Toddler Spanish practice with Professor Pocket
hedra here, helping out with a review. [Hooray! The more hedra in the world the better. -- Ed.]
Because I tend to write huge long content, I'm putting the 'bottom line' stuff up front - you can read on for our overall experience if you have time!
- Demonstrates grammar, sentence structure, conjugation of verbs, and vocabulary, without any lecturing.
- Story is engaging and avoids formulaic structure.
- Music (especially instrumentation) is quite good.
- Characters have personality and retain a sense of culture.
- Plenty of giggles. (While playing it, and later, too.)
- Online learning opportunities, including vocabulary lists and song translations.
- Immersion style means the pacing is natural, which may enhance learning - no awkward pauses.
- There are phrases pulled out clearly enough that the kids can start using them almost immediately, providing immediate reinforcement.
- The "2 and up" age target is correct - The littlest ones loved it, it's not cheesy so the uber-cool 4th grader thought it was fun, and I was picking up whole sentences by the second time through.
- Supporting materials are all online - I wanted to have a book or something in the car for the kids to look at right off (will have to print from online - just do that first, if you like).
- You may need to listen a few times to grasp the words, which can be frustrating for the adults if they're used to more typical 'read it, say it' language learning rather than 'immersion'. (The kids did not mind at all, and I got over it.)
- This is the debut CD, so there aren't other CDs to add to the mix yet. (But this one is a good start!)
- If your kids are getting some exposure to Spanish already, this provides an entertaining, engaging, and effective opportunity to use Spanish outside the classroom. You may even enjoy it yourself! (My husband can still tolerate it after days on end now of playing it in the car in the morning.)
- If you just want something to start the process of Spanish exposure, this is an great resource. There are obvious scope limits - there's only so much vocabulary you can put on one CD. A very good place to start, just don't stop here.
Check out the website, professorpocket.com, for more information.
Now, for the details...
I'm generally a skeptic when it comes to learning a language from any kind of automated media. Researchers agree that different media serve different purposes, and audio isn't a bad one, it just isn't usually 'enough' on its own. The main benefit of audio is to increase exposure to the target language - that is, the more time spent in 'contact' with the language, the better the person learns it. To become reasonably fluent, it takes 600 hours of contact, minimum, at least according to the Foreign Service Institute. That's a lot of time. An hour a week at school is not going to go very far. Many 'immersion' programs in schools are only an hour a day. Most parents don't consider a full immersion program for school - all day, every day, in a foreign language - unless they also speak that language at home or part of their family speaks it.
So, how to take the limited learning time my kids get, and maximize the exposure to the language? It would help if we could speak it at home - but my limited Spanish is long dormant (my stepmother spoke it, but I didn't live with her), and my husband learned German in school. My mom (who does speak Spanish fairly well) tried to get the kids interested in doing some immersion over the summer at her house, but she met with brick-wall resistance.
Now what? Free media has been a bust. Dora the Explorer - nope, not working for our kids. Spanish-language Sesame Street, also not interested.
Enter Professor Pocket: Our Silly Farm Adventure. Worth a try.
A couple of other notes before I continue: 1) We only have a few childrens' music CDs in our house. They're not all that popular. The kids would rather listen to public radio, or Motown, or classical music, or folk, alternative, bluegrass, blues, African music, Scottish music, you name it. They enjoy some kids' music, but it isn't their focus at all. And, well, we're kind of picky about music. 2) We're really busy. The day starts at 4 AM, and ends at 8:30 PM, and it is generally a circus the whole time - four kids, three cats, tiny house, both parents working outside the home. There's no 'evening peacefulness' or an hour to tuck something new into on a daily basis.
We decided to just try the Professor Pocket CD on the drive to the in-law's house. The 40-ish minute CD fits nicely into the drive time, if we start it right away. I can also use it on pickup rounds from school, next week when school starts.
So, off we went. I realized this wasn't going to be a waste when I heard the voices - the characters weren't dried out, perfected, non-ethnic, acultural speakers. The dinosaurio (Desi) retained a strong accent in English, and had a natural, exuberant attitude. He had a *personality*. Cool. Chico the chicken (who we met at the farm a few minutes into the CD) has very lightly accented English, and a different personality. He's a bit less robust a character than Desi but still 'there'. Professor Pocket has a very clear American accent in English, and is upbeat, positive, and kind - a bit on the overly cheerful side for reality, but appropriate to the role she plays, and not in a grating way, more of a 'man, I wish I was that happy and patient all the time!' way.
Then the music started. The musicians are very good, and there are a variety of instruments involved. The diction in the talking and singing varies from 'natural and at speed,' to 'clear-as-a-bell,' which I think is appropriate - immersion tends to deal with everyday use of the language including blending of sounds from word to word. Still, there's enough clarity here to be able to pick out the words and repeat them. The children chiming in aren't perfectly in time or perfectly clear, but again, that is probably more useful than problematic. They felt real, rather than over-coached. Okay, so far, so good!
My next degree of skepticism evaporated when I glanced over and saw my husband's fingers drumming along on the steering wheel. This wasn't going to be painful to listen to over and over. Woo!
Somewhere along the way, the kids started laughing in response to the story. Cracking up, falling over in their seats laughing. Somewhere else along the way, I found myself car-dancing along to the music. The kids demanded to see the CD case, and looked for the characters they were hearing about. The oldest (almost 10) read every word on the case (minimal text), and seemed interested - something I wasn't sure would happen, and would certainly stop if he felt the content was aimed below his level. Later, one of the twins (almost 3 years old) chirped from the back seat, 'They saying, Ay, Carumba!' and giggled.
On the way home, the almost-6-year-old asked us to turn the CD on again, and turn it UP (again). And again, the whole set of them (and us) listened. They stayed engaged. They laughed, squealed, and bounced in their seats. They tried out a few of the phrases and terms on each other. There was more car dancing.
The story is simple, but organic rather than being too linear, which means it isn't boring. It was enough to keep me engaged, as an adult. Small tangents pop up in the story line, usually funny or silly ones, just enough to prevent a formulaic pattern and allow some more personality to show. In the course of the CD, they introduce colors, numbers, verb conjugation, farm-related terms, words that have nothing at all to do with the farm, and sentence structure that differs from English. All those concepts are not explained, they just happen. While listening, our kids started asking questions about the words, about the things that were happening, and about other things outside the CD's scope that they'd made connections to in their minds. The oldest (almost 10) mentioned a movie with Flamenco and Latin dancing. The second (almost 6) mentioned the other word for brown that he knows, and began listing off the other words he remembers in Spanish. And the almost-3-year old twins both said 'mas rapido!' on the way into the house when we got home... and they knew what it meant. We hadn't even made it through the CD twice yet!
There was general disappointed groaning that we had to turn off the CD when we got home, though they got over it when I said we could listen to it in the car every day. It has been played almost every day since (just missed the day we left it at my mom's!) - and everyone is popping up with phrases or bits of song on a regular basis. The kids crack up if I start singing bits, too.
Language researchers argue that media that functions with a 'personality' can enhance language acquisition. Being engaged and responsive to the language resource helps keep that area of the brain active. A CD - even a great one - isn't the ideal/perfect way to learn a language; total immersion is. But this was enough engagement and personality to get my own brain to crack open long-unused areas, and I found my own long-dormant Spanish floating up the first evening. No other children's media program has done that for me, so it was rather a surprise.
I've also recommended it to my oldest son's Spanish teacher - encouraging kids to use Spanish outside of school is an issue for her, too.
Win it! Leave a friendly comment here to get in the running. One person chosen at random will get a copy of Professor Pocket: Our Silly Farm Adventure. Good luck!