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MERLOT II

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Peer Review


Notes in Spanish

by Marina Diez , Ben Curtis
 

Ratings

Overall Rating:

4.75 stars
Content Quality: 4.75 stars
Effectiveness: 4.75 stars
Ease of Use: 4.75 stars
Reviewed: Aug 04, 2009 by World Languages Editorial Board
Overview: "Notes in Spanish" is a collection of over 100 podcasts organized according to three levels: inspired beginners, intermediate and advanced. Marina, a Spaniard, and Ben, a Brit, discuss a variety of topics ranging from common grammar questions for the English speaker of Spanish, such as the uses of "por" and "para", to issues related to work, education, Franco's treatment of women and much more. While English and Spanish are used for beginning level podcasts, the speakers begin to rely more and more exclusively on Spanish as the level of difficulty increases. In addition to podcasts, e-mail newsletters and blogs are available free of charge from the Website. The podcasts may also be downloaded from iTunes for free. Users may sign up to receive a free "Kick Start Your Spanish" report, which includes tips for successful language learning. Worksheet packets, including transcripts and grammar and vocabulary activities, are available for a charge of 47 Euros for each level and are delivered via e-mail as PDF documents.
Learning Goals: "Notes in Spanish" serves as an excellent source of oral input for students of Spanish. Marina and Ben use what they describe as "real life" language, especially informal expressions used in conversation, that many textbook-based programs lack. Drawing on their personal experiences learning foreign languages and living abroad, Marina and Ben address key cultural differences between England and Spain. As the site includes peninsular Spanish and British English, students and teachers may wish to make comparisons among the regional variations of the two languages as well. As is stated on the site,Notes in Spanish is designed to help you learn the real Spanish you’ll never find in a textbook or classroom.The for-purchase worksheets provide an opportunity for the user to practice the newly acquired vocabulary.
Target Student Population: This resource is targeted towards the independent student of Spanish, especially students of Spanish who are interested in Peninsular culture and/or are traveling to Spain. Additionally, the Podcasts could be of great value to an advanced high school or intermediate college Spanish language or conversation class or for use in professional school.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: The Podcasts are divided into three different levels, but the beginners presupposes a good foundation of Spanish grammar and vocabulary (present tense, gustar, vocabulary of the family, introductions etc). In order to download the Podcasts, it would be best to have a cursory knowledge of iTunes.
Type of Material: Collection: Tutorial
Recommended Uses: This resource can best be used by individuals who wish to improve their comprehension of conversational Peninsular Spanish. Additionally, an instructor could assign pre-selected Podcasts as homework assignments to expose students to realistically paced conversation about particular cultural phenomena. The instructor could then create writing assignments based on the conversation without needing to purchase the worksheets that go along with the Podcast. The podcasts can be used for listening exercises or for supplementary use by students outside the classroom. The advanced podcasts may also be used for testing oral comprehension.
Technical Requirements: All links and audio work well in Safari and Firefox. The free Podcasts are available to listen to in real time via the web in a pop-up window, or are available to download via iTunes (to play on iPod, Zune, or mp3 player). User can also subscribe via RSS Feed (Quicktime needed). Audio capability is required. The site contains a Technical Support Center that promises to respond to questions within 24 hours M-F. The worksheets that are available for purchase can be downloaded in pdf format.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths: This site is an excellent resource for exposure to real-life conversational Peninsular Spanish.Each conversation is centered on very interesting and up-to-date cultural topics such as the Spanish schedule, cell-phones in Spain, immigration in Spain etc. The vocabulary taught and used within the conversations is current, interesting, and clearly presented.The conversations are engaging and interesting.The format (non-native speaker conversing with a native speaker) is very helpful for the student of Spanish. The content of the podcasts, particularly in the beginning level, is presented from the perspective of an English speaker of Spanish so that common pitfalls may be addressed. Marina's native pronunciation of new words and phrases and her polite correction of Ben's errors are particularly helpful. Listening to the two speakers interact is both informative and entertaining and reflects real-life situations of language use.
Concerns: The resource's focus is on conversational Peninsular Spanish and therefore restricts itself in terms of varied application for purposes other than practicing users comprehension of spoken Spanish. The for-purchase worksheets are sufficient to cover the conversations, but by no means can be used as a replacement for classroom or textbook grammar instruction.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths: The format of the conversations is very practical for the non-native speaker of Spanish of three levels Inspired Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced. Each conversation is centered on a specific cultural topic and then within the conversation certain cultural/Peninsular vocabulary is used and often repeated to help user get acquainted with vocabulary usage. The conversations are engaging and interesting. For the Inspired Beginners, the Podcast begins with an introduction to the cultural theme in English and then in English presents the new cultural vocabulary that will be used in the two conversations. Conversations for beginners are only slightly slowed down from the pace of a native conversation. Ben asked questions to Marina about grammatical concepts and usage of vocabulary. Cultural topics are varied and vocabulary is very practical for a person traveling to Spain (such as acostumbrarse, or qué timo). Grammar points are presented and then reviewed at the end of the Podcast and often re-visited in future Podcasts. The grammar discussed is practical and interesting, for instance there is a very good explanation of the usage of the se impersonal. Ben provides non-native speakers with useful tips about comprehension/reading. For the Intermediate and Advanced levels, the Podcasts are almost exclusively conducted in Spanish at native pace. Ben and Marina talk about a variety of cultural topics (immigration in Spain, the Spanish siesta, new laws in Spain). Marina corrects Ben on vocabulary and grammatical mistakes. Ben asks questions of pronunciation and grammar, for example fue o era. The focus is more on cultural topics and vocabulary rather than grammar. • There are many other resources within the site, such as a Forum and a Blog. The Forum is primarily a place of online discussion where Ben posts questions and users respond, for instance “¿Tienes o has tenido alguna mascota?” Additionally on the Forum, registered users can post questions regarding everything from grammar points to logistical questions about traveling in Spain. Users can also upload homemade videos to the Forum and solicit corrections of their Spanish from other users. The Blog contains five sections: Spanish Video, Cool Spanish Phrases, Spanish Slang, Learning Spanish Tips and Resources and lastly, Your Spanish Class which features Spanish study groups from around the world who have uploaded a photo and written a bio about their group in Spanish. • The worksheet component for-purchase that complements the Podcasts, provide user with vocabulary lists, transcripts of the conversation in Spanish, translation of the conversation in English (for the beginners level), and vocabulary review activities. The respect that Ben and Marina exhibit towards each other, in addition to their knowledge of the subject matter and their personal experiences, create a comfortable and informal atmosphere in which language learning can easily and naturally occur. The topics they discuss, from the Beijing Olympics and the invention of the Kindle, are both timely and interesting to students.
Concerns: The site is targeted to independent learners, but could creatively be used by an instructor of classroom Spanish for at-home assignments. The true beginning student of Spanish may be overwhelmed by the Inspired Beginners level, which, as is said on the site,is not just for Beginners. This material is focused on improving comprehension of spoken Peninsular Spanish and improving the user's Peninsular slang.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths: The website is extremely easy to use and navigate. A short description accompanies each audio clip. The user may choose to play the clip directly from the Web page or as a pop-up. The podcasts may also be downloaded to a MP3 player from the site or iTunes. The material is organized very clearly and the Podcasts function very efficiently either in a pop-up window or as downloaded files. The Spanish is very clearly spoken, although the fast pace, especially at the Inspired Beginners level would be too quick for a true beginner.
Concerns: There is no guide presented to help the user choose the level of conversation that they should follow. This could present problems or confusion with students who are in the intermediate level. The transcripts of the conversations are only available through purchase. The inclusion of photos, illustrations or additional graphics related to the content of the podcasts would make them more inviting for the user.

Other Issues and Comments: This site is targeted to the independent student of Spanish who wishes to improve their comprehension of spoken Peninsular Spanish and their vocabulary of Peninsular slang. The Podcasts are of very high quality and would be of great benefit to classroom students if used effectively by the instructor. All Podcasts are free. Each level has one free worksheet so that user has an example of the materials before deciding to purchase.