Achieving Fluency


As a former exchange student herself, the author speaks from personal experience when it comes to learning a foreign language. The obvious goal is fluency. There are many theories out there about the best method for achieving this goal. She believes that the very best method is immersion and by immersion she means LIVING in a foreign country for an extended period of time without exposure to English. This method is why exchange student programs are so popular and successful.

We realize that for some families, true immersion is not an option. This causes many families to choose an option that imitates immersion (i.e. Rosetta Stone, Berlitz, Pimsleur, etc.). While all of these programs will offer your student an increase in knowledge of a foreign language, they do have their drawbacks. The two main drawbacks are their cost and lack of a live teacher to answer individual questions. The other drawback is that while students do learn pronunciation and some vocabulary, they do not really come away with a good understanding of the grammar of the language. Not having an understanding of grammar leaves students unable to form thoughts and phrases independently.

This fact has been clearly demonstrated to the author in two ways. The first was in her experience as an exchange student. She spent the first three weeks of her stay living in Madrid with other first-time exchange students and a local teacher. The goal of these three weeks was to expose the students to Spanish culture and give them a chance to practice using Spanish before being turned over to our their host families. Daily classes were given to assist them in this goal. Despite having been an A+ student for four years in a private, Christian school, the author found herself in the group of students with the lowest level. After a little comparison, the students quickly determined that those who had been taught the most grammar were the fastest at learning to actually speak. Those who had been taught by teachers and texts that emphasized speaking (and this included the author) found themselves lagging behind in this skill. After three weeks of intensive grammar courses and another month of tutoring from a new friend in her host city, Zaragoza, the author was finally deemed fluent enough by her host family to safely take the bus on her own to a store located downtown.

The second demonstration came after the author began to teach Spanish to homeschooled students in local co-ops. After using a pre-packaged curriculum for one year, the author decided to write her own. Year after year, students who had no knowledge of Spanish would join her class and by the end of their first year be capable of reading and writing paragraphs in Spanish using a dictionary and verb book. Most telling, though, were the students who had already had some instruction in Spanish (via other speaking-based classes or online computer programs). These students felt that they would have an advantage over the absolute beginners. But, time after time, experience proved that they did not. (Note: In ten years of teaching, the author has only encountered one student who was an exception to this trend!)

The goal of this program is to create students who are literate (able to read and write) in the Spanish language. By the end of the completion of the second year of Spanish, students would be able to survive on their own in a foreign country with the aid of a dictionary.