The best way to learn Spanish is by spending three months alone in Guatemala. There you can travel the countryside. Attend language school. Board with local families. Visit local churches. Volunteer at a local clinic. Join a local chess club. Take ping-pong lessons at the local community center. Watch Spanish movies. Listen to Spanish music. Sing Spanish songs. See a Spanish doctor when you’re sick. And sign up for salsa dancing classes.
This method 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 spent this summer doing. So we’d still be able to understand Samuel 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. We visited nine countries and seventeen cities in twenty-one days. It was a wonderful trip, and we 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 words and phrases. I also supplemented the younger children’s language study by reading picture books and singing nursery rhymes in German and French. We own a few such books ourselves and checked out others from the library.
Good for Your Brain
Interestingly, TIME Magazine published an article just last week (July 29 Issue) entitled “The Power of the Bilingual Brain.” It 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. I’ve been using these to assign our high schoolers a grade for the course. They take one exam after every lesson. Interested in learning Spanish? You may print them out for your own use by clicking on the links below:
Test Your Knowledge
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, follow the link below for a free trial:
Disclosure: Although we now have an affiliate relationship with Pimsleur, this is NOT a sponsored post, nor did we receive any free products for review. We bought all the above mentioned Pimsleur language programs ourselves (in addition to other Pimsleur programs not mentioned), have used them for close to ten years, absolutely love them, and believe they would be beneficial to other families, as well. All the opinions expressed in this post are our own.