Spanish for Beginners: Three Introductory Programs for Middle School and Up Incorporate the Latest Digital Technologies to Make Language Learning More Engaging and Authentic. (Picks of the Month)

By Sargent, Mark | Technology & Learning, February 2003 | Go to article overview

Spanish for Beginners: Three Introductory Programs for Middle School and Up Incorporate the Latest Digital Technologies to Make Language Learning More Engaging and Authentic. (Picks of the Month)


Sargent, Mark, Technology & Learning


For most people, studying a nonnative language in a traditional classroom bears mixed results. While we may learn about a language--that, for example, French is spoken not only in Paris but also in Quebec City--most of us have never really developed the capability to communicate in that language. Ask anyone who's bilingual, and chances are they developed that skill by living in a location where the language and culture was all around them and where little, if any, English was spoken.

The challenge for language teachers has always been, short of winning the lottery and moving their class to Mexico City or Paris, how to create a real-world language-learning environment in the classroom. Thanks to advances in digital technologies, many software programs provide rich and varied learning experiences that move beyond traditional textbook approaches toward more immersive linguistic environments.

In this review we look at three titles that use a combination of audio, video, and Web resources to make learning Spanish more compelling and authentic. Additionally, all three integrate speech recognition technology, offering students opportunities to "converse" with the computer and get feedback on their conversational skills. Appropriate for beginning and intermediate language learners, these programs all deserve consideration by Spanish teachers looking to support the traditional curriculum and improve student comprehension and communication.

Rosetta Stone Spanish Level I 4.0

(Fairfield Language Technologies)

While most competing titles provide a healthy dose of English-language tips and tours, Rosetta Stone's Spanish I offers an almost full immersion environment for language learners. The program minimizes the need for translation with an intuitive interface and a pedagogically sound structure that invites students to learn a single concept in multiple ways.

Each lesson is presented visually, beginning with a set of pictures or illustrations. Students can interact with the material in one of rive modes: listen & read, listen only, reading, speaking, or writing. For example, in a lesson on professions, students might select the listen mode first. A series of illustrations appears, and, by clicking on one, they will hear how the word--doctoro, for instance--sounds in Spanish. By selecting speaking mode, students can record and compare their own pronunciation for each word in the series (or, in more advanced lessons, phrases) with that of a native speaker. Finally, in writing mode, students can click on an illustration to hear how it's pronounced, then type the word or phrase into a text box. The word is then reviewed for correct spelling and, in the case of phrases, punctuation and syntax. At least this is the theory. After several tries, I was told my spelling of enfermera, the Spanish word for nurse, was incorrect.

A major strength of this title is that the user has control of the learning experience. Moving from one lesson to another, or switching modes within a lesson, is almost seamless due to the program's intuitive interface. Teachers can use this instructional flexibility to customize lessons for individual students. In an introductory unit on hot and cold, for example, separate pathways can be created for two students: one who needs pronunciation practice could be directed to the speaking mode, while the other could use the writing mode to work on spelling.

What's missing in this program, if anything, is a fuller sense of the language as it's used in the context of actual lire. This could easily be provided by the addition of video in future versions of the software.

Learn Spanish Now! Version 9 Deluxe

(Transparent Language)

When it comes to using video as the centerpiece of an engaging language learning experience, Learn Spanish Now! from Transparent Language is tough to match. Each new lesson or theme in this title is introduced with a short video presentation demonstrating the richness of the language as it is actually spoken. …

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