Friday, May 22, 2009

Online Spanish Lessons

By Neal Walters

As the web and bandwidth have multiplied, learning Spanish online has advanced to new levels. My first experience learning a language outside of a formal school setting was with Foreign Service Institute (FSI) tapes ordered by mail in the 80s. After that, I discovered Pimsleur which was a big step ahead. FSI had more tapes, more lessons, and more grammar, but it required the book and was hard to learn in the car. Pimsleur is more of a "book-less" system, perfect for learning in the car.

So today, with the internet, what has improved? Audios and videos can now be played online, or even downloaded. This wasn't feasible until high-speed internet became standard in most homes.

Some companies are offering connections with live teachers, often with 2 to 4 students onlien with the same teacher. These classes tend to be more expensive, because they obviously have to find, interview, select, and pay the instructors. Personal one-on-one tutors are even more expensive. Scheduling is another difficulty with these classes; you typically have to meet at the same time, once or twice per week. If you travel, or have a job that keeps you late, you wouldn't want to miss your classes.

Another advantage of the web, is the ability to see a word, and click on it to here it. The student can click as many times as desired, and the computer never gets impatient. The student can skip around, to words that are causing him or her trouble. With tapes or CDs, you have to go through a lesson sequentially, and it might be hard to review without repeating the entire lesson. With the web, a student can somewhat skip around and focus on new vocabulary where needed.

Recently, I decided to build my own Spanish course, offered as a membership with two lessons per month. Each lesson is based on a conversational dialog between two or three people. I found that many other lessons on the market often lacked some of the basic conversational skills needed to conduct "real-world" conversations. The dialogs include conversing about your profession, where you are from, where you have lived, your trip, brothers, sisters, children, and lunching while on a diet.

Each dialog has a video under two minutes, and was created by various Spanish speakers in South America. It's a good idea to listen to the video to get the idea of what's going on, but to really learn the dialog, you will listen to an audio lesson that is typically thirty to sixty minutes. This audio uses well-test principles of language learning, to emphasize certain words and grammatical principles over and over, as you learn them naturally, by repeating and creating your own sentences in the pauses provided.

Following the audio, the student can review the vocabulary online by clicking on the words to hear them individually played. Each video and the longer audio comes with a complete PDF transcript. Other learning systems fail to include complete transcripts. The transcripts are needed to help the student with reading and spelling skills. The student often desires to print the PDF files, and use them for review when not at the computer.

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