At home language learning for me and my child
December 31, 2008 12:36 PM   Subscribe

Learn-at-home systems for languages: are they worth it? Could working with one help facilitate encouraging bilingual learning in a child?

I've been thinking about trying to reinvigorate my Spanish using one of the audio-based learning systems (computer and text components are also acceptable but anything hands-free is preferred as I'm at home with a child for the time being). I'd also like to focus more on Mexican and/or Latin American idiomatic Spanish, which would have more utility for me than what I learned in high school and college.

I took four years of Spanish in high school, and after a couple year's break a couple years in college. I always did well though I never had any sort of immersive experience and I was never what I'd call truly fluent. At my peak I was able to slog through Spanish literature, do reasonably well with films, and when I traveled in Mexico a few years later I could manage conversationally with reasonably patient people. But that was a decade ago and I've done almost nothing with it since.

First question, opinions (direct experience preferred) on whether at-home learning systems are worthwhile and recommendations on brands. Getting maybe over-optimistically specific, anyone ever try working with something like this with a child (4 year old) running around? It would probably involve a lot of stopping and starting, would this disjointed approach badly impede the process?

This is getting more theoretical but my son is becoming very attuned to the Spanish that forms a small but consistent part of the shows he watches on PBS and some of his books. At 4 with one non-fluent parent (Mom speaks very minimal Spanish) is there any hope of developing some bilingual ability short of some sort of special school environment? Anyone try learning a language while raising a young child? Any other thoughts on encouraging language acquisition in children when your own skills are nominal is appreciated.
posted by nanojath to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
In my neck of the woods, there are tons of language playgroups. Does your city have a parenting resource page? That may be of help. Also, think about getting a sitter or parent's helper who can come in and speak to your child.

Full Bilingualism is a challenge. I have good friends who grew up with 3/4 adults in the home speaking one language and school erased their fluency. They were certainly at a high ability level, but with mom not knowing the language, it is tough.
posted by k8t at 12:44 PM on December 31, 2008

Rosetta Stone sucks ass.
posted by delmoi at 12:52 PM on December 31, 2008

Response by poster: Just to clarify, I don't have any illusions about my child being fluent or fully bilingual, but if I can help him pick up more than Dora level Spanish it seems worthwhile. delmoi, I appreciate the vote - any detail on what's wrong with it?
posted by nanojath at 12:59 PM on December 31, 2008

Best answer: I've really been enjoying the Pimsleur Latin American course. Really, I recommend it wholeheartedly. I tried Rosetta Stone, and I think Pimsleur is better. Pimsleur is based on getting you fluent in the 2500 most used words in the language, which makes eminent sense to me, both theoretically and in terms of the vocabulary I'm actually developing. Rosetta promises to teach you ostensively, as you first learned language, which seems great in theory, but they start with a weird vocabulary. Do I really need to know the word for skirt in the first few lessons? I don't think so.

I put the lessons on my iPod and listen on my commute, which is another plus with the Pimsleur--can't do that with Rosetta.
posted by bricoleur at 2:00 PM on December 31, 2008

For your child, Rosetta Stone might actually be quite good. The method used is like bricoleur said, mimics childhood language acquisition. It's also a program (from memory, that is) that would be easily used by a child.
posted by ryanbryan at 3:09 PM on December 31, 2008

Best answer: I've tried both Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur.

Rosetta stone has an odd curriculum and a strict philosophy of never explaining anything. Consequently, you learn to say "the wife's hair is white" without really being able to break down the different parts of the sentence or even know where the word boundaries are. You don't learn to say things like "Hello, how are you?".

I poked around Rosetta Stone Chinese for probably 10 or 15 hours and wasn't too impressed. My sister has spent much more time on it and can say some pretty elaborate things with good pronunciation, but sadly doesn't really know all that well what she's saying. I know a fair amount of Chinese from classes at my university and Rosetta Stone was worthless for simple conversations.

Pimsleur, on the other hand, is quite good. I paid $40 to buy 8 CDs (16 half hour lessons) to learn a bit of Portuguese. I was blown away. It introduces very straightforward, useful phrases right at the beginning. It enunciates new words syllable by syllable. It forces you to construct novel sentences based on the words you've learned so far. It asks you for a word from 8 lessons ago just as you're on the verge of forgetting it but haven't quite done so. And it's fun!

I ended up acquiring all the Portuguese lessons made (90 of them), loading them up on my iPod and listening to them while walking around. After all that, I still wouldn't say I'm conversational, but I feel if I got a nice textbook I'd be in a great position to become fluent.

On the other hand, a friend of mine whom I traveled with in China learned his Chinese through Pimsleur lessons and no one could understand him at all... So Pimsleur's quality might depend on the language.
posted by losvedir at 5:01 PM on December 31, 2008

nthing Pimsleur. I've used the French and Italian lessons. The languages that have 90 lessons (three sets of thirty) are almost guaranteed to give you incredible results if you can do them all.

I read somewhere that after doing all 90, the only thing keeping you from fluency is constant interaction with a native speaker. You cannot become fluent without immersion/interaction, no matter how hard you study.
posted by Precision at 7:39 PM on December 31, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the input. Given the several recommendations I'll look into Pimsleur.
posted by nanojath at 12:00 PM on January 1, 2009

Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone are good for different things. Pimsleur is good for teaching you to converse and Rosetta Stone is good for building vocabulary. You will also need a good grammar reference book and a good grammar exercise book to learn to read and write.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:17 PM on January 2, 2009

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