October 22, 2014

Middlebury Interactive Languages {Curriculum Review}

This is the year of foreign language for us.  My husband and I both agree that we want maximum exposure to a second language for our children--to the point of even being fluent. I've seen the benefits of being fluency and though I am not fluent in another language, I would love that for our sons. Our oldest is at the prime age for learning new languages. Our first choice is for him to learn Spanish. But he's had some issues in the past with retention of what he's learning. Could an immersive language program like Middlebury Interactive Languages be what he needs to succeed? I jumped on the chance to review a semester of their Spanish Courses.

Product Summary

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review
Middlebury Interactive Languages is a foreign language curriculum developed exclusively for the education market. The company determined early on that students needed to be exposed to authentic materials and resources with lots of interaction with a new language in order to succeed in it. Combining text, audio, video and images in an online language course, all focused on real world and real life activities, the company has created an immersive approach to learning new languages and has a great success rate!

From elementary to high school, Middlebury Interactive Languages offers courses in four main languages. Though geared to grades 3 and up, they offer a Spanish course perfect for the K-2 ages.

Each language is offered in semesters--a series of 6 months/18 weeks. The K-2 program includes a total of 35 lessons for the semester, while the Grades 3-5 program has 45 lessons per semester. Middlebury recommends two days a week for Grades K-2, and 2-3 days per week for Grades 3-5.

Both the Middle School and High School programs have a total of 90 lessons per semester, with the recommendation that students complete a lesson per day for 18 weeks.

All levels are self-paced, so the student can speed ahead or slow down as needed, but the course is only open for the 6 month period and must be completed within that time period.

Each course is available for purchase in two forms: with teacher guidance and without. If you choose the course guided by a teacher, a real-life teacher will guide the student through the course, providing ongoing support, communication and encouragement, as well as giving feedback on speaking and writing assignments...just like a regular teacher.

One semester of any language for the K-12 is $119 w/o teacher support and an additional $175 with teacher support ($294 total).

This curriculum is an exclusively online program. To use this program, your computer will need to operate Windows 7 or 8 or Mac OS X v10.6 or v10.7. A headset/microphone is recommended for the speaking labs. For a complete list of all that is recommended, you can visit the FAQ's to see full system requirements.

I chose to review one of the Spanish Courses:  Elementary Spanish 1: Grades 3-5 using the version without teacher support. This is a standard 6 month semester course which retails for $119.

How Did We Use This Curriculum?

The program was very easy to get started with. Once the email confirming our program came through, I was able to get everything signed up and taken care of and we were able to start immediately. The program directed us on how to get started and let us know that we could access all our lessons on the calendar. Finding the calendar is easy no matter where you are in the program. You just click on an icon in the top left corner for the menu to appear. When you click it the menu appears at the left and you can find a list of all the areas you can visit from the calendar to the gradebook.
The calendar has a lesson listed five days a week. The elementary program for grades 3-5 suggests doing 2-3 lessons a week. While the calendar isn't set up like that, all you have to do is click the lesson you are working on and it takes you right to it. If the lesson has been completed, you can see that it has a checkmark. This makes it very easy to keep track of where you are in the program.

To play a lesson, simply click the lesson name and it opens up a playlist. Click the "play" button and it opens your lesson right up.

The left side shows all the assignments that are part of the lesson. As they are completed, they darken. This helps you keep track of which ones you have completed and which ones are left. Once they are all completed, you can click the next arrow at the bottom and this takes you to the next lesson.

When we first were doing it, I thought that was just an arrow to take us to more for the day's lesson, so we did 2 lessons the first day. I was worried that it was going to be a lot of work like that each time, until I discovered (by looking at the calendar) that we had done more than one lesson.

Another way to access the lessons is through the Table of Contents. You can find it by click the same menu icon as the calendar. By clicking "table of contents" on the menu you get taken to this page...
 On the left side you can see the table of contents for the whole curriculum. You can click those folders and they will open up to the lessons and then you can open them up to the activities. As with the calendar, this will show you what has been completed--but this one will show you the actual activities for each lesson.
I discovered here that one of the assignments hadn't been logged (Practice: Counting 10-1)--Little Britches had forgotten to hit "submit" after completing it. So I was able to open it back up and let him finish it.

Once we did the first few lessons together, I let Little Britches work on everything independently, though I stayed in the same room. This gave him the awareness that he could ask for help if he wasn't getting something.

I rarely was asked for help, because the program provides a lot of assistance in the form of "microphones" he can click on which reads out directions or reviews the vocabulary he is learning.

A microphone is recommended for this program, though not necessarily required. Fortunately, the microphone on my laptop works very well and no extra gizmos were needed. Little Britches likes the speaking lab portions because he likes to hear the sound of his own voice. LOL. He is very hard on himself and would re-record words if he felt they weren't up to snuff.
A speaking lab...
Here is a video I took of him practicing and recording his numbers...

Each of the units contain six lessons and each lesson contains about 7 activities. The activities are a mixture of audio work (listening to stories or songs using the new vocabulary), interactive practice to learn how to say and recognize the words and their meanings, exploration to see how they are used in context and how you remember them, and then speaking labs to practice and record your pronunciation. Not every lesson has a quiz but when they do, they are very simple and so far appear to be multiple choice.

Lesson six for each unit contains review and then a "written" test and a speaking test. This method worked very well for Little Britches and I never heard any complaints.

Rather than rushing through each unit, we discovered we were going to do about 42 activities related to the units vocabulary. This is a lot more than we expected and it became "easy" for Little Britches because of all the review. (Easy means that he will willingly do it!)

At this point we have completed two full units which comprises of 12 lessons. We worked on 2-3 lessons per week which was a great pace--and what is recommended by the company.

Though I don't need it at this time, I did like having access to the gradebook.

This shows me all the quizzes (including speaking labs) that were done. I can see the complete course work that has been completed by clicking the box in the upper right that says "show course work". There is also the ability to print this off for a grade report.

For someone using this as part of a portfolio or for a credit, this is a great tool to have!

What Are Our Thoughts on This Curriculum?

Little Britches:
"I like that the lessons are easy to do. I like the stories and think I am learning a lot. I sometimes forget to hit the submit button and it won't log my work when I do that. But I can always go back and do it again to make sure it gets done."

My Thoughts:
We weren't sure about the program when we started, because we'd never experienced an immersive geared language curriculum, where the primary lesson (the story, song, whatever) is completely in Spanish without translation. The push is for the understanding of the use of the words in context without translation--using photos to help translate over English words. But once we saw how the lessons went, we figured it out and started to really enjoy it. Within the first week, I felt he had retained more than he had in 3 months of our previous curriculum.

*Interactive Lessons
*Speaking Labs to practice Accents
*Stories and Songs to teach the Lessons
*Fun kid friendly graphics
*Easy to use
*Works on my laptop (HP) with the built in microphone
*Picks up where you left off if you have to quit mid lesson
*Easy to see what has been completed
*Provides printable grade reports
*Gives instant grades on activities, quizzes and tests
*Immersive teaching (lessons are 88% in Spanish)
*Calendar shows exactly what needs to be done
*Lots of review and repetition for better retention
*Lessons load quickly and play without issues
*Independent program that can be used without parent guidance
*Speaking labs recorded and saved so parent and listen to the assignments
*The instructions for the activities could be "read" aloud with a click of the mouse

*6 Month (1 semester) deadline to complete the program
*Price per semester per child of $119 (no teacher) or $294 (with teacher) which is fairly expensive
*Calendar is confusing when not doing a lesson every day
*No feedback regarding speaking the language (with the no teacher version)

I really loved how the program was set up. Once I logged in, Little Britches could easily see what his next lesson was and could work on it independently. I loved that though he was working independently, all of his speaking labs were recorded and saved so that I could listen to them and thus advise him on anything that I thought needed some more work. By clicking submit on each activity, he was also given immediate correction for any activities (except the verbal) that he did.

The lessons loaded quickly and we never had any issues with them. They were full of repetition and review which are ideal for learning foreign language. I liked that about 80% of the lesson was in Spanish, putting the emphasis on the language and using it in context. For instance, when learning his numbers in Spanish, they didn't just learn to count to 10. They had to count to 10, then count backwards to 1. Then to make sure they really knew their numbers, they had to learn phone numbers and translate the Spanish number words into numbers.

What didn't I love? 
Well, the main thing I don't love is the price. We are a frugal family with a tight budget. No matter how much we love a curriculum (and we really loved this one), we just can't shell out a large sum like this for ONE curriculum--especially one that is consumable, with a time deadline and just for one student. At least, we can't do it right now at the elementary age.  Don't get me wrong, the program is WORTH IT...it really is, but we cannot financially make it happen right now at this point--which is why I put it as a con.

In regards to the calendar, the elementary programs are to be done in a suggested method of 2-3 lessons per week. The calendar lists them as 5 lessons per week (one per day) so when you log in, it will always take you to the current calendar day--whether or not that's the actual lesson you are working on. This can be a pain.

I'd like to see that it will always take you to the LAST DAY you completed, instead of whatever the current date is--especially for the elementary programs that are supposed to be done 2-3 lessons a week anyways.

The last con is a minor one and one that I know can be fixed by purchasing the "with teacher" version. But for those WITHOUT a teacher, I think it's definitely a con, but one you just have to accept as it's part of the program.

Would I Recommend Middlebury Interactive Languages?

I think overall we really enjoyed this program. I think that the way that it is taught is the best way for children to learn. I like that the lessons begin with an authentic story or song that is taught completely in Spanish--with the lesson vocabulary worked in. I think this really helps them listen better to learn how the vocabulary they are learning is used in context. There is a lot of practice for each lesson and I think it's a thorough program.

Little Britches has retained MUCH more with this program than any other Spanish curriculum we have used. He likes the short activities and how they are interactive. There are ample examples of pronunciation for the student to compare to.

I personally think that we would enjoy the course WITH a teacher even more, especially since I don't speak Spanish myself. A teacher would really be able to help correct any pronunciation and really help guide the lesson. I think it's a great choice if you can afford it.

This program is more expensive at $119/$294 per semester, than a lot of other programs, but it is worth it if you are seeking a high quality and more immersive course for your child.  The course is a 6 month (1 semester-18 weeks) curriculum, so there is going to be a deadline to complete the course. If you are hoping to be able to just self-pace it and finish it when you are done, that's not going to work. It's also consumable and a per student cost.  This can be expensive if you are hoping to have more than one student taking the course. 

Will be we purchasing any more semesters once this one is completed?
No. While I really really loved the program, and I think it has worked wonderfully, right now I need something for my family that can be used over and over again by more than one student without extra cost. I will however, keep this curriculum in mind for the high school level as they are an accredited program and will provide credits for high school transcripts at completion of the semesters.

We will continue to use our full semester because we've enjoyed it very much.

Want to Know More?

Our family reviewed Middlebury Interactive Languages Spanish Courses (Elementary Spanish 1, Grade 3-5) without teacher support ($119 per semester).

You have seen how much we are enjoying our level, but there are other levels of Spanish available and three other languages being reviewed by my fellow crew members! Make sure you go see what some of them thought about the program!
Click to read Crew Reviews
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In closing I also want to add that we are using this program simultaneously with a Latin course. Interestingly enough, instead of it being overwhelming to learn two languages at once, the Latin is helping because a lot of the Spanish words have Latin roots. In our year for learning a new language, we just might come out learning two!

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