The Old Schoolhouse® Product & Curriculum Reviews

With so many products available we often need a little help in making our curriculum choices. The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine family understands because we are in the same boat! Do you need more information on a product before you buy? With over 5,500 products listed in 52 easy-to-use categories, much of the information you need to know is only a click away! Let our reviewer-families help yours.
Do you want to get the word out about your product or service to the homeschool community? Email Tess Hamre and share a little about what you´d like showcased, and we can help with that!

Instant Spanish Vocabulary Builder with Online Audio and Instant Italian Vocabulary Builder with Online Audio Review by Cecilia Young

Tom Means, Ph. D.
Hippocrene Books, Inc.

Learning the English language comes naturally for most of us in the United States. However, our world is constantly changing, and learning a second (or even a third) language is more common now and quickly becoming the standard. The Instant Spanish Vocabulary Builder with Online Audio and the Instant Italian Vocabulary Builder with Online Audio by Tom Means, Ph. D., are excellent tools to help with the process of learning these languages.

These books and their online audio companions are beneficial and include all the significant aspects of the learning process: reading, speaking, listening, and writing. The books are similar in setup and lessons. The only difference I noted between the two programs is the language taught. These books can be purchased directly from the website for about twenty dollars each, and the online audio is available for download or directly from the website at no charge. In addition, I found having a translation dictionary in each language helpful.

Before you begin your lessons, it is imperative to read the information given at the beginning of each book. There is a short explanation of the language learning process, information on the pattern similarities between the English language and the Spanish and Italian languages, a pronunciation guide, and a short explanation of spelling deviations. I found reading all the introductory pages helpful. These pages and the website answered most questions, and when I had to send an email with a question at one point, I received a swift, helpful, and polite response.

These studies are advertised as being helpful to learners at every level. While I do not necessarily disagree with this, I would expand it to say that a minimum age or knowledge level is needed to begin. The basic idea behind the Instant Spanish Vocabulary Builder with Online Audio is to link words with similar endings in Spanish and English to expand the learner's vocabulary. By recognizing which words have like endings, the student can connect the word and translate it faster, which helps with knowledge and fluency. While this method is fantastic for learners with a broad English language vocabulary, I would not say it is helpful for children in elementary grades who may not know the English versions of the words yet. Most of the words are relatively large. Some are not commonly used, especially in younger ages, so while this program is excellent for many "levels" of learners/speakers, it may not be appropriate for all learners.

I appreciate the technique om Means, Ph. D. uses in these lessons, though I wish more online content were available. Each chapter contains a dictionary-like list of words in alphabetical order with the same or similar end spellings/sounds. In addition, there are several highlighted words spoken in the online audio for pronunciation help. Because of the dictionary-like setup, there is a broad selection of words to learn. Each book also contains twenty-four chapters. Each chapter focuses on a similar ending spelling between the two languages (Spanish/English or Italian/English) and words with those endings.

For example, chapter one of the Spanish version has words ending in -al with their English counterpart—diferencial versus differential or cultural versus cultural (you would change the pronunciation according to the Spanish pronunciation rules). I was unfamiliar with these commonalities between the languages before receiving these lesson books, and it is a beautiful way to link the languages and build vocabulary in the language.

Along with both speaking and listening being fundamental to these lessons, Dr. Means includes reading and writing. At the end of each chapter, students can match words and read a story (which continues from chapter to chapter) to translate, then answer questions about the story. To read these stories and answer the questions, one will need to be quite familiar with the language as the book presents the stories and questions in the language being learned, and there is no translation available. While I am not unfamiliar with the Spanish language, I found that I needed to use a translation dictionary to help me translate the story to understand it. However, as an immersive English language tutor, I appreciate that the book keeps the story and questions in the language being learned.

While I do wish the online audio were a bit meatier and think that a translation guide for the written lessons would be helpful, these lessons are still a great supplement to any Spanish curriculum you are using. While my family used this in our home with a multi-age level curriculum, this could easily be used in a classroom or co-op setting with multiple students. Again, I would reiterate that these books are not a stand-alone curriculum but a supplement to build vocabulary and understand Spanish and Italian spelling rules.

My sixteen-year-old appreciates the written words and that he can read them and look them up in a bi-lingual dictionary, while my eleven-year-old likes to copy the audio pronunciation guide.

The vocabulary words included are not always for everyday use and would not be words that many elementary-aged students would use. However, there also is no harm in teaching this to elementary-aged students if you have the time to teach them the English translation.

My youngest child is six, and while she had not used many of the words taught in these lessons before, these lessons have expanded her English vocabulary and given her a greater desire to learn the Spanish language. So, if you have children (or adults) who desire to learn either Spanish or Italian and have a curriculum but would like to expand their vocabulary specifically and learn some exciting language/spelling similarities, I recommend these books.

 -Product review by Cecilia Young, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2020