Monday, April 11, 2022

TruFluency: Online Spanish Learning Program

TruFluency: Online Spanish Classes

The following post is in collaboration with TruFluency. All thoughts and opinions are the author's.

MommyMaestra is always on the lookout for Spanish learning programs for both homeschoolers and general students. My family had the opportunity to take part in some of TruFluency's Spanish classes for the purposes of this review, which is written to help your family when choosing a program.

Quick Overview


ProgramTruFluency
Religious Perspective: Secular
Format: Online classes
Ages: 4 to 17
Price: $14 - $228 (Varies based on class and frequency; you can look at their class schedule to see the pricing for the one that works best for your family)

Online Spanish Immersion Program

TruFluency offers online Spanish immersion courses for children ages 4-17. Classes run in four-week sessions centered around a theme like “amigos” or “el clima,” and meet twice a week. (Take a look at their class schedule here.)

My kids were 5 (went to a 25 min. class for 4-6 year olds) and 7 (went to a 45 min. class for ages 7-9). But there are also classes for ages 10-12, and ages 13-17.

There are three levels of proficiency: Beginner (little or no prior Spanish experience), Intermediate/Dual Language (those with some daily Spanish exposure at home or school but who struggle to speak with ease), and Advanced/Native Speaker (those who understand Spanish well, can speak in Spanish to some degree, yet have gaps in their proficiency).

My daughter (5) fit the middle category, and my son (7) was classified as advanced. In both cases, the teachers generally did a good job adapting to where they were, regardless of the label of the class. If you are unsure of the level of your child, you can always try one and the teacher can assess and move the child to a different level if need be. 


Methodology/Philosophy:


According to the website, TruFluency follows the “Belieu method,” which aims to get kids to use language that is relevant to their daily lives. This means that they focus on high-frequency phrases and everyday contexts. It also means that the students are encouraged to engage in speech acts that are used in normal conversation such as answering questions, asking questions, and narrating. And finally, TruFluency teachers employ activities that are motivating to the students to elicit as much language use as possible.


Spanish Class Format


Classes are small, consisting of 2-6 students, and are conducted entirely in Spanish. My understanding is that enrollment for intermediate & advanced students tends to be lower, so classes are even smaller for those groups (we got 1 on 1 attention!). Teachers use plenty of visuals and gestures to make sure the input is comprehensible to the students. Also, there are many varied activities in each class and teachers do not linger long on any activity so as to keep the students engaged. This way they are able to make heavy use of repetition without the students feeling like it is boring or tasking.

TruFluency: Online Spanish Classes

Sample class:


One day, I took notes of my 5 year old daughter’s (intermediate) class to give an idea of how a typical 25-minute class might look:
  • Review: Repeated phrases learned last class
  • Visual matching activity: The teacher showed picture A and picture B. My daughter had to state which picture matched the sentence the teacher spoke (e.g. Tapón no sabe que hacer.)
  • Kinesthetic activity: rolled an (electronic) dice to do an action (e.g. clapping, running in place) while repeating a sentence aloud (e.g. Tapón está triste y deprimido.)
  • Song: The teacher played a Rockalingua song phrase by phrase and had my daughter sing it. She would also ask related questions after each phrase which she encouraged my daughter to answer in complete sentences.
  • Game: After each phrase from the Rockalingua song, the teacher paused to ask questions (e.g. “¿A cuántos amigos llama Tapón?”) Then a text box popped up with options to answer. The student got points for choosing correct answers. The teacher asked my daughter to read these aloud.
  • Game: Students played a memory game where they matched images to the correct written phrase. Again the teacher asked my daughter to read these aloud.
  • Game: A participant turned off her mike to mouth a phrase from the lesson. (e.g. Tapón llama a su amigo.) Others had to guess what the phrase was.

I noted a couple of things from this class. First, seven activities in 25 minutes is an average of 3.5 minutes per activity. This was a great pace because it kept things moving and kept anyone from getting bored. Another thing I noticed from observing these classes was how much they required my daughter to state aloud complete sentences. My daughter complained at how much she was being told to use the “frase completa,” but it was good for her! I think this element contributed a lot to her actual increase in fluency by the end of the two sessions.

The classes for my son were similar, but due to his age (7) and more advanced proficiency, he was able to engage in an even wider variety and complexity of activities. His teachers would typically employ some of the more basic activities and games to activate the vocabulary, but then they often used them as a jumping off point to ask him more open-ended questions where he had the opportunity to use more creative and lengthy responses. They also generally inserted one or two activities per class that were more challenging. For example, one day he was asked to describe his house as he drew it on the screen. Another day, he drew and cut out a cell phone and proceeded to use it to role-play a telephone conversation asking a friend to come over to play.

The Spanish Teachers


I can’t talk about TruFluency without mentioning one of the greatest strengths of the program: the teachers! They are all highly qualified, holding certifications in teaching, are native speakers of Spanish and have 10+ years of experience teaching. In addition, they receive special training from TruFluency and are regularly monitored to ensure that they are doing a good job.

We were able to experience four different teachers, and I would recommend any of them. They were generally high energy, encouraging, and engaging. When I spoke with the founder of TruFluency, Micah Belieu, and she explained the training process and ongoing tracking of the teachers, I was very impressed. I have been a second-language teacher myself for nearly 20 years and have never seen an institution show so much interest in the training and performance of the teachers.

TruFluency: Online Spanish Classes

Other aspects of the program I liked:


Communication – TruFluency is an extremely professional company, and I was very impressed with their communication in all aspects. A zoom link is sent out 45 minutes before class begins. And after every class the teacher sends a summary email with how the student did and listing any pertinent vocabulary or links. And both mid-way through the course, as well as at the conclusion, the teacher sends comments about the students. Furthermore, any time I had a question or concern my emails were promptly answered and concerns dealt with.

Technology – The program makes effective use of technology. They employ many computer games that engage and motivate the students. Both of my kids, even my initially suspicious daughter, were drawn into the class through the games and achieving a spot on the leaderboard. My son regularly asked his teacher to send him links to the games to play at home.

I also wish to add here that as a parent and teacher myself, I also liked how the teachers did not ONLY rely on the technology but were also able to incorporate other physical games, like having kids running to find an object from their home, play Simon Says, etc. They also even incorporated simple crafts from basic household materials.



Aspects of the class that we didn’t enjoy:


Most of the targeted language was very basic. For example, during our first session the vocabulary was related to the weather, clothing, colors, etc. During the second session it focused on what friends are like and how they are feeling. For a beginner, this is perfect! But for my intermediate/advanced proficiency kids, this initially put them off to the class. My daughter especially complained at first that she knew everything (which was not true, by the way, but she felt like she did.) I can imagine that some other heritage speakers of Spanish might react similarly.

However, I do want to note here though that it depends on your purpose for taking these classes! TruFluency has the word “fluency” in its name for a reason, and that seems to be its primary aim. In the past, my kids have taken online classes in Spanish with different purposes. They were content-based classes, so they aimed to further students’ language proficiency by teaching interesting and relevant content IN the target language. My kids have really enjoyed such classes, so I think that perhaps at first they were resistant to TruFluency’s classes because they perceived them to be too easy.

Another aspect of the class that we didn’t love, (but which others may!) was the use of songs from Rockalingua. Don’t get me wrong, songs are wonderful for language learning, so I love that TruFluency regularly employs them. But for us personally, Rockalingua is simply not our family’s jam. We just find them not particularly singable, so my children were less than enthused during these parts of the class (and they normally love to sing). But if you do like Rockalingua, you will be pleased to know that TruFluency classes include free subscriptions to Rockalingua.
 

Our Results


I know I have referenced my daughter’s struggles and initial dislike of the class. Yet despite this, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much her fluency DID improve. Two months of classes twice a week isn’t necessarily enough to make a noticeable difference, but towards the end of our classes I caught my daughter using *complete* sentences to converse with her abuelita on Skype! It wasn’t many. But it was the first time I have noticed her doing this, without being prompted (in the past she either answered in English or in 1-2 words in Spanish). And I also noticed a greater ease in getting my son to switch to Spanish and produce sentences on his own as well. Why? Well, quite simply, in TruFluency’s classes, the classes are designed to elicit the students to produce phrases as much as possible. All the repetition and “frases completas” that the teachers were getting the children to say made my children able to actually use the Spanish they knew with ease and confidence!

 

Conclusion


Would these classes work for you? If your child is a beginner, I would say, yes, absolutely! They are well-designed, taught by top-notch teachers, and are highly motivating. And for kids with a little bit of tech savvy (e.g. my son’s level), the classes are especially appealing.

For heritage speakers, the classes may or may not be a good fit. If your child struggles to produce Spanish, I think you will find that these classes are effective in increasing oral fluency. They certainly did for both of my children, who are at varying ages and proficiencies. However, since heritage speakers often have particular gaps in their language proficiency (I know from experience because I used to teach heritage speakers in Miami), it can be hard to make a class work for them. My son found the advanced level a good fit. For my daughter however, the situation was more complicated. She technically couldn’t put sentences together well enough to qualify as advanced, yet she often found her level to be overly simple. That said, TruFluency is more than willing to work with you, so it is definitely worth checking out a class or two and communicating your needs with the teachers. They were more than willing to work with us.

Discount Code


If you think that this program is a good fit for your family, or if you have questions and would like to talk with them directly, visit their website today! MommyMaestra readers will also receive 20% off their first class. Just use the code: mommy20 when you check out.


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TruFluency: Online Spanish Classes

Disclosure: I was given access to classes for review purposes. All opinions are my own. 

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Nisha Elena Congrove is a second-generation homeschooler and mom of 4.  She is currently bilingually homeschooling a 1st grader and a preschooler. She also holds a B.A. in Spanish education, and an M.A. in TESOL and Second Language Acquisition. 

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