Spanish for You! is series of multisensory courses for teaching beginning Spanish to children in grades 3 through 8 in either class or homeschool situations. Each course includes a text, lesson guide(s) (called guidebooks), worksheets, lots of audio assistance, and suggestions for games and activities.
Guidebooks for grade levels 3-4, 5-6, or 7-8 help parents and teachers differentiate instruction for the various levels. I reviewed the Fiestas package that covers all three levels with the three guidebooks included. (The publisher describes these programs as packages since they are sold only in packages as a combination of the various components required for each course.) The Estaciones package is also available for all three levels, and a smaller trial package, Viajes, is is also available. (It will eventually be similar in scope to the larger courses.) Fiestas and Estaciones both have a number of sub-themed chapters, so each of these will take from 24 to 30 weeks to complete. Viajes is a briefer study requiring only four to six weeks.
Pronunciation, common words and phrases, colors, numbers, and other basics are presented at the front of the Estaciones and Fiestas textbooks, with audio files and worksheets to accompany them. These can be used as needed.
Courses do not follow a required sequence. Instead, basic vocabulary, verb conjugations, and other grammatical structures, are presented within different contexts so that children begin to learn them as building blocks that can be assembled in various ways. This allows you to begin with your choice of themed packages rather than having to use them in a particular sequence. Of course, this means there is some overlap and repetition of concepts, but this serves as review and reinforcement if students are encountering something a second (or third) time. The program's design also makes it easy for students who might already know some Spanish to work alongside students with no prior exposure.
For each of the larger packages there is a softcover textbook and a suite of downloadable files (MP3 audio files and PDF files). This allows you to print out worksheets and other resources as needed. The entire text is read aloud in individual audio files so everyone can follow along with a lesson in the book. (The Viajes courses include an ebook rather than a softcover textbook.) Each course comes with only one textbook. While you might be able to share in your family, it would be much better to have a book for each student, and those can be purchased separately.
With Fiestas and Estaciones, you are able to purchase a complete package that includes all three guidebooks so that you can teach all of your children using the same program, or you can purchase packages for individual levels. Either way, all students work from the same textbook and listen to the same audio presentations of the textbook. However, the guidebooks provide different instructions, including different pacing of the lessons for each level. Activities are more challenging at upper levels. For example, in an assignment for week 16 for grades 3-4, students are given eight sets of two words such as “divertido, eres” with instructions to create and write sentences for each set. In contrast, an activity in week 14 for grades 7-8 gives students ten sets of “words” such as “we/bailar.” They are instructed to conjugate the verb “bailar” so that it means “ we dance,” then write it in a sentence. You can see how this requires better mastery of verb conjugation. Older students are generally required to do more translation into Spanish and more written work than younger students.
Games, activities, and flashcards are used by all students. Instructions for each are in the textbook, and guidebooks direct you as to when you should use each of them. Flashcards really should be created and used by all students, but other activities are often optional. Among these are “Simon says,” memory, bingo, and hangman type games along with interactive games such as “Draw and Guess,” the “Frio y caliente” (hot and cold) search game, and vocabulary review. Flashcards are created using pictures from PDF files.
Guidebooks have detailed lesson plans for each day along with answer keys. These are very easy to follow without advance study or any prior knowledge of Spanish. You will need to prepare flashcards and, possibly, games in advance although you might have your children help with those. Additional games and activities are available for free at the publisher’s website.
Since this is an introductory program, it “is designed to gently bring students into the language through listening, reading, speaking, and writing.” It is not a grammatically intense program even though verb conjugation is introduced in the first lesson. Because it introduces some grammar, it isn’t a strictly conversational approach. The goal is to help children become familiar with hearing and using the language with frequent, enjoyable lessons and activities. Ideally, you would have lessons four days a week, although you can condense it into fewer days per week. As children and parents both learn common phrases, they should practice using them at other times during the day.
Course author Debbie Annett has recorded the audio tracks that include the complete lessons in the text, basic pronunciation and vocabulary (e.g., colors and numbers), audio for “listening worksheets,” and songs—she has a lovely singing voice. Annett describes the pronunciation as “middle of the road” Spanish. Pronunciations are clear and easy for “anglo” ears to understand rather than accented toward a particular form of Spanish. Generally, it’s closer to what you might hear in Mexico than what you would hear in Spain. However, she teaches the second person plural conjugation forms, noting that they are used only in Spain. There is also an optional version of the audio files read by a native Spanish speaker; these might be used by advanced students who want practice listening to more strongly accented pronunciation closer to what they are likely to hear.
Books and PDF files are created/printed in black and white. Illustrations use a child-like style. Some students might like to color in some of the pictures, especially on the flashcards.
As I mentioned, I reviewed Fiestas, which has five lessons (or themed sections) on La fiesta de cumpleaños (The Birthday Party), El día de los muertos (Day of the Dead), Carnaval, (Carnival), La semana santa (Holy Week), and La feria de abril (April Fair). Explanations of the meaning of each fiesta are in the introductory section of the text. These lessons include vocabulary, phrases, and sentences related to each celebration, so students learn quite a bit about each one in a multicultural fashion rather than in a way that addresses the religious implications. Some parents might want to use the Estaciones study rather than Fiestas if they are uncomfortable with these particular celebrations.
Viajes (Travels) courses offer an inexpensive, short-term opportunity to try out this approach before purchasing one of the larger courses. Free mini-lessons and worksheets on the publisher’s website offer another way to sample the material in advance, although they don’t give you the feel for the complete program. Worksheets and mini-lessons work best as supplements to one or more of the courses.
The fact that you can reuse everything for multiple students makes Spanish for You! a bargain for those with more than one child, but even for a single child, the price is reasonable.