Does your child want to learn Spanish? Or improve his or her Spanish-speaking skills? Language-learning programs overwhelm both the educational products market and the parents and teachers trying to match products to their children’s and students’ needs. With help from Ken Stewart and his students at Jordan High School in Durham, North Carolina, I’ve reviewed three audio Spanish language kits.
For elementary-aged children with no Spanish knowledge, Learn Spanish in Your Car for Kids, published by Penton Overseas, is a good starting point. The seventy-minute CD introduces vocabulary and pronunciation in the context of characters traveling to a fiesta. Children benefit from hearing native Spanish speakers pronouncing the words and phrases and from listening to American children striving to emulate the pronunciation; they also receive basic introduction to Spanish grammar. But overall, the product does not call for critical thinking skills. The songs on the CD engage younger children and reinforce vocabulary, but bickering between the characters was distracting to the reviewers. A colorful, reusable game and sticker booklet reinforce the principles introduced on the tapes. The kit is a good introduction to Spanish for seven- to ten-year-olds but is far too easy for gifted students at the elementary or middle school levels.
Also appropriate for learning Spanish in the car is Spanish Global Access, also by Penton Overseas. It is available for beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels; we reviewed the beginning set, which focuses primarily on vocabulary and pronunciation. Each of the four tapes highlights a specific part of speech or expression, providing both the native Spanish pronunciation and its English equivalent. Advanced high school students found the vocabulary and pronunciation thorough and helpful, while the background music enhanced the quality of the tapes. However, these students complained that the speakers’ voices were monotonous and noted that the conversations seemed too random. The kit contains English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English dictionary and phrase booklets but offers no specific grammar instruction. The level of difficulty for advanced high school students seeking vocabulary and pronunciation enrichment is appropriate, though on the whole the set does not fully engage students.
Much more focused and comprehensive is Berlitz’s Spanish Today, a kit containing four hours of native Spanish tapes, an eight-unit workbook, a learner’s guide, a bilingual dictionary, and a Spanish verb handbook. The workbook and the tapes are fully integrated, reinforcing a four-step learning sequence: listening, repeating, responding to questions, and testing individual progress. The units are thematically organized, steadily leading the learner to greater proficiency. Each unit provides listening and pronunciation exercises, grammar explanations, cultural enrichment from Spain and Latin American countries, and other activities. The learner’s guide provides an excellent overview of the program, a brief grammar review, and a glossary of terms introduced in the units.
The reviewers responded positively to Spanish Today . Its interactive qualities allow for continuous repetition and reinforcement. Vocabulary and pronunciation in authentic accents are other strong features, allowing for practice and review in conversational Spanish. One reviewer found the audio difficult to follow in spots, though the workbook dovetails nicely with the cassettes. The kit is appropriate for gifted middle school students and for advanced high school students seeking precision and review. Any adult who wishes to learn Spanish will find the kit thorough and helpful, though it is too hands-on to use in the car if you’re the driver.
Muchas gracias, Señor Stewart. ¡Adiós!
Sarah Boone has an M.A. in teaching and certification in gifted education. She teaches at Meredith College.
- Learn Spanish in Your Car for Kids, published by Penton Overseas
- Spanish Global Access, published by Penton Overseas
- Spanish Today, published by Berlitz