Achieving Spanish Fluency {Review}

Middlebury Interactive Languages gave my family free access to High School Spanish II Fluency for grades 9-12 in exchange for this review.

We are always on the lookout for the best way to learn Spanish more fluently as a family, besides moving to Mexico or, my personal favorite option, hiring a Spanish-speaking cook. We frequently are in areas where Spanish is pretty essential. In fact, we participate in Spanish services often enough in our mission travels to necessitate at least a working fluency in the language. You can’t get much beyond lunch with a vocabulary of “taco burrito fajita el pollo loco por favor y gracias.” Ever on the hunt, we gave Middlebury Interactive Languages a try.

Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}
Middlebury Interactive Languages is an online curriculum that uses a multi-faceted, immersion-like approach to teaching the following four languages:

They offer courses developed by experts in linguistics and academia (smart people) for elementary, middle school, and high school, including advanced placement. As I already said, (but maybe you weren’t listening because a bit of fluff flew in your ear), we are using High School Spanish II Fluency. If you would prefer information on one of these other languages or levels, feel free to click on the banner below and you’ll be whisked away to the Homeschool Review Crew’s numerous other reviews on these language courses. I believe the reviews are all written in English, so never fear if you’re still one-lingual…er, monolingual:

Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}
The Middlebury courses teach language and culture by incorporating reading, writing, speaking, and–the toughie for me–listening. This four-faceted approach enhances the learning experience and solidifies the language in the students’ heads…hopefully.

Each level is age-appropriate, with the earlier levels focusing more on vocabulary and growing in complexity as they advance. Makes sense, right? Many levels also have the option of teacher support.

The course we are following is specifically designed to increase communication skills and cultural understanding, as opposed to a strong grammar and usage focus on a scholastic level. This suits us, because of our Spanish exposure in the mission field as opposed to the academic world.

The fluency course involves quite a few real people–they’re only on the screen, so none of them will be coming over and eating your cookies. They are real teens telling you real things at, unfortunately for my ears, real speed.

Because my family has already studied Spanish for over a year, we are ready for level II at a grammatical and vocabulary level, even at a reading and writing level, but where we struggle is with the listening. When I speak Spanish with my kids, I’m not exactly Speedy Gonzalez. Listening to and watching videos of native speakers talking in Spanish is exactly the element our Spanish studies have been missing.

I was tempted to back up and take the second semester of Level I instead, but honestly, we know all that stuff already. What we really need is the hard stuff–comprehending the native speakers. So instead of backing up, we listen to the same videos over and over and over again until we could tell you exactly what Ana likes to do in her spare time and who Cristiano’s cousin is and who likes to play guitar and who likes volleyball. Ask us! We know.

The high school level is definitely challenging, but here’s the good news:
  1. We can do it, and if we can you can.
  2. You do not need to know Spanish (or any language) to use these courses.
  3. If you select the wrong course and aren’t able to keep up, talk to the folks at Middlebury about backing up. It is my understanding that they will help you find where you belong.
  4. The course is self-paced (within a total timeframe), so if you need to watch, for example, Ana’s video 75 times, you may and you can. You can also clear all the answers on your examinations and practice pages and do them again and again and again. That way, you can exercise your weak area and level out your skill set–that’s fancy talk for “get better at Spanish.”


Here’s my overall impression of this course:

I’m an old dog. Understanding Spanish speakers is a relatively new trick, something I’ve struggled with since I started studying languages decades ago. In fact, I pretty much bombed my oral French examination when I lived in England–writing: good, reading: fantastic, vocabulary: no problem, listening: fail! (Note to other French students: when the professor asks where you are from in the States and how long you have been studying in England, don’t tell him you like trees and horses and definitely don’t ask him if you can have bread and cheese for breakfast.)

In all my Spanish studies, the part that was seriously lacking was listening. This program is not as good as having an excellent Spanish-speaking cook move into the travel trailer with us, but it takes up a lot less space. In fact, it takes up no space at all. And it offers the one segment of language training that we are missing–listening. At the risk of sounding even more redundant, the repetitive listening has helped get a better feel for the sound of the language…although I wouldn’t cry if there were subtitles and I could cheat. That is the challenge with immersion courses–what on earth are you people telling me to do?!

Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}

I had trouble figuring the course out at first from a technical level, and I don’t like that. The boxes on the left, the big screen on the right–it confused my Olde School Brain. But once I got rolling, I was A-okay. In fact, I like it. I like the gentle approach to useful grammar, the emphasis on listening, and the useable vocabulary. Most everything we’ve heard so far is something we would say in a legitimate conversation.

And here’s the ultimate compliment: we’re continuing with this course beyond the review period. We are going to finish as much of this course as we can in the next year. I doubt we will complete the whole 90 lessons, because we are slooooooow pokes. You, however, are probably a little speedier.

Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}
Three things for my fellow roadschoolers:

Uno: This program teaches fluency. That will be useful to you if you choose a language you need in an area you are traveling. The other programs deal more with academic language learning, and that’s great, too, but if you want to learn the culture and be able to chat over quesadillas, this is great!

Dos: This program takes up no space, because it is completely online.

Tres: This program needs a solid internet connection, which we didn’t have for a chunk of the review period, which is probably part of the reason we didn’t “get it” at first. For the more recent days when the connection is rapido, everything has run smoothly. Still, the amount of time we spend without a speedy connection affects our ability to use the program. Boo.

Do I still recommend it? Yes, I do, at least from what I’ve seen so far in our slow and unsteady approach in the high school fluency course.

Enough from me. Go visit Middlebury in the social realm on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest

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