Over the past year, my kids and I have worked our way through Middlebury Interactive Languages Elementary Spanish 1 (Grades K-2), which we’ve completed, and the first few units of Elementary Chinese 1 (also for grades K-2). Additionally, we’ve been longtime users of Little Pim, and recently started using Rosetta Stone Homeschool. A month ago, I also started sending my oldest to a group Spanish lesson once a week. Therefore, I feel like I have a decent basis for comparing this curriculum to other language learning methods. We’ve paid for all of these programs with our own funds and I am not affiliated with these companies in any way.
Website: Middlebury Interactive Languages
Recommended Age Range: Preschool, Kindergarten, Early Elementary
Time Required: 10 minutes a day for about 70 days
Cost: $180-$240 for a year long subscription
This program is fantastic for the age range recommended (kindergarten through second grade), provided your expectations aren’t too high. All 3 of my kids (ages 2 through 7) love the time they spend doing this curriculum. They look forward to the stories, they enjoy doing the matching activities, and they’re enthusiastic in their attempts to repeat the vocabulary.
However, this program in no way makes them conversant in the language. They will learn simple phrases for greeting people, but otherwise, all the language learning is vocabulary words. They will learn about 70 words over a similar number of 10-ish minute lessons. Especially after having started the Chinese curriculum, I realize that the real benefit of these programs is the exposure kids are receiving at a young age to the way these languages sound, which I think will benefit them as adults.
If you decide to try Middlebury Interactive, it is important to know what you are paying for…
What You Get
When you purchase this curriculum, what you are actually purchasing is a year long subscription to the program on their website. When I started using Middlebury Interactive a year ago, I tried it on my tablet and ran into some technical difficulties. Maybe those have been resolved by now, but I’m not sure. I like to do it on my computer with my big monitor so that my 3 kids (ages 7, almost 5, and 2 and a half) can do it together. Each language curriculum consists of 10 subject-based units plus 2 review units. The unit titles in both the Spanish and Chinese programs are the same: Greetings, Numbers, Family, Colors, School, Body Parts, Animals, Days of the Week, Food, and Descriptions.
Each unit consists of about 6 lessons. The lessons are pretty short (around 10 minutes), so we sometimes do a couple lessons in a day. Each Unit teaches around 6 to 10 words (with the exception of the Greetings Unit, which teaches simple phrases). After finishing the Spanish K-2 program, my 7 year old has mastered all the vocabulary (so around 70 words/phrases), my 5 year old probably knows about half of it, and my 2 year old can recognize maybe a dozen words. In addition to words, each unit also presents simple phrases, but those phrases are not really reinforced with the activities the way the vocabulary words are. (Though it is super cute to hear my 2 year old saying things like “Yo soy grande. Yo soy fuerte.” I am big. I am strong.)
Comparison with Rosetta Stone
After finishing the Middlebury Interactive Spanish K-2 curriculum, we bought the Spanish curriculum from Rosetta Stone Homeschool. We are presently working our way through Unit 1. Like they advertise, they teach languages in an entirely different, more immersive way. Even the very first section presents simple sentences like “She eats” and requires you to click on the correct picture. As an adult, I love it. I think it is an interesting way to learn a language the student to think logically and make connections. However, it is WAY above the heads of my kids. Even my 7 year old struggles to do it and gets frustrated.
Also, both programs have a speaking component. In Middlebury Interactive, you listen to what you are supposed to say, repeat it into the microphone, and listen to yourself. My kids love doing this (even my 2 year old). At the end, you hit a button that marks the activity complete. In Rosetta Stone, you repeat the phrase and then the software analyzes whether your pronunciation is good enough to move on. You can hit a button to a comparison of your sound wave and the native speakers. I think it’s pretty fascinating. However, my kids, especially my preschooler and toddler are not able to successfully repeat the phrases. Even my husband and I get told we are wrong repeatedly before we finally get the light to turn green and move on to the next session.
Rosetta Stone seems like it would be a wonderful program for older kids, and I’m planning to use it for myself in order to help my kids, but it is just NOT a program geared to younger kids. However, unlikely Middlebury Interactive which is a subscription, we now own the Rosetta Stone program so I can just save it for my kids until they’re older.
Comparison with Little Pim
Little Pim is a cartoon about a little Panda that teaches kids simple words and phrases in the language of your choosing. There is no English to help adults know what they are saying and there is no interactive component. My younger kids like watching Little Pim and my oldest also enjoyed it when he was in preschool. However, since he turned 6, he’s been telling me he’s too old. I like Little Pim, because it exposes kids to different languages at a young age. On the other hand, I don’t like my kids watching much TV, so we only use it occasionally.
Ultimately, Little Pim is a decent option for toddlers and preschoolers, but don’t expect them to retain very much. Also, it is not geared toward children older than about 5.
Comparison with Native Speaker
Nothing beats talking directly with a native speaker. Going to his Spanish group lesson is definitely my oldest’s favorite way to learn Spanish. He gets to hang out with kids his own age and do activities and games while listening to and talking with a native speaker. If he wants to know a word or how to say a phrase, he just asks her, and because it was his idea, he’s more likely to remember. I love that he has the opportunity to participate in this immersive, in-person learning environment. I also like supporting a member of my local community.
However, from a financial standpoint, this is my least favorite method. I paid $180 for a year’s subscription to Middlebury Interactive. I pay $10/hour for 2 hours a week for my oldest to go to his Spanish group lesson. A that rate, $180 would last about 2 months. With the online subscription, all my kids can learn simultaneously. With the group lesson, I would have to pay extra money for my other kids to go. This is something that my kids will be able to do once in awhile, but it’s not something we can do year round.
Spanish vs. Chinese
Having had experience with both the Spanish and Chinese programs, I have to say I find the Spanish program to be a lot easier than Chinese. Part of that might be because I have previous experience with Spanish and Chinese is completely unfamiliar to me. However, I think the main reason is that Spanish can be written and read using the same English alphabet. The Chinese program gives kids activities that reinforce their recognition of the Chinese characters, but until they start to recognize them, the characters are not that helpful in deciphering how to pronounce the Chinese words.
However, now that we’re doing the Chinese curriculum, I appreciate both programs even more. I think was slightly disappointed with Spanish at first, because technically, I could have taught them all the same vocabulary (with poor pronunciation). However, I am completely at a loss when it comes to Chinese and I think it’s so awesome to hear my kids speak in Chinese. If I didn’t have a background in Spanish, I would have been equally appreciative of the Spanish program to begin with.
To summarize, here are the advantages I see to Middlebury Interactive Languages K-2:
- My kids (ages 2 through 7) LOVE doing this curriculum.
- All my kids can learn together for one price.
- They learn about 50 to 100 vocabulary words and a few simple phrases.
- They listen to fun stories completely in the foreign language. (My kids LOVE the stories.)
- They are exposed to foreign languages allowing them to better hear and pronounce foreign sounds.
Here are the disadvantages:
- Access only lasts for 1 year, which is plenty of time to complete the curriculum. However, it doesn’t allow you to reuse the curriculum for younger children.
- Kids will likely only learn vocabulary words and not sentences.
- The price tag is a bit high, but as long as you actually do it, I think it’s worth the cost. Also, you can save money by purchasing it through Homeschool Buyers Co-op instead of the Middlebury Interactive website.