Learning a new language can be the most frustrating part of any well-rounded education. Anything foreign tends to require an extra level of work, and this is especially true of a foreign tongue, with its different alphabet, vocabulary, grammar, and forms of expression. At the same time, such learning is extremely practical and beneficial, and shouldn't be ignored.
Kristine K. Kershul has developed a series of workbooks to help overcome both the difficulty and the extensive time commitments generally required to learn a foreign language. Her 10 Minutes a Day series is intended to introduce various languages on a conversational level through a variety of exercises and hands-on approaches.
How Do These Work?
Each book is self-contained. Whether you're wanting to learn Norwegian, Spanish, Arabic, or Chinese, all you need is the one text and the included CD-ROM. The books are consumable, with flashcards to cut out, vocabulary stickers to stick on household items, exercises to complete, and the interactive disc content to explore.
This is more or less the immersion method, except that there is English commentary and instruction throughout. Each text is colorful and filled with illustrations: a lot of the exercises revolve around students identifying pictures and learning the corresponding vocabulary word(s).
The majority of the content is designed to get users talking and understanding basic words, like colors, names of household items, rudimentary verbs, traffic signs, etc. There are even sections about ordering food at a restaurant, asking what time it is, and getting directions. There's a lot of repetition, and the supplements are designed to ingrain core words and phrases.
If you're looking for grammar, verb conjugations, noun declensions, or guidance for sentence construction, you won't find it here. These are introductory conversational courses, and will get students' feet wet, but they aren't able to take anyone beyond a "just getting by" ability level. There is basic sentence structure, but rather than addressing it specifically, the authors present it in the context of basic conversational exchanges.
Probably the best element of the 10 Minutes a Day books are the "sticky labels,"a series of reusable decals students use to label all kinds of common items in order to internalize and reinforce their foreign names. Every time learners look at the item, they should say the foreign name, and if they can't remember it they just look at the label. The flashcards are helpful, though somewhat random.
The CD-ROMs are probably the best part of each book. A variety of fun, colorful, animated exercises allow students to hone their vocabulary skills by point-and-drag, multiple choice, and other types of exercises. Word groups include household items, pronouns, verbs and nouns, and more. Each word is pronounced clearly by a native speaker, adding an essential element of language acquisition the books alone don't provide.
By the end of each text, students should be able to carry on limited but highly practical conversations in the respective languages. Each book begins with a brief pronunciation guide and introduction to the alphabet, then explores vocabulary, focusing on situational phrases, menus and beverages, colors, numbers, paying bills, transportation, etc. There are sections rather than lessons, and students spend ten minutes a day reviewing and learning vocabulary, and completing written work.
NOTE: In the Asian language texts, students are taught to read Japanese and Chinese in their Anglicized form, with the Latin alphabet rather than in their native characters. Students learn the Arabic alphabet and read words in their original format, but students are likely to struggle if they've never encountered the language or its alphabet before.
Our Honest Opinion:
Don't let the series title fool you: it isn't possible to learn a language in 10 minutes a day. Language acquisition is hard work, and requires a great deal of discipline and effort. You can, however, become reasonably well-acquainted with a language by dabbling in it on a daily basis, but understand if you really want to know the language it'll take a lot more out of you and your schedule.
That said, these books do serve a purpose. For students wanting to learn a foreign language but who are nervous or unsure where to start, these rudimentary introductions can work quite nicely. For students just beginning to study through a more well-rounded program, these books are excellent for establishing vocabulary and communication skills.
We'd probably recommend these most for middle and high school students, though the nature of the content is more oriented toward adult users. We'd also recommend you not stop here. If you or your kids want to learn German, Spanish, or any other language, we'd suggest you find a program that teaches grammar, pronunciation, and usage. The Tell Me More software-based series is an excellent choice, especially for self-learners and home school families.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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