Sunday, July 1, 2012

Homeschooling Spanish Academy: A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

For over a year now my son has been asking me to teach him Spanish. All the while I had been trying to teach him French, which I speak, and Latin, which I was learning with him, but I felt inadequate to teach him Spanish. I kept buying different versions of Spanish courses, and had the opportunity to review a different one months ago, all with good intentions, but with very little in the way of results.
Then I learned that we would have the opportunity for him to take seven weekly Spanish lessons via Skype, through Homeschool Spanish Academy out of Guatamala. 

I have long been a believer that "immersion" language learning is the best method to use to teach a foreign language and to learn a foreign language. I was not having success immersing my son in Spanish largely because I did speak it myself, and it is hard to teach something you do not know.

The Homeschool Spanish Academy is a language program taught via Skype meeting. Since it uses this level of technology, the user's computer needs to be checked to make sure it meets the technology's requirements and will be fast enough. I had to have my son use my laptop, because his does not have a camera and does not have a built in microphone. My computer initially did not pass the test, but after a little tweaking and a retest, we were qualified and good to go. 

We were given a seven-week course in exchange for our review. To start, we went to the "How it Works" page and signed up for a free lesson to establish an account with a user name and a password. Before doing that, I watched couple of videos about Homeschool Spanish Academy:

By this time I was looking forward to getting started, and was convinced we would have good success. So I clicked on "Sign up now" at the top right of the page (yellow button).  The "How it Works" page tells you everything you need to get started. The instructions are there for signing up for a free lesson, testing your computer speed, packages you can choose from (different age levels, length of course, number of classes per week), how to sign up for your first class using Schedulicity, how the lessons work, and how the homework works. That's a lot of information packed into that one page! 

I signed up for an account and for a trial lesson.  Before I knew it I was receiving a telephone from Homeschool Spanish Academy "Tech Support" (who happens, also, to be the owner of the company). He walked me through the speed test and helped me get signed up for our first lesson. (Since I was a reviewer I wasn't really supposed to take a free trial lesson.) We signed up for the Middle School lessons. My son, aged 12, could have gone either Early Language or Middle School

Our first lesson I sat beside my son. He often has focus issues, so I didn't want him to just walk away from his lesson. I found he was not willing to answer the teacher as she asked questions -- he didn't know the answer and was afraid to say so and also afraid to say that he didn't understand or didn't know the answer. At about 30 minutes he kind of melted down and ran away from the computer, so I finished the class to learn what the homework was and what else would have been covered so I could go over it with him during the week.  I don't know why he had/has this fear, but it continued to plague us through all of these lessons.

After the first lesson, the owner, Ron Fortin, called to chat about how the class went and to answer questions. He asked if I had any suggestions of how we might change things to make the class work better for my son. Since my son had requested a male instructor and there were non, Ron offered to sit in through the class if it would help my son. He was very helpful and involved in trying to make this work for us.

During the class there had been some times when JD had not known the answer to the question asked, and I told him, or he hadn't understood the question in Spanish, so I told him in English what he had said. Ron suggested that maybe, for the next class, I should let him be alone with the teacher, so that's how we did the 2nd class. 

Second class he sat at the dining room table alone while I sat out on the deck just outside the dining room door.  He again lasted about 30 minutes and then ran to his room in tears, and I came in and finished the class so I could go over it with him later.

Third class he did better, and I hoped we would now be into a groove, but it never did really smooth out...  To the very last class that we took, my son (although learning) was resisting taking this course. ::sigh::

Later in our series of classes my son had a sick week. Ron was very understanding, allowed us to cancel and reschedule, and said rescheduling for sickness is not a problem. For other conflicts they ask for 24-48 hours notice for a class to be cancelled and rescheduled.
Homeschool Spanish Academy offers four levels of Spanish:
 This program has so many different levels and ways to take the course that I think I would bore you to tears if I listed here all the many options. You can see the pricing for the different levels by clicking the above links. For the level we were taking, Middle School, the options are 1) one student one class per week; 2) one student two classes per week; 3) two students one class per week, and 4) two students two classes per week. We were taking one class per week for one student for seven weeks.

Each week the lesson is emailed to the student/parent. I liked getting the material printed out for my son to look at during the Skype session. We always tried to open Skype with ample time before the class was to start to make sure we didn't have any unexpected glitches.

Then each class we would go over the printed materials for that week's lesson, and also go over the information for the homework the student was to complete for that week. Later, after the student completed the homework, it was to be sent to a certain email address for homework. It was then corrected and returned by someone at Homeschool Spanish Academy.  (There was at least one week when they did not correct and return my son's homework, but when I emailed them they took care of it right away.) Early Language students are assigned about 30 minutes homework per week; Middle School, High School and Adult classes are assigned about an hour's homework per week.
In my opinion, to really learn Spanish well the student should actually be doing review of the current week's lesson for at least twenty minutes daily. We were not very consistent with this, and I think my son might have been more successful with this program if we had been.

We had a recurring difficulty adjusting to the fact that the class times are posted in Mountain Time. It was difficult to get used to signing up for one time and remembering that our class was actually two hours later, being Eastern Time. One class got rescheduled somehow so that I got a reminder that the class would be at 11:30 Monday, and on HSA's end they had me down for a class at 1:30 Tuesday. We never did figure that one out... And there was at least one day when I was calling them when they didn't call me when I expected, and if I remember correctly that was because of the time difference.

The quality of the instructors and the lessons was exemplary.   I was sorry my son just couldn't work well with it. I did sit with my son through most of the classes, and studied the homework with him, and I myself did learn a lot. I think the biggest difficulty we had was getting our study time and homework done daily between the lessons.  I think the program would be better if the company could create videos (or at least audios) to be available to the paid students, that they could play, watch, and practice with between the Skype lessons. That would have helped us a lot. 

This is a little slow, but it is a video of my son doing a lesson. He thinks a long time before he finally answers a question -- maybe he was processing and not understanding the question, I'm not sure... But this is a flavor of what our classes were like:
The Spanish taught by Homeschool Spanish Academy is specific to Guatamala. If I understand correctly, the different countries and different areas have inuendos and little differences in the way the language is spoken. Not being knowledgeable about this sort of thing, that's all I can really say about it.

The customer service at Homeschool Spanish Academy was the best! I began to thing that Ron Fortran sleeps with his Skype open on his bedside table! Any time I texted him or called him, he replied almost immediately!

The Spanish teacher's were excellent, well trained, and for the most part understood our English at all times. I think any misunderstandings we had could have been largely related to Skype, and voice processing only being able to go through one way or the other. In other words, if we started talking while she was talking, I don't think she could hear us until she stopped talking, I'm not sure. 

One other suggestion I would have: Currently Homeschool Spanish Academy has only female instructors. My son would have preferred a male instructor.

Homeschool Spanish Academy did not require any additional materials to be purchased. The lessons were delivered to the student incrementally. Printing the lessons wasn't required, but was helpful. Since they were in color, that can be expensive. Also, my son thought some of the illustrations were corny-looking. I thought they were okay.

The purpose of the product Homeschool Spanish Academy provides is to teach students to converse well and with a proper accent. I believe this program is excellent for that, even though it didn't fit for my child. I think their method of teaching the pronunciations of the alphabet on the first lesson is key for this, and then the regular corrections of mispronunciations. That is what makes this program so good -- the real live person teaching the lessons.

One of the features of this program that is nice for families is that the class can be set to have more than one student participating with the instructor. I imagine it would be nice for some families if  Homeschool Spanish Academy were able to accomodate even more than two students to one instructor. I know of families with triplets or quadruplets, so it would be nice for those families if Homeschool Spanish Academy were able to let those families just have a regular group class. Of course, each student would need their own state-of-the-art computer set up with microphone, camera and Skype. It is possible that the instructors would find it too difficult to conduct such a class, but to me it seems like a good idea...

What I Liked and Didn't Like:
□  I liked the classes being one-on-one;
□  I liked the people who work for Homeschool Spanish Academy;
□  I liked working with Skype. This was new for me, using Skype.
□  I liked the challenge. I've come away having learned some Spanish, even if my son didn't. I think he probably did learn some, but I probably learned more (I probably applied myself more than he did).
□  I didn't like that there were no male instructors. I hope they can change that in the future.
□  I didn't like that there seemed to be some mistakes in the papers -- the lessons and the homework. Specifically, Lesson 1's homework asked that a raspberry's name is in Spanish, but we had never been given that information. There were some places where words (in Spanish) were randomly capitalized, and I thought they were incorrect, but not knowing the language I can't really be certain.
□  Overall, I really liked Homeschool Spanish, and my son really didn't.
□  I would definitely recommend this program to anyone, especially since they can try it for free!

Our family was given a 7-week course of Homeschool Spanish Academy in exchange for our review. We did not receive any other compensation. My opinions and words are my own, and are not influenced by any other factors.

This review brought to you by The Schoolhouse Review Crew. Let me know what you think! Leave me a comment!

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