Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Middlebury Languages {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Over the past few years, I've posted several pictures of Addison singing with the Tucson Girls Chorus.

This year, their group has the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform in China. They'll be traveling and singing for more than two weeks next summer. She's beyond excited.

Middlebury Interactive Languages ReviewShortly after their travel plans were confirmed, she was given the opportunity to take a Chinese course through Middlebury Interactive Languages. She's taking High School Chinese 1, a one-semester class with 18 weeks of online material (90 lessons).

The Middlebury class is a mixture of direct instruction and immersion. For instance, there are vocabulary flash cards with a picture of an object and the word written in both Chinese characters and Pinyin. She can click to hear the word pronounced and to see the English translation. To test her vocabulary knowledge most lessons have a matching activity, matching the Chinese word to the picture of the object.

Each unit in this course consists of five individual lessons. Addison estimates that it took her about 30-45 minutes to complete a lesson. There are quizzes throughout the units, and each unit ends with a test. The quizzes and tests are automatically scored. Each lesson also has pronunciation exercises which sometimes seemed to require a teacher to grade them. In our case, Addison used the computer microphone to record her responses, even though we have no way of knowing how well she is doing on that part.

Other activities in the lessons include reading and listening comprehension exercises, grammar practice, and videos with cultural information. Addison told me about a particularly interesting cultural video for the unit studying numbers. The video explained which Chinese numbers are lucky, which are considered unlucky, and why. When the girls tour with the chorus, they are all assigned a number that is used on their luggage, to line up at the airports, and to make sure everyone is accounted for. She can now figure out which girls have "lucky" numbers and which do not.

So far, Addison has learned simple Chinese greetings, numbers, animals, family members, days of the week, months of the year, and more. She's learning both to speak and to read all of the vocabulary words. In terms of reading and writing, Middlebury teaches both the Chinese characters and the Pinyin forms. She can combine the vocabulary to form simple sentences and knows how to turn a statement into a question.

Addison found the direct grammar instruction that clearly taught Chinese sentence structure to be very helpful. She learned that Chinese sentences follow a specific pattern of subject, time, place, verb, and object. She's now confident that she can piece together the vocabulary she knows to form a coherent Chinese sentence. In some other languages she's studied, she never quite understood word order within sentences. (I'm not sure if that's a measure of the Chinese instruction or the languages themselves, though.)

Her only difficulty with Middlebury Chinese is that she struggles to hear and understand the different tones in the language (rising tone, falling tone, flat tone, and falling-rising tone). Perhaps she would benefited from some interaction with a native Chinese speaker to clear up that confusion.

Addison has enjoyed her experience using Middlebury Interactive Languages to learn a bit of Chinese to hopefully use on tour. Depending on how much material the first semester covers, she's considering taking their High School Chinese II class when she finishes this one. If we do purchase another level, I will think about the option to work with a teacher so that she can get some feedback on the pronunciation exercises.

Each semester of High School Chinese from Middlebury Interactive Languages costs $119 without teacher assistance and an additional $175 with a teacher. With the purchase of a semester long class, the student has six months to complete the work.

In addition to the high school classes for grades 9-12, Middlebury offers an Elementary Chinese class for grades 3-5 and two levels of Middle School Chinese. They also offer Spanish, French, and German programs.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review. No feedback or way to compare her recorded tones to the optimal pronunciation worries me - without tones, her speech may be incomprehensible. Worse, I hope she does not have to unlearn and re-learn what she is doing. I don't know if a few hours with a Skype tutor would make enough difference. That is a real short-coming to the program.



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