Homeschooling: foreign languages in high school

Over the years we’ve satisfied the foreign language graduation requirement for our high school kids in a variety of ways.  For our first high schoolers a decade or so ago, we bought Rosetta Stone Spanish, which served to give our teens at least a rudimentary intro to Spanish. Rosetta Stone works by showing pictures and then speaking words, after which the student clicks on the picture that they think shows what was spoken. It is very intuitive, with no real explaining of what is being taught.  I worked through two levels of Korean Rosetta Stone, and felt I learned quite a bit, though I always wished it included some explanation instead of always making you guess what was correct.

Three of the older kids also took Spanish at a nearby college during their senior year of high school,  Taking college Spanish was a little spendy– a couple hundred bucks per semester.  But they learned a good bit of Spanish, and got a taste of life in a college classroom, which I think made the transition to college life easier the next  year.

Our daughter Erika went on to double major in Spanish and linguistics, which in itself seems to prove that our approach to language learning (or perhaps her interest in the subject!) was adequate.  However, looking back at her schooling, she was able to share some of the weaknesses of Rosetta Stone, the greatest being related to grammar.  She ended up doing her grammar learning in another book, and also of course from the various college level classes she later took.

When it came time for our current batch of high school kids to start foreign language,  our old Rosetta Stone Spanish CD’s were too worn out to use.  Because of Erika’s feedback, I knew I wasn’t willing to re-buy it. My Amazon research pointed me toward several different programs, all spendy.  The most promising one was Fluenz Spanish (Latin America).   With a price tag of $458, I was hesitant to pull the trigger.  After much pondering, I contacted the company to ask if they’d consider giving me part of the program as a review item here on my blog. They were tremendously generous and offered me the entire 5-level set to review.  It comes with permissions to install the software on three different computers, a feature that is very helpful for large families like mine.

So, how exactly does it work?  Each lesson begins with the instructor talking about what will be learned in that lesson.  Then there’s a dialogue  between a couple of speakers.  You listen to it first in Spanish with Spanish and English subtitles.  Next you listen again with just Spanish subtitles. Then you listen with no subtitles.  The instructor then returns and goes over the whole interchange, describing it word by word, complete with explanations of grammar, etc.  Finally you do some activities:  phrase-matching games, spelling practice, speaking practice, and a dictionary/matching word gallery. There are 30 lessons in each of the five levels.

Five of our kids (ages 10-17) have now been working with Fluenz for a couple months, and are very happy with it.  One of the boys is super motivated and has already completed the first level (30 lessons).  He says it’s much better than Rosetta Stone, and feels like he is learning a lot.  Most of the other kids have done 20 lessons or so.  In general it takes about an hour to work through a lesson with understanding, and the program has you keep repeating the exercises until you get them.  The kids are finding it challenging and interesting, and they say that the phrases they’re learning are useful.

This program was designed for adult learners, and so there are references to beer and wine in some of the dialogues.  If you don’t want your 10 year old to learn how to order a beer in a restaurant, you might choose to skip those particular lessons.  😉  Also, the instructor encourages students at one point to, “study the h*** out of it….”  I’m not in love with that use of language, and wanted to mention it for folks for whom that would be a deal-breaker. But in my opinion these are tiny issues in a program that is in every other way absolutely mandarinstellar.

Though I did get my software for free as a review item, now that I’ve tried it, I would not hesitate to buy it, and recommend it highly.  Even if installed on only one computer, it can be used by multiple learners, and repeated as often as necessary.  That’s a huge money-saver for families like mine. Fluenz is also available in French, German, Italian, and Mandarin.  It is a good solid program, and I think my kids will be well served by it.

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  1. This is so helpful! Thank you. We’ve been discussing what sort of language program to use with our kids. So far, Rosetta Stone seemed like a viable option, but I appreciate hearing from someone with experience using it (as we have none).

    We’ll check out this other program!

  2. Very helpful to read this review! We’re still working our way through Rosetta Stone Spanish (level 1) but will start another language when the kids finish. This is offered in all the languages we’re most interested in – thanks!

  3. I was wondering if you knew of any good way to learn some conversational Amharic? My daughters are 8 and 5 and do Spanish but I thought it would be great for them to learn some before their brother comes home. Thank you so much for your blog it is always a blessing to me.