This is called “total immersion,” and it’s what our fourth-born, Samuel, spent this summer doing — a final hurrah before he starts medical school in mid-August. He flew home last Friday, barely recognizable after so many weeks without a shave or a haircut, but now fluent in español.
The second-best way to learn Spanish is by using a program called Pimsleur Speak & Read Essential Spanish 1. That’s what those of us at home have been doing this summer, so that we’d still be able to understand Sam once he returned.
Our family first discovered the Pimsleur method for language learning nine years ago. After saving enough cereal boxtops and frequent flyer miles to get ten free tickets to London, we spent the better part of a month backpacking Europe with all our little ones in tow, visiting nine countries and seventeen cities in twenty-one days. We had a wonderful time and got around easily, even in areas where English was not commonly spoken. That’s because we spent the three months before the trip going through Pimsleur’s 30-day courses in German, French, and Italian.
These programs use organic learning principles and graduated interval recall to help students acquire a second language in the same way they acquired their native tongue. Because it is almost entirely auditory, our whole family was able to go through the CDs together. Even our littlest ones, who weren’t actively trying to learn the language, picked up a few new words and phrases. I also supplemented the younger children’s language study by reading picture books and singing nursery rhymes in German and French (and now Spanish). We own a few such books ourselves and check out others from the library.
Interestingly, TIME Magazine published an article just last week (July 29 Issue) entitled “The Power of the Bilingual Brain,” which details how early exposure to foreign language makes children’s brains more flexible and improves their problem-solving abilities later in life, even in non-linguistic studies like algebra.
Now that some of my kids are older and are needing foreign language credits on their high school transcripts, I’ve had to find a way to objectively measure their progress using Pimsleur. I don’t allow them to write or take any notes during the actual lessons. The program works best when students just listen and respond (the same way they acquired their first language as babies).
But I’ve designed a series of tests for the lessons in Pimsleur Spanish 1, and am using these to assign our high schoolers a grade for the course. I have them take an exam after each lesson. If interested, you may print them out for your own use by clicking on the links below:
The last five or ten lessons of Level 1 are pretty challenging, so we are currently reviewing those before moving on to the second (then eventually third and fourth) levels of Pimsleur Speak & Read Essential Spanish. I’ll upload tests for the higher levels as I complete them.
If you are interested in checking out Pimsleur for yourself, you can try a free sample lesson by clicking the link below: