04 December 2007

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!

Professor Pocket: Our Silly Farm Adventure CD. Spanish language (speaking and singing) experience for 2 and up. Supporting website available.

Upsides:

  • 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.

Downsides:

  • 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!)

Bottom line?

  1. 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.)
  2. 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!

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This sounds like a great idea! Now, to get the CD player in my car fixed...

That sounds like a great CD! Thanks for the contest!

That sounds wonderful! We all need more Spanish here in Chicago - makes things so much easier. Now we just need to find something similar in German before our next trip back...

Wow, this sounds great! Count me in.

Great review, Hedra! Thanks for pointing us to this exciting resource!

Will have to check this out [if I don't win, that is ;)]
thanks for the info

nice post. hope i win it!

Thank you for the in-depth review! I don't speak Spanish, and living in Los Angeles I would very much like my son to learn the language.

Thanks for the great review - you painted a very clear picture of what to expect from this CD!

Great review. Sounds like a great CD.

Morning and great post!

What a detailed review! Sounds like something the whole family can enjoy.

Great review - would love to win it!

Two additional notes:

1) they ARE working on the next CD, so it won't be a one-off. :)

and 2) my kids did eventually tire of the daily listening to this CD (even Motown can get overplayed, LOL!), but what they asked for was 'the next Professor Pocket CD', not something completely different. So double-score on that point! :)

Looks great! Thanks so much for the review--I may need to pick this up somewhere.

Sounds fun! I'll have to check this out. Do you know if they plan any other languages?

I sent this on to my SIL. My niece is 3 and it is amazing how fast she picks up phrases. She watches Dora and Diego, and we've had a few moments of confusion when she switches between Spanish and English. I even had a neighbor whose daughter would start stringing off Spanish sounding phrases when she was angry with them :0)

Great review!

Great review! Sounds like a terrific CD.

sounds interesting!

Thanks for the review. My husband has a good ear for other languages but I don't. Hope the kid gets my hubby's genes on this one. And hopefully I'll pick something up along the way too.

This sounds great! We just adopted a one-year-old from Guatemala and we're trying to learn Spanish... but it's not easy, with everything else going on in our lives!

This sounds great! I think it would help with my three year old daughter's Spanish skills.

Cole is SO into Spanish right now. This is totally going on the gift list. Thanks for the review.

Wow! What a great review! I'm a preschool teacher, and with my students learning spanish this year, it would be great to have this as a reference! (and maybe an on-going activity!)
~Cara

Muchas gracias! I'd love to win the CD. I always have the best intentions about speaking Spanish with my girls, but often forget for days at a time! I think a CD that they're into would really help me along. Thanks for the excellent review, Hedra.

My daughter (3) seems to crave Spanish words, and this would be a fun way to supplement her. Thanks for the detailed review, hedra!

This sounds perfect for my son! He LOVES listening to music and stories, and DH is trying (with no luck) to get him interested in Spanish.

Sounds fantastic! We do a lot of Spanish reading in our house, and I've said our TV will "speak Spanish" when the babe gets big enough to watch it, but my accent is embarrassingly bad and I'd love a way to expose him to more native speakers!

Great review! My oldest used to say funny phrases in Spanish (that we taught him) when he was first learning to talk, but he's lost all memory of that now. It's harder to keep up with it than we thought it would be.

My daughter loves spanish from dora, love to win this!

What an excellent review! I'm a linguistics students, and expecting my first child in March. Of course I intend to do foreign languages with the baby--the trick will be choosing which one! This sounds like a well-designed, well-thought-out educational tool.

Sounds great! My 4-1/2 yr old and almost 2-yr old like Dora, but the 4-1/2 yr old really needs more. This CD would be great. I'm considering adding it to the Christmas shopping list if I don't win it!

Living in LA, knowing some Spanish is a definite plus! I'd love for my son to speak it better than I do (not that that would be difficult).

Thanks for the great review! I'm definitely interested in trying this with my son.

I'd love to try this out. Thanks for the info.

This sounds awesome! We live in Norway and our daughter will learn Norwegian and English but I would love to throw some Spanish into the mix.
I love how we can always rely on Hedra to provide details and insight :-)

Me gusta tener Professor Pocket, por favor! ... or something like that.

I personally didn't have all these resources growing up. But, I'm excited to have options available for my children! Exposure to the Spanish language is most useful as years go on for anyone! Looking forward to learning along side them :0)

We just bought a Spanish program for all us "big people" to use... This sounds like a great way for Miss J to join in!

My dad taught us early on that we need to know a 2nd language and recommended Spanish - which I took 5 years in HS and college. I plan to teach my son the same. This would be great!

Great information! We can use this in our family.

With a precocious 21 month old who is surprising us with short sentences and a 4 1/2 yr old who would love it, it looks ideal. Thanks for the review.

I'm very excited to try this out - I think it will be great on our first family road trip next summer!

Hello! Please enter me in this contest for the CD's. My son is
in Spanish and would use them.Thanks very much.....Cindi

That sounds awesome. Thanks for the review!

thanks for the contest. Sounds like a great CD! Would really love to win it. :)

Wow! thiis CD sounds great! Your review makes me want to get it right away. We love listening to kids music in the car. This would be a great and helpful addition.

We also love the CD and just wanted to point out to Hedra that Chico is not hispanic. We aren't quite sure what accent she was referring to in her "lightly accented English" statement. Maybe because he speaks Spanish so well, it seems that English was his 2nd language when it really is his 1st. Just thought she would like to know that he's not a native SPanish speaker!

thanks for the detailed review, I'm sold ;-)

oooh. We're in Texas, so learning Spanish es muy importante (and that's about all I know). It sounds good, hope I win. My son is just two and will absorb this like a little sponge, hopefully.

Oh please pick me! This would be an *awesome* addition to our homeschooling curricula.

May I have it por favor? :)

Caroline: Chico IS hispanic. Per the website, "I am multi-cultural. My mom is Mexican and my dad is
Columbian." I can easily spot his light accent, but maybe because it is so similar to my step-mom's very light accent. Her English is superior, and probably most people would notice 'some' accent but wouldn't spot it as anything specific. I spot it as Spanish, but maybe only because I'm so used to listening to very lightly accented English and knowing where the accent came from (in her case, Equador - slightly different from Chico's accent, but not too far off).

Thanks for the tip. It was an instant hit with my 2 and 5 year old. It's also available directly on Itunes (ITunes link: http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAlbum?id=250925590&s=143441 ), by the way. The music is not my favorite part, but the way they overlay the Spanish and English is very clever and effective.

Does anyone know of something similar for Mandarin Chinese instruction?

Great review, Hedra! I took 4 years of Spanish in high school in the 70's and managed to forget most of it. I am in health care in Oregon, where we have a large population of Spanish speakers. I really need to communicate with the people I serve, and more and more of them speak Spanish. Now that I have a granddaugher (almost 2) and another grandchild on the way, it seems this might be the perfect solution for me - learn some basic Spanish with the grandchildren (what fun!) and enroll in a local community college Spanish class. Our family does enjoy travel to Mexico (where I realize I have not forgotten everything I ever knew!)- so I think the Professor Pocket would be a great learning tool for us. Thanks for the recommendation!

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