Middlebury Interactive Languages is from the renowned Language Schools of Middlebury College. It is an immersion based program developed to help K-12 students accelerate their language acquisition and comprehension. There are several foreign languages and various levels available, but we were given six month access to the first semester of the Elementary Spanish 1, K-2 course.
This specific course is an introductory course, meant to serve as a student's first exposure to Spanish through interactive experiences and activities. Each unit is centered around an authentic story, myth or legend from different Spanish-speaking cultures, so it's a great way to add in a little geography and world cultures as well. This course uses stories, games, songs and activities to focus primarily on vocabulary. Elliott has had exposure to Spanish over the last couple of years and is on the upper end of the age range, so I considered the Grade 3-5 course for him to challenge him a bit more, but I wanted Emory to tag along, and he's only a young five. I figured the K-2 course would meet both of their needs. The course only grades one student, but Emory loves being part of what his big brother does, and an advanced course would move too fast for him to be part of the lessons.
Elliott works fairly independently online now, so I was hoping that having an online course would help us stay consistent with adding foreign language to our schedule. I had Elliott start by working through the Welcome section, because it helps you learn how to navigate the program through a few practice exercises. The welcome section also includes links to materials that are useful for the parent/teacher (story synopses and story transcripts, course vocabulary, and the translations to the songs) to help facilitate translation and understanding of the course material. These materials are in PDF format so you can easily print them for reference too. We found these materials within the lesson as well, but I would recommend going over at least the story synopses prior to the unit so there is a better understanding of what is going on when the authentic story comes up in the lesson.
The course is broken up into units, and each unit has six lessons within it. The first semester has the following units:
Unit 1 - Greetings
Unit 2 - Numbers
Unit 3 - Family
Unit 4 - Colors
Unit 5 - School
Unit 6 - Review
It is recommended that K-2 students complete two lessons per week. This is a great pace for beginners, but Elliott is on the older end and familiar with a good bit of the target vocabulary, so sometimes he worked through more than one lesson in a sitting. I feel like the review can only benefit his understanding of the language.
The lessons in the course are set up like a slideshow.
The student clicks a slide, watches the video or does the interactive assignment. It might include watching a video and answering questions, drag and drop activities for matching phrases, or speaking exercises in order to compare their pronunciation. Sometimes there is a printable coloring page or worksheet that goes along with the lessons. When they are finished, they often need to click the checkmark or paper symbol to get the credit for the assignment. Then they can click the next slide in the lesson to move on. Completed slides are grayed out, so Elliott can easily see which section is next, but he can go back and repeat them if he wants.
I will say that there is a several minute animated video within the lesson of the authentic story, and this video utilizes the immersion approach. This is why I mentioned earlier using the story synopses to check out the story line first. The video focuses on the target vocabulary, but without knowing what the story was about, it was harder to follow along. Once I was aware of this, it was much easier to watch the videos and understand the story if we reviewed the story, even if we didn't know all of the words.
This scene was used frequently in Unit 1 to teach and review greetings, introductions and goodbyes. Having the coloring sheet was a fun bonus for the boys.
Since Unit 1 was based on greetings, the culture lesson discussed how people greet each, and how this varies based upon gender. The assignment was to draw a picture of how two people might greet each other. Elliott decided he wanted to trace his and his brother's hands (in their favorite colors!) to show them shaking hands, representing how two males might greet one another. As you can see, even though this is an online course that centers around vocabulary acquisition, it incorporates a wide variety of activities, making it very multi-sensory and suitable for different types of learners.
The gradebook was a little confusing to me at first. I kind of had to play around with it, checking boxes and clicking buttons, to get it to actually show all the activities and an overall course grade. It also shows the oldest activities first, so you have to switch to the last page, or use a drop down menu to allow it to show more entries, and eventually you'll still have multiple pages because it only shows up to 100 entries per page. An option to sort by date might make it more convenient for parents who are allowing their older children to work independently. The speaking exercises are not graded for us, they just sit in limbo in the "Awaiting Grade" section, because we are not using the course with a teacher, so I kind of have to use my best judgement while we're going through them as to when to allow him to move on. This is why I like to be in the same room when he's using the program.
To be honest, we don't need the gradebook and I really didn't reference it after figuring out how it worked. We are doing the course without a teacher, I am always aware of what they are doing, and we aim for mastery of content rather than a passing grade. However, for students taking the course with a teacher, for older students working independently, or especially high school students that need foreign language credits, I see a lot more value in the gradebook.
I received one semester, without a teacher, which is $119.00/semester. I think this is a good program for children who live in a culturally diverse area where these languages might be heavily used, or you are spending extended time in a foreign country. We are dabbling in Spanish right now at my kids' ages, but so far this is one of our favorite programs! Other than the very minor issue with the gradebook, I don't have any serious cons. We really love this program. It's interactive, delightful and engaging for both my 5 and 7 year old. We like to hook the laptop up to the television so everyone can watch. I love that cultural lessons and authentic stories are woven right into the lessons, and it's not just vocabulary. With the audio, video and speaking exercises, as well as some worksheets, I like the multi-sensory approach. I think this course has a lot to offer, and we are really glad we were able to try it out!
Middlebury currently offers courses in four different languages at different grade levels, so there might be something for your family.
The crew reviewed a variety of these foreign language courses, so be sure to read what everyone else thought of the different courses! You can also find Middlebury Languages on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+ so check them out!
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