Many readers have known my husband and me for years as the founders of Texas’ Special Kids, a ministry to families with children who have special needs. While I enjoy helping families that way, I find myself reminding others on a regular basis that two-thirds of the children in our home do not have special needs. While we do work hard to make learning easier for our son who has autism, he is not our only student. We have many home schooling experiences that are not related to special needs.
Our family has been fiercely independent in our choices regarding home schooling. We have used very few outside resources, choosing instead to educate our children primarily at home. Only two trusted friends have been consigned to do any teaching for us. When we began the high school journey for our oldest son a few years ago, that meant searching diligently for the highest quality materials that would address both his interests and his learning style.
Preparing our son for college meant meeting the requirement for learning a language other than English. Since I am fluent in Spanish and teach lower-level Spanish courses at a local university, Spanish was the natural choice for our family. However, I was concerned about the kind of pressure that would be placed on our son if I were to teach him myself. Stress does not create a positive, comfortable learning environment. So, I began a quest to find the best Spanish program for our son that would offer him a realistic learning experience. My graduate studies in language acquisition led me to conclude that I needed to find a program that closely approximated the Natural Approach to language instruction. Grammar-translation programs would not meet that need, nor would something that used English in excess. Since the brain creates a separate language center for each language that it learns, mixing English with the Spanish would not be beneficial.
About the same time that I was making this decision, the university at which I teach added to our language lab collection the computer-based program Rosetta Stone. I had known about Rosetta Stone for many years but had been reluctant to try it because of the absence of interaction with a human. As I listened to our department chairman explain why the program was being added to the language lab, I realized the incredible benefits that it had to offer–most notably, that it closely approximated the Natural Approach.
Essentially, the Natural Approach is based on the concept that language is best acquired in an immersion environment, using only the target language and closely approximating the acquisition of a first language. Spiraling the skills to occur in the natural sequence of language acquisition is essential; therefore, listening precedes speaking, followed by reading, then writing.
Rosetta Stone begins with very basic vocabulary that is similar to what a child learns from infancy in his first language. Most programs do the same–starting with colors, numbers, animals, and family members, among other simple concepts. However, Rosetta Stone introduces the vocabulary following the natural order–listening first, followed by speaking, reading, then writing. Also, Rosetta Stone’s simple grammar lessons are embedded naturally with the vocabulary, rather than being taught overtly as separate lessons. As our son studied Spanish for three years, he was not always aware of the difference between vocabulary and grammar lessons. The two are blended naturally, the way they would be for a child learning his first language. He did become more aware of grammar lessons over time, especially at the end of the second year and into the third.
As the grammar lessons in Rosetta Stone intensify and vocabulary increases, the demand for student production rises proportionately. Typing answers takes longer. Precision is essential, because the work is graded by computer. Something as simple as putting two spaces between words will trigger an error message, because the program literally looks for a specific character in each space. There were times when he struggled with an exercise and finally asked for my help. I would find one small letter difference—or an extra space, or a missing accent—and simply correcting that problem would remove the error message. There is no way for a computer program to grade work any other way. The good news is, if your child has someone like a college professor who is as insistent on precision in spelling and accents as I am, this will be great training!
Rosetta Stone offers various options for the settings to use. I always insisted that our son do the full program, including all four skills—listening, speaking, reading, and writing—at every level. I recommend using it that way as a college-prep course. There are multiple settings for the speed of pronunciation as well. I chose to use the normal speed setting, since our son was not accustomed to listening to much Spanish.
When called upon to speak, our son found the process easy. Since Rosetta Stone has software that specifically listens for precision in pronunciation, two or three times during the first year he did have to call me to help him with speaking activities. However, I must say that I have been extremely impressed with the accuracy of his pronunciation. He does not sound like a native speaker of English who is trying to speak Spanish with a Texas accent.
Many of the speaking exercises involve repeating words, phrases, and statements that are pronounced by the speakers. There are a few exercises in which the student is called upon to fill in a thought within a paragraph. Our son did find that more challenging than the repetition exercises, but increasing the difficulty of tasks is to be expected in a language program.
Regardless of the target language, the methodology in Rosetta Stone products is the same. I recommend them highly for students who intend to use the language in the future, as well as for students who plan to study a second language in college. The benefits of learning languages using the methodology of Rosetta Stone simply cannot be overstated. The program exceeded my expectations for my son’s high school language experience, and I am sure that other families will find it beneficial as well.