Is Rosetta Stone Really Worth It?


People ask me all the time whether or not buying a language learning program like Rosetta Stone is worth the investment. Admittedly, it has a hefty price tag, but it is significantly cheaper than when it first became available.

Rosetta Stone was at one time under contract with the US Army, and is now collaborating with four year universities to offer online language learning programs for credit. The software definitely has some obvious benefits and is clearly effective.

Is it right for you?

Well, that really depends on the kind of person you are. Are you the kind of person who starts a project and sees it through, or are you a serial project starter who frequently moves on to the next project once you start to lose interest?

I’ve found that if you have the dedication it takes to go home after a long day of work, then open up your computer and be productive, then this type of program would be perfect for you.

On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person who is always going to ‘start tomorrow,’ then, maybe it’s best if you sign up for a traditional classroom course.

If you are the kind of person who feels like Rosetta Stone is the right fit for you, then by all means, jump right in! I personally think the idea of studying a language at your leisure, while in your pajamas sounds like a pretty good time!

Of course, it’s still wildly beneficial to combine your e-learning with some conversation appointments with a private tutor or native speaker over coffee or tea. By using the language skills you learn on the computer, you’ll be able to put them to good use in conversation with that person.

Whichever method you choose, try your best to stick with it. Learning a language cannot be done overnight, and you are bound to lose interest at some point when the going gets a little tough. Believe me. It will be so worth it when you’re traveling the globe and can rattle off your dinner order for you and all your friends.

Rosetta Stone has so many different languages available, so whether you’re interested in studying English, Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese or Japanese, you’re bound to find a language that intrigues you.

Buena suerte!

 

 

 

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Fun, Educational Gifts for the kiddos


We are officially in the midst of the chaotic Christmas season, which inadvertently leads to insane amounts of extra clutter and toys that will bore kids as soon as the wrapping paper is thrown away. This year, whichever holiday you celebrate, consider giving educational gifts that will not only be fun, but will keep them mentally stimulated.

Here is a list of some fun Spanish learning ideas for various ages.
52 Weeks of Family Spanish

Bite sized lessons to get you and your family learning throughout the year!

The Everything Kids’ Learning Spanish Book

In my opinion, this book is great for all ages, so give it a try

My First Bilingual Little Readers

Great for parents and teachers to start reading in Spanish

Everyday Words in Spanish: Flashcards

I love this set of flashcards! The pictures are great and the words are big and easy to read. Great for studying and bulletin boards!

Oso pardo, oso pardo, ¿qué ves ahí? (Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See) (Spanish Edition)

Kids love the story in English, so why not try it in Spanish?

La Oruga Muy Hambrienta (The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar) (Spanish Edition)

This book is fantastic in any language!

If you’re looking for more specific recommendations of educational gifts, please let me know. I’m happy to help with recommendations!

Saludos!

Interview with Jeffrey Benson, Author and Educator


Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to become acquainted with Jeffrey Benson. He is an experienced educator who just finished writing a book titled Hanging In–Strategies for Teaching the Students Who Challenge Us Most. The book is due out in January, but I am so excited to give you a sneak peak into the book before it becomes available in January, 2014! You can order your copy prior to publication from ascd.org.

HangingIn cover

I should tell you that Jeffrey has a remarkable way of writing that makes this book an appropriate read for really just about anybody. Even if you don’t work with this demographic, chances are, you know somebody with these learning difficulties. People who can especially benefit from this book are: adult students earning their teaching degrees in special education and administrators in particular, social workers, psychologists, guidance counselors, occupational therapists, school nurses, legislators who vote to fund programs, parents of students with special needs… basically everybody.

I reached out to Jeffrey to do this interview because many people have come to me asking for language learning help for students with learning difficulties. Here is what he had to say:

What types of learning difficulties do you normally work with?

I have worked with students whose primary disability–or at least what was the barrier for full inclusion–were social/emotional. That said, so often those disabilities were endlessly interplaying with dyslexia, dyscalcula, attention difficulties, executive functioning weaknesses, non-verbal learning disabilities, Aspergers, etc. etc.

Do you feel like students with learning difficulties benefit from learning two or more languages? If so, how?

If we are considering students with language based disabilities, I’ve seen no evidence that the struggle they have with their primary language is the result of any unique demands of that language; i.e. if you are not learning one language effectively, you will not learn a second language effectively. I am speaking here of students over the age of 10, when learning a second language is no longer done without concerted effort. It would be interesting to see any studies of students who grew up bi-lingual and the types of language based learning disabilities in that population. But by the time I’ve worked with students, it is past the age when one learns multiple languages through childhood immersion. We should offer them the option of learning a second language, and in consultation with parents, definitely give them an opt out. My students with non-language based learning disabilities benefited from any subject that they were drawn to master–sometimes it was a second language–but i always supported an opt out for them as well, given the level of intention one needs in order to be successful in acquiring a second language.

Many students feel frustrated that they haven’t had much/any success learning a foreign language. In your experience, are there certain techniques that work better for students with learning difficulties?

You would need to see where the individual’s breakdown was in learning their primary language–and what interventions were helpful there–and go into the second language study fully prepared to employ those interventions from the start. If you can’t understand the barriers they have in their primary language, it just seems cruel to ask them to learn a second language. I would allow any student to go for it, and use my relationship with him/her to guard against overwhelm, and to see what we can learn together about the difficulties in language learning for the student. Are there general guidelines? Sure: use visuals and objects and role plays to continually offer various “ladders into the pool”–don’t teach from one mode; repeat the very same lesson in the interest of comfort and fluency, so don’t be in a rush; be prepared to articulate very clearly every rule; don’t assume anything will be generalized until it is; be prepared to break a task into a smaller step; be prepared to listen to the student as he/she explains their sense making to hear where there is even a subtle mis-understanding; don’t get lost in the weeds–move on from a frustrating spot and circle back to it in another context rather than crucifying the kid on one rule; celebrate success

Many parents have also come to me sharing their frustration. They want to help their children as best they can, but they don’t know how. What are a few techniques that you can recommend for parents and teachers to aid their students more effectively?

Listen to the kid! So often they reach overload and no one is noticing in their own anxiety to push the kid on. Instead of pushing the kid into new territory, have fun playing with/reviewing what the student can already do–it can only help to build fluency and a sense of competence. Almost no student actually becomes bi-lingual in school, so don;t ruin what has to be for almost everyone a life-long effort to learn a second language. For all but a few inherently strong language learners, schools provide exposure, so be clear about whether you are trying to help the kid pass this very difficult course, or whether you are holding out hope that the kid is on the way to being bi-lingual. For most people, bi-lingual is not happening, and even less so for a student with a language based learning disability. Have fun with it so it stays fun. Follow the student’s lead.

Of course all learning difficulties are not alike, so treatment and techniques will differ for each person. What is your advice for parents with children who have learning difficulties?

1) Patiently be willing to do important things with them again and again and again and again. Having a disability is not a moral weakness (to paraphrase Ed Hollowell)–it’s hard to get things mastered without a lot of gentle repetition.

2) Prepare the student for the environment AND prepare the environment for the student. That means be prepared to teach them what they might not see or learn as most kids do, and take out of the environment unnecessary barriers to learning the most important stuff.

Jeffrey cover photo 5 - Version 2

Jeffrey Benson has worked in almost every school context in his 35 years of experience in education: as a teacher in elementary, middle, and high schools; as an instructor in undergraduate and graduate programs; and as an administrator in day and residential schools. He has studied and worked side by side with national leaders in the fields of special education, learning theory, trauma and addiction, school reform, adult development, and conflict resolution. He has been a consultant to public and private schools, mentored teachers and principals in varied school settings, and has written on many school-based issues. The core of Jeffrey Benson’s work is in understanding how people learn–the starting point for everything that schools should do.

Jeffrey and his colleagues also have a website called LeadersandLearners.org where they have posted a curriculum he co-wrote on promoting dialogues in school that you should check out.

You can contact Jeffrey directly at: JeffreyBenson@LeadersAndLearners.org

It’s Raining Chairs!


On a rainy day a while back, I was talking with Vicky on the phone and she screamed, “ahhhh, it’s raining chairs!” We both started laughing and she explained that it’s a popular expression in Greek, although it doesn’t quite translate the same way into English.

raining chairs large
Photo Credit: Jamie McCaffrey

On the other hand, I’m sure there are people in other countries that think “it’s raining cats and dogs” is equally outlandish!

I love how every language has its own set of colorful proverbs and idioms that make it so beautiful and unique.

So on this rainy day in Boston, I’ll be looking out my window and celebrating the raining chairs!

What are some of your favorite expressions in English or any other language? I’d love to hear from you!

Be the Best Example You Can Be!


Last week, my four-year-old niece Giuliana told me she was going to play at her friend Anthony’s house because they have the same billing address. Haha… what??? These kids pick up vocabulary everywhere they go… even if they don’t know how to use it just yet.

Recently, I read a blog post from Crystal Paine (the Money Saving Mom) titled “Give Them Something Great to Imitate.” You should definitely check it out. She mentions how recently one of her children said something negative that he/she had to have picked up from her.

Although I’m not a mom yet, I’m an Aunty, I’m an educator, I’m a neighbor, I belong to a church, I’m a customer, I’m a driver and whatever I do, there may be somebody watching me or listening to me. I’m not talking about the “every step you take” stalker kind of way. I’m talking in the children are sponges and will pick up behaviors and vocabulary from just about anywhere type of way.

girl looking
Photo Credit: Florencia&Pe

I myself remember things that people I have met in passing have done and said, even if it’s very unlikely that I should ever see that person again. Maybe that person didn’t even know anybody was looking or listening. We all notice things both good and bad. We’ve all done things both good and bad. People watch. Kids watch. Let’s be better.

‘Melissa, you write a language learning blog, what does this have to do with anything here?’

Well if you want your kids to be readers, you should pick up a book and read. If you want your children to be bilingual, you should be learning new vocabulary in another language yourself. If you want your children to be culturally sensitive, celebrate a holiday that isn’t your own.  If you want your students to be creative, you should experiment in your classroom. If you want your children or students to write more, you should write more. You get the point. All of us can do something better.

What will you do today to be the best example you can be?

The Benefits of Being Bilingual


There are so many reasons that every person should be at least bilingual, if not multilingual. It feels like every day the world is shrinking a little bit. With international travel becoming easier and more accessible, and the internet making international communication and business just clicks away, it is in our best interest to start working on our foreign language skills today. After all, just being able to say “donde está el baño” doesn’t mean we’ll be able to understand someone when they explain to us in Spanish where the bathroom actually is.

There have been numerous studies that bilingualism helps develop cognitive function in both children and adults. It has also been shown to stave off Alzheimer’s and decrease the loss of cognitive function in older adults. Bilingualism serves all of us well at every point in our age spectrum.

If you have children, as a parent, you should be aware of the importance of bilingualism. You work hard to feed and clothe your children, and of course you want your children to be well prepared for school and work. Providing them with a bilingual education is another wonderful way you can help your child to be everything that he/she can be.

Libros en Español
Photo by Enokson

Bilingual education for children has been shown to increase vocabulary in both languages, improve self-esteem and also enhance cultural awareness and sensitivity. Many private schools require the working knowledge of two languages. Additionally, many universities require some foreign language knowledge.

If you are an adult learning a language, I’m sure it has been brought to your attention more than once, that knowing even a few words in another language comes in handy at one time or another. You don’t want to be the only person at a dinner table in a French restaurant who can’t order his/her own food, and you especially don’t want to be stuck in an airport with no idea how to get to your hotel because you can’t talk to the taxi driver. In this economy, you also don’t want to be turned down for a job solely because you are monolingual. Even if you do get hired as a monolingual employee, you should know that your multilingual peers are most likely making more money than you. The benefits are evident and motivational.

Meeting nieuwe leden
Photo by Voka – Kamer van Koophandel Limburg

Yes, it is easier to learn another language as a child, but if you are a monolingual adult, please do not let that stop you. It will be a little more challenging, but believe me, it will be totally worth it! Join a class, get a tutor, start listening to podcasts. Do whatever you can to start learning a language right now. With every new word you remember, you will be motivated to continue.

Feel free to contact me with any questions on how to get started. If you’re learning Spanish or English, I can help you myself. If you’re learning another language, I can can give you some direction on where to go.

As you can tell, I’m obviously a proponent of multilingualism, but if you don’t believe me, check out some of these sites with facts and information about the advantages of being bilingual. Ciao!

Quick Tips for Learning a Language


So here we are in February. If you are anything like me, those resolutions you made just a month ago are a fond memory. If so, don’t fret because it’s not too late make a positive change.

Here are some quick tips on how to improve your language skills in only minutes a day.

  • Set up mini-goals. Every time you reach a goal, you will receive that necessary motivation to reach your next mini-goal.
  • Reward yourself when you hit your goals. After memorizing 20 new words or writing your first diary in that language, go out and buy a coffee, get a manicure or go see a movie!
  • Schedule just 20 minutes into each day that you devote to your learning. This time can be spent doing anything from watching a tv program, listening to music or reading out loud. Eventually, this 20 minutes will become a habit.
  • Go old fashioned. Get a pen pal from that country.  
  • Follow a blog in that language.
  • Spend money. I’ve found that nothing lights my motivational fire than money spent. Take a class or buy some movies or music.
  • Make a recipe from that country. Better yet, use a recipe in that language.
  • Celebrate! Celebrate holidays, traditions, culture, dance, etc.  You could have a party that recognizes that culture in some way.
  • Recruit a friend. When learning a language, a speaking partner will be absolutely necessary. This will also be important because you can hold each other accountable for any slacking!
  • Try to think in that language. Constantly translating in your head back and forth gets very tiresome and will create frustration.
  • While listening, try to focus on the main idea, not just individual words.
  • Smile! People will understand you’re not a native speaker and most people will be delighted that you are learning their language and trying to communicate.
  • Travel. Nothing will give you the language bug quite like traveling. Get out and see new places, meet new people and have fun with your new language skills!!

Remember to keep it fun because if you are enjoying the process, you’ll be more inclined to stick with it. If you miss a day, just make sure you don’t miss the next day.

Also, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not learning fast enough. If learning a language were easy, everybody would speak 10 languages!

As always, if you have any tips that have worked for you, feel free to share.

Happy Learning!!