the student to complete a lesson every day in order to complete the course in a timely manner. Emily was able to complete lessons in 30-60 minutes, though, so keeping up wasn’t a problem.
Middlebury offers a fairly traditional approach for language learning. The early lessons teach basic vocabulary and phrases along with basic grammar concepts, such as present tense conjugation, proper use of adjectives, word order, etc. Listening, speaking, and writing activities all reinforce the grammar and vocabulary for each lesson. (Middlebury also offers an immersive curriculum, which may vary in presentation—I haven’t seen that one.) By the start of Spanish II, all of the instructions are in Spanish (although there is fortunately a translation icon), and the speech is quite rapid.
- Matching pictures with vocabulary.
- Matching full sentences with the corresponding picture.
- Repeating words and sentences in Spanish.
- Writing out paragraphs that use the key grammar and vocabulary from the unit in response to a prompt.
- Recording responses to a prompt.
- Listening to a recorded sentence and putting the scrambled print words in the correct order.
- Filling blanks in sentence with properly conjugated verbs.
Our experience: Emily is finding Spanish II quite challenging. Last year, she completed Spanish I, semester I, then used some other Spanish materials, so I thought she would be ready for Spanish II. She’s doing well, but it is definitely stretching her abilities! Right now, she’s working on memorizing the irregular forms of the preterite tense. There are several different activities to help her practice this, but it is a lot to cover in a week or two. She has complained that the speech is too fast and it does, indeed, seem very rapid for Spanish learners. Fortunately, she is able to listen to the sentences and longer narratives over and over as she tries to pick out words. (It’s kind of fun to see her hunched close to the computer listening intently!)
There are two forms of Middlebury Language Programs: Without teacher ($119 per semester) and With Teacher ($294). We used the No Teacher option and found that there were a few features lacking, since it seems to be designed to have one of their teachers checking work. While most assignments are checked by the computer, some, such as writing assignments and recordings, are sent to a “to be graded” folder. While I could see the written assignments and give them a grade myself if I chose, there was no way to mark that grade to be included in Middlebury’s grading calculations. Also, some of Emily’s recorded assignments didn’t save. They were marked as completed, but her recorded speech was not there for me to listen to later. Despite these little glitches, Middlebury Spanish is a very solid program. I feel that Emily is making a lot of progress in vocabulary, grammar, and in listening comprehension.
Changes I would love to see:
- A parent log-in that allows the parent to reset lessons and tests if the student needs more practice and that allows the parent to assign a grade for the teacher-graded assignments.
- The interface is a little strange. Upon opening the program, the user sees a calendar with lessons scheduled and may click on those lessons to open them. However, the lessons were pre-scheduled, beginning before we even had access to the program and offered no days off, so the dates were all inaccurate for where we were in the program. There was no way for me to change this. I would have loved to be able to adjust the calendar myself. This didn’t affect our use of the program at all, but I’d rather not see a calendar at all than one that showed Emily to be continually behind schedule. Lessons are also accessible from the Table of Contents tab, which is what we generally used.
Overall, this is my favorite language program of the many that we’ve tried because it is enjoyable, comprehensive, and follows a traditional enough scope and sequence that I feel comfortable giving high school credit for it and trusting that Emily could transfer into a classroom or eventually a college class and be on track. Emily is enjoying the course and it’s usually the first assignment she completes each day.