Saturday, August 31, 2013

Review: Homeschool Spanish Academy

Laura has had an intense interest in Spanish for several years, and has taken two years of "book and video" high school Spanish courses. While she can read and write Spanish very well, with exquisitely proper grammar and fairly good pronunciation, she is really lacking in conversational skills. Without having native Spanish speakers to practice with, her conversation and practical use of her Spanish knowledge has really not improved much at all beyond a raw beginner's level.

This past Spring, we heard a recommendation for Homeschool Spanish Academy through a homeschool support group, and Laura began saving up her own personal money to purchase a semester of instruction. Imagine our delight when we were given a half semester of the high school program to review through The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew!

What is Homeschool Spanish Academy? It is a group of instructors based in Guatemala that have undergone rigorous training in instructing their native Spanish language through Skype lessons to people all around the world! There are age appropriate lessons and levels for all ages, from young elementary age children (Kindergarten, age 5) through adults. The teachers all are experienced instructors who conduct themselves in a very professional manner.

How are lessons set up? Once the student has purchased the program they desire, the tech center contacts the student to arrange for a technical "set up" to make sure everything is in place for the first lesson. Once the lesson time starts, it is "all business" and no lesson time is devoted to "technical issues". Students are allowed access into a members-only dashboard on the website, where they can read through the teacher's biographies, select a teacher, select a lesson time that is convenient, and see any notes or homework assignments from their teacher. There is also a very nice library feature that members have access to.

Members Dashboard

What equipment do you need? Students will need a computer with a high-speed internet connection, a good quality microphone, speakers or headset, and a webcam (not required but highly recommended, and definitely very useful). The student will have to download and set up a free Skype account. You can use this quick tutorial to see if your internet connection speed meets the minimum requirements to allow you to complete lessons.

If you have any technical issues, Homeschool Spanish Academy is quick to email or call with technical support and assistance. They really go the extra mile to make sure that all technical and computer problems are solved immediately.

How do you know if a teacher will be a good fit?  When we first signed on, there were about a dozen teachers to choose from. Each of them had a picture and a short bio listed.  You can sign up with one teacher for the duration of your lessons, scheduling recurring lessons for the entire semester at a set time, or you can schedule one lesson at a time and use various teachers - depending upon their (and your) availability.  During each lesson, the teacher keeps meticulous notes about what was covered in the lesson, and the student's progress, so that another teacher can come in and continue right where you left off. If one teacher is not a good fit, there is the definite opportunity to select another one for the next lesson.

Overview of the program:

Pricing:  We reviewed a half semester course, which includes 7 lessons. (One lesson per week for 7 weeks). The cost for this program is $99.99, which works out to be $14.28 per class. The more lessons per semester in the program, the greater the cost, but the "per lesson" price decreases. Once your classes are ordered, you can pay via Paypal. At first glance the lessons may seem expensive, especially compared to other Spanish curriculums that are available. What has justified the cost in my mind is that a) You are getting one-on-one tutoring at your own pace. (I my area, individualized Spanish tutoring currently runs about $40 an hour, which makes these lessons a huge bargain!) b) There are no books or workbooks to buy - everything is included in this price. c) Learning and actually speaking the language will come quicker because of the instant feedback and positive interaction.

Here is a chart showing pricing for the high school program:

As you can see, the more classes you buy, the better the price per class is. Classes can be scheduled at a pace of 1-2 classes per week. Even though we were only signed up for a half semester, the scheduling was very flexible. We were able to schedule 2 classes per week when needed, to make up for a week that Laura would be away at camp and unable to have a lesson that week. The classes are "credits" on your account, and you are able to look at your dashboard and see how many you have used and how many remain.  You are able to cancel and reschedule a class easily by emailing your teacher. They do ask for 24 hour notice. We did not have to reschedule at all, so I did not have the opportunity to test this out.

Free trial lesson: Homeschool Spanish Academy does allow one free trial lesson. You can interact with a teacher in an actual video lesson to get a feel for the program. You have to create an account and follow the instructions for a free trial lesson.

What about homework, tests, and grades? The teacher assigns homework for each lesson. The class itself lasted about 50 minutes, and Laura was able to complete the homework assignment in about 15-20 minutes.  Homework assignments are found on your 'dashboard' and can be downloaded. The completed assignments can be emailed to your teacher or uploaded back to the assignments page. We had a technical issue with uploading homework, and had to contact customer service. I have to say that the customer service was very helpful, friendly, and thorough. Our issue was quickly resolved. Laura had a test after the 4th lesson, and the teacher gave her good study tips to prepare for it. Grades and progress reports are posted to the website for the parent to download and use for the student's transcript.

Here is a partial screen shot of one of Laura's homework assignments:

Is this program sufficient for high school credits? The program is thorough and intense, and the website states that each level is equivalent to a half credit of High School Spanish.

How has High School Spanish worked for us?  Laura was very nervous for her first lesson. Since she has not really spoken much Spanish with another person, she was worried that the teacher would not be able to understand her. We went online and she looked through all the available teachers, and selected one. In fact, Laura picked 'Elsa' because she listed soccer as one of her interests, and Laura loves soccer! During the first lesson, Elsa asked Laura a lot of questions, to get her talking in Spanish and to be able to assess what level of difficulty she would work with her at. Elsa quickly put Laura at ease and made her very comfortable. By the time the second lesson came around, Laura was looking forward to it with eagerness and enthusiasm, and was not nervous at all. Elsa also had me come join in on one of the lessons to ask what my goals were for Laura, so that we would all be on the same page.

I sat to the side and watched some of the lessons, as Laura completed them. Elsa kept the lessons moving along, and used several different methods of communication, including a split screen where Spanish phrases and words were typed, so that Laura could see the words written as she was speaking them and hearing them. This helped Laura tremendously, and was actually one of her favorite parts of the lessons.

Anytime Laura did not understand, Elsa stopped and repeated the words, and also typed them onto the screen. She was extremely patient and used much praise and positive reinforcement. We both loved having her as Laura's teacher! They discussed many, many different topics, making the lessons personal and practical.

We have two lessons left to complete, and are looking forward to finishing up our half semester of Spanish. It has been a great reinforcement and encouragement to Laura, and has really helped to boost her confidence a bit in her Spanish communication skills.

What if there is more than one student? Homeschool Spanish Academy can accommodate two students in one lesson with one teacher. The pricing is a little more expensive (You can see it for the high school level here). The students must be within 3 grade levels of each other and be able to work together well. This is a great option for homeschool families with multiple students needing instruction.

What I really liked: I thrive on organized details. I love how organized this program is. It seems like every minute detail has been thought of to make this program a success for the students. The program, the website, the teachers - all come across as very professional. As soon as you schedule a class, you receive an email confirmation. You also receive an email reminder the day before your scheduled lesson. The teachers have always been right on time, or even a few minutes early. What I like the most is that Laura is actually speaking Spanish and loving it!!! Her confidence has grown and her love for Spanish and continuing to learn it has definitely increased.

What Laura really liked:  Laura really liked the instant feedback to know if she was pronouncing a word incorrectly. She was able to hear the right way, and correct it immediately. When she was repeating words back to a video, she did not get any feedback, which prohibited developing a good speaking style. She enjoyed the patience and understanding of the teacher when she couldn't remember a particular word, and she enjoyed learning new words or proper ways to say things. It seemed so much more "real life" than just learning from a book. She found it incredibly interesting, and was so excited for each new lesson.

What was difficult: As the summer ended, and many students started back to school, the schedule quickly filled up for the Homeschool Spanish Academy. Since we have been scheduling our classes week to week according to what worked best for our hectic summer schedule, we were not able to finish our last 2 classes before I wrote this review. We are still able to finish them, but the teacher does not have an available spot until the end of September now. This is not the fault of Homeschool Spanish Academy. In fact, I am happy that so many people are benefiting from their program!! Laura was just very disappointed to have to wait so long for her next lesson!! When we had scheduling difficulties, the company sent out an email explaining exactly what they were doing to correct and improve the situation - they are hiring and training more teachers! I have to say that I am very impressed that they recognized this difficulty and are working to correct it so quickly!

My recommendation: I highly recommend this program! It has completely exceeded my expectations. Laura has come further in her Spanish speaking in these last five lessons than she has in a whole year of "bookwork" Spanish lessons. We are planning on purchasing a semester of lessons for her to continue expanding her Spanish communication skills.

Would you like to read more reviews from the Crew, and see how students interacted on the different levels, including adult instruction? Click the banner below to read more reviews!

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