Friday, October 2, 2015

French Immersion with Middlebury Interactive Languages {A TOS Review}

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review
It is very important to me that my children learn a foreign language. I remember when I was growing up, we didn't start learning another language until we reached junior high. Now, I don't know about your experience, but for me, learning French at that point was quite difficult. I enjoyed my classes and continued with French into high school, plus learned some basics in some other languages; however, I was never able to get a really good grasp on any of them. When I got older, I learned that there was probably a good reason why it was so difficult. I can't remember all the details, but I learned that the way our brains are wired, we lose the ability to really learn another language the older we get. When I worked at the Montessori, children were learning French and Spanish starting as early as 3 years old. It is actually easier for younger children to catch onto a foreign language and be able to produce the sounds necessary. This revelation made me desire to somehow figure out how to teach my children a foreign language as early as possible in our homeschool. Of course, I was thrilled when I was chosen to review the Elementary French 1: Grades K-2 course from Middlebury Interactive Languages.  

Even though Tabitha is now in 3rd grade, she hadn't had any experience with learning French, so I decided it would be appropriate to start with the beginning level. At the time, Amelia (who is actually in the correct grade range) didn't seem as interested, so I figured if she changed her mind she could follow along with Tabitha as the children usually love gathering around the computer while one of them is working. We received a complete semester of online learning, which gives us 6 months access to the self-paced immersive course. A computer with internet access is needed to use this course. You will also need a microphone in order for your child to complete the exercises/tests that require them to record themselves speaking. 

There are a total of 12 Units, two of which are Review Challenges (one halfway through the course, and the other at the end). Each Unit is made up of 6 lessons that have been following a similar pattern of activities thus far. Both Review sections have 5 challenges. These are the topics Tabitha will be working on this semester:
  • Greetings
  • Numbers
  • Family
  • Colors
  • School
  • Body
  • Animals
  • Days of the Week
  • Food 
  • Description
Tabitha has been completing an average of 3 lessons each week. Sometimes she will do more than one lesson a day as she is on a roll. The recommendation for the K-2 course is 2 lessons a week. However, seeing as Tabitha has been completing a lesson at a time, she has been able to complete 3 or 4 a week. She has already finished the units on greetings, numbers, family, and colors. 
Let's take a quick look at the website.

This is the Dashboard; from here there are a few different ways to navigate to the lessons. 

The easiest way is to look toward the bottom of the screen where the box reads, "Up Next." There is a little play button in the lower right corner that will take the child directly to their next lesson. The screenshot above only shows a portion of the screen, as it is so wide; however, the button is easily found at the far right of the screen. 

You could also click on the menu icon in the top left corner of the screen. This will show the following drop down menu:

I had actually been using the "Calendar" to help Tabitha find her lessons, as somehow we had missed the above mentioned "Up Next" section. I think I had noticed it when we first gained access to the site; however, I was exploring, and found the Calendar, which shows all of the lessons scheduled out from beginning to end. I got into the habit of going to the calendar, which is a great way to keep track of what lesson your child is up to. Though they have the lessons scheduled 5 days a week, we learned we can go at our own pace, so we just ignore the dates, and keep plugging along. It doesn't affect her negatively at all.

In each calendar date box, the unit number and lesson number are listed in the gray rectangle. Once the lesson is complete a little check mark will appear on the left-hand side. In order to get to the lesson, the child just needs to click in the gray rectangle. This will bring up the following screen:

Clicking on the play button will take the child to the lesson, while clicking on the adjacent rectangle will show the child the activities in the lesson. 

The final way that I discovered we could get to the lessons is in the Table of Contents.

I have to admit, as the other two ways to navigate are so easy, I probably wouldn't recommend going through the Table of Contents. As a parent, I would use this to see what lessons and activities are coming up and which ones have been completed; however, there is way too much clicking of folders to go through to get to the lesson. 

As you can see, you have to click on the unit, then the lesson, and finally the activity. A parent will be able to see which lessons have been completed, because as the child completes the lessons, the box will be marked with a green check mark. As you can probably tell, this would be the hardest way for a young child to navigate. 

Now let's take a look at some of the actual lessons. 

Middlebury Interactive Languages is an immersive language course. This means the child is going to be listening to a lot of the language in the activities and the stories. Not only will they be hearing each lesson's specific vocabulary in the language, but they will be hearing it in context, though they won't get an immediate translation. Imagine taking a trip to France and being surrounded by French-speaking people. That is what is meant by immersion. Even the directions are originally in French. The child needs to click on the circle to get the translation. Here, let me show you what I mean.

This is the first actual activity that Tabitha had to do in her last lesson. She is just starting a new unit, so she first watched an Introduction Video, then she read a summary of the Objectives. She then listened to the Buddy and the Map Presentation. From there she moved on to the Explore: School activity. Underneath the title "Explore: School" you can see the instructions in French. When Tabitha clicks on the little orange speaker, the instructions are read to her in French. She can then click on the green circle underneath the instructions to read and listen to them in English. I have to say, I appreciate that they allow a child to listen to the English as well, seeing as most children taking this course probably aren't going to be able to read them independently.

This is the child's first introduction to the vocabulary of this unit. As Tabitha has already completed this activity, the vocabulary is already in the box. However, when she started, she had to look at the picture on the left, find the matching shadow on the right and click on it. When she did, she was able to hear the word as it appeared in the box underneath the picture. 

After she completes the activity, she clicks on the check mark in the upper right-hand corner. The 8/8 that appeared next to the circles indicates that she got them all right. She is then ready to watch the video of the story. 

All of the stories shared in this course are authentic stories from French-speaking cultures. They are told completely in French and the written words are also in French. However, because the child has already completed the "Explore" exercise, they should be able to pick out those words, even if they can't understand the rest of the story. They follow along with the story by watching the illustrations, watching for context clues. 

More activities follow, where the child reviews and practices with their vocabulary words. These activities include clicking on the pictures to hear the words, dragging the French words to the pictures to label them, listening to the words and recording oneself speaking them, and finding the missing parts of the words that are hidden in the picture. Various activities are completed throughout the unit. In each day's lessons, the child plays more games to match the words to the pictures while listening to them spoken, and practicing speaking them themselves. 

After practicing with the individual words, the child then explores different phrases.

In addition to learning the specific vocabulary for in each unit, children get to watch a culture video and do some culture activities to learn more about children in French-speaking countries. 

In the last lesson of each unit, the child finally gets to see the translation of the story. This is in preparation for the test.

This page can be printed out, as can the vocabulary list. To conclude each unit, the child takes both a vocabulary and a speaking test and then earns their jewel and completes a self-assessment. 

Tabitha has been working completely independently with Middlebury Interactive Languages. She loves learning new words to share with her siblings and both mom and dad. She is learning both the vocabulary and the "accent" of speaking in French by listening to the stories and the lessons. Though the activities are similar in each unit, they are varied enough to keep things interesting for her. Recording the vocabulary seems to be fun for her, but she has gotten frustrated when she has to record herself signing in French, as the phrases of the lyrics blend together and are sung faster than speaking. I do think, as she has moved further into the program and heard more of the language, she has had an easier, less stressful time with recording the songs. The fact that she will get so excited when she remembers and shares a phrase from a previous lesson, such as telling me her favorite color in French, "Ma couleur preferee est le violet," thrills me. 

We really love Middlebury Interactive Languages, and highly recommend it for learning not only the French language, but French culture as well.

You can purchase a semester of Middlebury Interactive Languages Elementary French 1: Grades K-2 for $119 per student. 

You can find Middlebury Interactive Languages on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+.

Don't forget to stop by and check out what my fellow Crew Mates think of Middlebury Interactive Languages. In addition to French, our children have been learning Spanish, German, and Chinese. 

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review
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