Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A TOS Review: German for Middle School!

I took a few years of Spanish in High School. I always think I understand more than I really do. Thankfully, I haven't had much opportunity to embarrass myself completely. At least not trying to speak a language that is not native to me. 

Nevertheless, it is my desire for Josiah to have a second language. He had a brief course in French and has had more Spanish instruction. I can help him just a little there, but once he gets past asking for directions to the bathroom I am at a loss. 

Let's just say I need all the help I can get with foreign language instruction. I was recently blessed with the opportunity to review a quality online program. The German Language Course (Middle School 1) from Middlebury Interactive  Languages

I received a 6-month subscription to the program. Middle School German 1 is intended for Grades 6-8. It is an interactive introductory course. A prerequisite wasn't required. 

The program is structured around  listening, speaking, reading and writing. Students are introduced to German speaking countries, which includes history, food and literature. It is aligned to the national standards of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. 

There are programs available for grades k-12 in Spanish, French, German and Chinese. The Middle and High programs have a total of 90 lessons per semester. The recommendation is that the student complete one lesson per day for 18 weeks. 

Our schedule permitted us to work through the program 3 days a week. It is a self-paced program and Josiah just does better at a slower pace. 

A single semester course costs $119. You are also given the option to take the course with teacher support from Middlebury Interactive. That class is an addition $175 making the total $249.

All you need is a reliable internet connection and a working computer. You also need headphones or speakers. There is a recording option on some of the labs, but we didn't use it. Josiah and I worked through it together so I was able to make pronunciation suggestions. Actually, he has a better accent than I do. 

How We Used It

German 1 for Middle School is divided into 9 Units with a Midterm and a Final. Each Unit has 10 lessons with a variety of activities. Every lesson gives the student an opportunity to practice what they are learning, as well as interactive activities. They might vary, but I appreciate the "game" aspect of some of them. Josiah is all about video games. 

I let Josiah choose what language he would like to explore. As I mentioned, he has taken Spanish and a brief course in French. I had my concerns when he chose German (I'll explain in a minute). I think he was excited to get started. He has an aunt who is originally from Germany as well as 2 cousins who took German in High School. In fact, one of those cousins is actually majoring in German in college. 

I decided I would work along with him through the program. Josiah is dyslexic and learning French proved problematic for him. I researched it a little bit and found out that German is actually a more transparent language than French or English. There might be some difficulties down the road with German (such as gender of nouns, multiple constant combination and unfamiliar word order). I decided that for the purpose of this review that it would be fun for him to give it a try. 

I want to share with you some screen shots of the very first lesson. The activities may vary with every lesson, but the lessons still work through the four language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. 

I like that I can see (on the left-hand side) what we've done or what we still need to work on. This screen shows me the Objectives for Unit 1. 

This is a Vocabulary Guide. They are greetings and farwells. Not to worry. The student doesn't learn these in all one lesson. The little green dot next to each phrase is actually a sound icon. We are able to click on it to hear pronunciation. 

This screen is the Vocabulary Intro. It instructs us to listen to the audio sample and identify any words that we might recognize. I liked that this would could follow along with the conversation. We didn't learn the phrases in isolation. 

This screen gives us plenty of practice with greetings. We were required to guess what each phrase might mean. Because there are German words that sound like English ones some of these were pretty easy! We practiced these a lot. 

This is a matching game. We had to drag the German word to the corresponding picture.  This activity is completed, but we have done it a few times. There is an icon that lets me reset the activity. 

The Speaking Lab allows the student to record themselves speaking. We didn't use this feature, but I think it's pretty cool. 

And that's it for the first lesson. All in all the lessons take about 20-25 minutes. We have repeated a few. Josiah and I both do better with some repetition. 

In fact, that is one thing I appreciate a program like Middlebury Interactive. In a classroom a student must move at the pace the teacher or class set. I personally was the kind of student who didn't ask for help when I needed it. I didn't want to appear clueless. 

We can be as clueless as we need to be here!  We could move at a pace that was comfortable for us. 

Middlebury also introduces the student to German grammar. Now this was a bit more difficult for Josiah to grasp. I was expecting that. What made it a little easier was that he wasn't required to read pages of text. He could hear what was expected. The jury is still out on how productive our efforts will be. But at least it hasn't been completely a fail. 

One bonus (that I really, really appreciated) with this course is the culture and historical aspects we learn along the way. We even get to practice with maps. 

You can see one such activity below. 

On the whole I have been very impressed with Middlebury Interactive. I think it is a fun and engaging way to learn a foreign language. 

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