Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Homeschool Spanish Academy: A TOS Homeschool CREW Review

This summer I was delighted to be selected by the Schoolhouse Review Crew to review Homeschool Spanish Academy (HSA)! Last summer I tried to get my son to use the product. Last year's efforts to get my son to work with HSA were not real successful (because of my son's learning issues, his attitude, and his refusal to complete the classes), so I was very happy when I was given permission this year to review the Adult Program myself!
Homeschool Spanish Academy offers Spanish language programs to home schoolers using Skype technology. Most people have heard of Skype, by now, but in case you have not: Skype is a program that enables an individual (with a computer with camera, microphone and speakers) to have live, real-time conversations with another individual in any other part of the world at no cost (for the Skype). So HSA enables home schoolers to take live, real-time video-chat classes with a bi-lingual Spanish instructor in Guatemala from anywhere in the world! It's pretty amazing! (I first "met" Skype when my husband went on a missions trip to Africa. The time distance needs to be accounted for, but it is amazing technology!)

HSA offers Spanish classes at four levels. They have an Early Language Program, a Middle School Program, a High School Program, and an Adult Program. Last year my son was taking the Middle School Program. I also really wanted to work on my Spanish, so I sat with him through his classes and did pick up a little bit last year. Read my review from last year by clicking here.
He actually did not last for the seven classes we were given last year, and the HSA folks kindly let me finish his classes last year since he would not cooperate. As a result, as I mentioned, I did pick up a little bit of Spanish last year (which I added to my previous minimal Spanish that I've gotten from childrens' television shows and occasional efforts to chat in Spanish with friends). 

So, as I mentioned, his year I was approved to take HSA's Adult Program.  
I was delighted to learn, "right from the git-go", that HSA has created some YouTube videos to help new users know how to navigate the system on their website. So once I had received my log-in information (given to me so that I could take a half-semester of classes for this review), I went through the videos I needed to get started.

Before signing up to take a course, it is important that you make sure your computer is ready and equipped with the video cam, and the speaker/mic that you need. Last year I purchased a special headset with a built in mic to use for this purpose, but this year I learned that the built-in mic and speakers are adequate. I like using headphones to cut out distractions on my end for my own benefit (dog barking, children calling me when they know I'm not available, phone ringing, etc.). Then you also need to run a speedtest on your computer and write the results down. It is recommended that you close all other programs and windows before running the speedtest. There is a tutorial about speedtest here on YouTube.

Before your first class is scheduled to start, a HSA representative will call you and check to make sure everything is ready for your class, including making sure your results from the speedtest are sufficient for you to have a successful class experience. 

The next step you take is to create an account by going to the HSA website. I found it very helpful to walk through the "How To" video step by step, pausing the video each time I needed to, completing a step, running the video, etc. until my account was set up. (After the initial "thrill", I found the video music a little annoying. It's all the same music, and it tends to be loud compared to the voice that gives instructions, so I had to adjust the volume.)

Once I had set up my account, I needed to log in and schedule my classes. The "How To Use My Planner" video was very helpful while I was figuring out how to do this. When scheduling your classes you are encouraged to try a variety of instructors before deciding to stick with just one. Last year we must have used at least three different instructors for our classes. Many of the same instructors were still there this year, with some additional new ones as well. This year I really just wanted to start with one instructor, and stay with the same instructor all the way through the classes.  I started by reading the instructor "Bio"s to decide on the one that I wanted, but in the end I ended up scheduling classes with the instructor that had class times available when I wanted to take the classes. Many of the instructors had very few slots available. It's just as well; I am pleased with the instructor I have had for my classes.

The information about the adult classes is summarized in this chart taken from their website:

I have been very motivated to learn Spanish through these classes so I was interested in receiving and doing homework, taking quizzes and tests, and everything available possible to help me to learn. As the weeks went by I was noticing that the paperwork I was receiving all was marked "High School", so I finally shot off an email to HSA asking for clarification as to why my paperwork said "High School" instead of "Adult Program". I learned that I was actually taking the High School Program, since I wanted to do homework and take tests. The adults normally have different wants and needs than that, so their classes don't include homework and tests. So, as it turns out my review is actually, apparently, a review of the High School Program.
The first day of class, before class I received a call. The HSA representative went over technical test results to make sure I was up and running, ready for my class. I made sure I was sitting at my computer at the designated time with Skype open, waiting for the first call.

There is a lot about Skype that I don't understand, or that I am doing wrong, or that my computer is doing wrong (heh, heh! Never "user error" -- blame it on the computer!) So, I do remember that I received a contact request or something and I had to add the contact so that the call could go through. After that things are a bit fuzzy. Week after week the instructor had difficulty "seeing me" -- seeing that I was on line and waiting. At least twice I received a phone call to remind me of my class that I was sitting there waiting for. It got to the point where, at the appointed time, if I didn't receive a Skype call from my instructor Elsa, or a Skype message, I would initiate the Skype call to her, and that would take care of the problem. I still don't know what I'm doing wrong, or what setting is set wrong for me to be invisible, but we got around it.

The very first lesson Elsa pushed and pushed and pushed to establish my level of previous Spanish. I didn't have a whole lot solidly, but we were able to combine their normal "Lesson 1" and "Lesson 2" into one session. After that we have gone at the pace of one lesson each week, because that's where I am.

So far we have had five classes. Some weeks I am able to spend more time studying my homework than others, and my performance in class reflects how much time I spend remembering things like how to say "strawberry", or how to say "My grandmother is (was)  from England".My main point is that this is a real for-high-school-credit course. When you have completed two semesters (parts 1-A and 1-B), it counts as a year of Spanish.

I find HSA to be a wonderful way to study Spanish, because it is totally one-on-one, and totally adapted to the student.  Each of our sessions begins with a period of chat, in Spanish, of how are you? How was your week? Did you have any difficulty with the homework, etc. And then we launch into a bit of review of what we have already covered. Next the instructor introduces the new material, page by page. The page is actually on the computer for me to see as she speaks, so I can completely understand what she is asking me, or she can quickly determine if I am looking at the wrong thing or not understanding. Anytime I totally don't understand, I can say so in Spanish, and she will try to explain in Spanish, or we can slip back to English for a moment until I have complete clarity.

It is sad how hard I am finding it to remember things with my old brain, but I won't give up! I intend to continue working to be able to understand and speak Spanish. One of the fun things I can report is that, by studying the pronunciation chart and working with Elsa, I believe I have been able to make improvements on my accent. My daughter always used to laugh at me, saying anything I said in Spanish always came out with a French accent. The reason, I learned, was because I had never learned how certain letters were pronounced in Spanish, so of course I pronounced them using the French pronunciation that I had learned to associate with those letters (when I was not speaking English). So it is a work in progress, but my Spanish is sounding more Spanish now, and not so much like a blend (Spench? Franish?).

Here is a sample of what one student's high school lesson looked like on week 8:
This video is very good to help you see what I was describing about the work being up on the screen for me to see. The student in this video... seems to have a better grasp of the Spanish than I feel like I have... that "old brain" again...

The information about the High School Program is summarized in the following chart, also taken from their website:
 One-On-One Pricing
I have really enjoyed working on my Spanish with HSA. I will be continuing to work on learning Spanish as this year goes by, so you'll have to check with me in a year and see what progress I am able to report.
 I have indicated a lot of good aspects to the program. Have I encountered any problems? Well, there were a couple...
  • On one lesson, there was (to the best of my non-Spanish speaking ability to detect) a mistake: In spite of the fact that my instructor told me the correct expression is "Buenas tardes!", Lesson 2 (High School level) Page 1 says the expression is "Buenos tardes!". I don't know for sure which is correct, but either Elsa is wrong or the paper is wrong.
  • Lesson 3 has two places where it seems to expect the student to know the Spanish word for "backpack", but there is no where on the previous pages where that information had been given.
Those were the only errors I found in the High School program (so far). I list them here because my experience is that HSA is so responsive that they will probably make corrections to their papers as a result of my comments.

One other issue was that my teacher assigned work to me one week, but did not set the assignment up in such a way that I could submit it back to her when it was completed.
Homeschool Spanish Academy was founded in 2010 by Ron Fortin, a former United States Marine. Initially working as an IT consultant, Ron was offered an opportunity to be principal of a school in an impoverished section of Guatemala. Over a period of weeks, his reservations about going evaporated and he made the leap. Once there he began to see the possibility of offering high-quality Spanish lessons via Skype to individuals in other areas seeking to learn the language, and Homeschool Spanish Academy was born.

If you or one of your students/children are considering learning Spanish I strongly encourage you to consider trying out Homeschool Spanish Academy. You can even take a free class! Learn More. You can sign up for one-half semester, seven classes, for $99.00.

I am really enjoying taking the class.     At the same time, I do understand that this style of learning  is not for everyone -- my son, for instance. That said, you wouldn't know that until you try (I don't think). So, give it a try. Homeschool Spanish Academy has classes for students of all ages.

This review of Homeschool Spanish Academy has been brought to you by The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew. To read more reviews of HSA, or to read a review of a different product level, please click below. 

No comments :

Post a Comment