Calico Spanish vs. Risas y Sonrisas

Calico Spanish Stories Online and Risas y Sonrisas are both programs of similar length designed by experienced elementary-level Spanish teachers. Both programs help very young children learn Spanish with a full range of fun supplementary materials, including activity books and music. Both include connections that aid in early literacy and some math skills.

Beyond these similarities, we note a number of differences that will help you make the best choice for the young Spanish learners in your life. Calico Spanish Stories Online is a video story-based curriculum that can easily be implemented by leaders with little to no prior Spanish knowledge. The Video Stories that are the core of Calico Spanish Stories Online are based on the way research says children acquire language: through comprehensible input and interaction presented in achievable chunks. Our program, including all music, activity sheets, input, and suggested practice activities, focuses on meaningful language use above explicit grammar instruction and discrete vocabulary worksheets that have almost no useful application at the early elementary level.

No Spanish knowledge required

Teachers and parents who don’t speak Spanish have limited options for helping young children effectively acquire real-world Spanish speaking skills. Doing so requires a program with enough support and explanation so at least the leader can know exactly what is going on, but also requires language presented in a meaningful context for children to comprehend and acquire naturally without distracting explanation or translation. Calico Spanish Stories Online was designed specifically so that teachers and parents who have no prior Spanish knowledge can effectively create a Spanish learning experience in any learning context. Such leaders will find it more difficult to see success with children using Risas y Sonrisas.

Comprehensible input towards achievable goals

The research is clear: for general learning, children learn best in specific ways, including through play, music, and storytelling. For language learning, children need to receive messages in a meaningful context that they will pay attention to and comprehend. Language teaching methods that employ this principle in their design are called comprehensible input methods. Instead of using comprehensible input, Risas y Sonrisas emphasizes explanation and drill-type exercises at a speed we can only call dizzying in its expectations. Expecting young children to acquire the amount of grammar and vocabulary outlined in their scope and sequence is unachievable in light of prevailing research on language learning.

In contrast, in Calico Spanish Stories Online, characters from Pedro the blue fish to Ofelia the white sheep invite children into their everyday lives through fun video stories, songs, and games full of comprehensible language input. Research shows that long-term language acquisition simply does not happen without comprehensible input, and we are committed to a program full of exactly that.

Meaningful language use in songs, games, and activity sheets

Since children must receive language through listening and reading before they are able to actively and accurately use it, Calico Spanish Stories Online supplies parents with such activities. These strategies range from immediate modeling of language in context after first viewing the videos to lesson-ending activity sheets that ask children to use Spanish in a meaningful way. Along the way, children enjoy growing in their language use through some of the most popular Spanish learning songs on YouTube and games like “Go Fish.”

Risas y Sonrisas worksheets may ask children to fill in a masculine or feminine article for nouns or unscramble a vocabulary word, but there is no evidence anywhere that this type of activity supports language learning for making meaning, which is what all learners want to do. In contrast, in light of available research, Calico Spanish Stories Online asks teachers and parents to skip any attempt at explaining the phenomenon of grammatical gender or other grammar concepts, and children will not be asked to do anything with individual vocabulary words disconnected from their meaning. We prefer to ask children to make meaning from basic levels like using blue to draw items that are usually that color or circling which characters can say something like “I’m big!” Children gradually increase their ability to make meaning with Spanish until, for example, they can fill in a chart and use it to present in Spanish information on what activities their family members like to do. These activity sheets are often adaptable to pre-literate or early-literate children; for more tips on adapting activity sheets for children who don’t yet know how to read or write, see this blog post.

Unique approach to intercultural competence

Instead of tagging cultural notes onto the curriculum, Calico Spanish Stories Online offers 4-5 Culture Capsules per level, each explicitly connected to the curriculum’s language goals. These separate lessons offer a unique opportunity for learners to explore particular aspects of culture that directly relate to the curriculum’s language content, and then compare those aspects to the child’s own cultural perspectives and practices. Each Capsule ends with a standards-based language task fulfilling national standards in intercultural competence.

Making the choice

Calico Spanish Stories Online and Risas y Sonrisas both offer a Spanish learning experience for young children that can be implemented in a variety of learning situations. Teachers who wish to focus on grammar exercises with literate children will find more of this type of support in Risas y Sonrisas, though we caution that research shows this focus will not support a child’s gains in speaking ability. For those who are less concerned with a grammar focus but want children to acquire language in meaningful contexts that they can use in real-world interactions, in a system with full support in the absence of a Spanish speaker, Calico Spanish Stories Online is the clear choice.

Calico Spanish vs. Rosetta Stone

Calico Spanish Stories Online and Rosetta Stone are both immersion-style, computer-based programs designed for learners who may not have a Spanish-speaking teacher and need flexibility.

Beyond these similarities, we have identified several differences that will help you choose the right product for your learners. Calico Spanish offers content that engages young children in fun stories and deep culture concepts while supporting you with child-friendly, updated content and format.

Motivating stories for very young children

The Calico Spanish Stories Online program uses engaging video stories to help young children engage in messages they like and can understand. The stories are written and the videos are developed for children in preschool through fifth grade. Children, especially younger children, who are not highly motivated to work independently on a language program may quickly tire of Rosetta Stone’s photo-based content and repetitive format.

Supportive system so no one is confused

Rosetta Stone is skillfully built on the assumption that people learn a second language the same way they acquired their first, by experiencing language input, making assumptions about that input, and correcting or confirming those assumptions based on more input. It’s possible that this is what actually happens in formal language learning, but this is highly contested. That is, experts are not at all sure that this is the most effective or efficient way to help students learn language in formal study. This method usually tries to completely eliminate English translation and doesn’t organize content based on what language learners will most likely need or want to talk about in the real world.

At Calico Spanish, we believe that the best way for young children to learn language is to be exposed to messages they can and want to understand in Spanish, and so in our core content, the Video Stories and songs, children will not encounter any English translation. On the other hand, we also enable teachers and parents to understand everything that is happening in the content by providing you with English translations for every Video Story and song in the Teacher’s Guides. These guides also help you answer questions about language use for yourself and your learners as you wish, as well as providing many ways for you to follow up the video content with interactions and games you all can understand and participate in.

Content and format designed for young learners

Whereas Rosetta Stone has taken the content they developed for adult language learners and repackaged it as a program for children to use independently, Calico Spanish Stories Online is built on child-friendly content and provides you with everything you need to facilitate and participate in the learning.

Rosetta Stone claims, for example, that children will work independently and eventually move to “advanced” skills like discussing government. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, however, argues that learners cannot achieve advanced proficiency in another language without an immersion experience in that language, such as in a study abroad program. In Calico Spanish, the goals of every lesson are focused on what a child wants and needs to communicate with others at levels they can achieve.

At Calico Spanish, we believe it is a myth that an effective language learning program can have as one of its primary goals that the child work as much as possible independent of contact with other people and without any help or facilitation.

Updated by a company committed to Spanish

Calico Spanish has its proverbial fingers in exactly one pie: helping young children experience Spanish in a way that enables them to communicate in the real world. Our curriculum developers are committed to keep the content free of error and up-to-date. We are continually improving and updating our programs with added features that help children learn Spanish

Unique approach to intercultural competence

From the first lesson in Calico Spanish Stories Online, children explore deep cultural content together, asking questions that open their eyes to the different ways people think about the world around them. You will help your learners move through 4-5 Culture Capsules per level and discover fascinating new perspectives. Each Capsule ends with a Spanish language objective that supports national standards.

Making the choice

Calico Spanish Stories Online and Rosetta Stone both enable children to experience an immersion-style, English-free Spanish program via a computer application. In situations where older children need a program they can use without much guidance, you should look into Rosetta Stone. Parents who want to help their children through a program filled with content designed for young children learning Spanish should choose Calico Spanish Stories Online.

Calico Spanish vs. Duolingo (and Babbel)

Calico Spanish Stories Online and Duolingo are both digital applications that help children explore the Spanish language. Beyond this basic similarity, however, we note several major differences that will help you choose the best product for your learners.

Duolingo, a free mobile app, is not and has never been intended to be a stand-alone Spanish curriculum that can help children become confident speakers of Spanish. Calico Spanish Stories Online is a research-based, comprehensive Spanish curriculum in which every tool supports a young child’s journey to bilingualism.

Comprehensive curriculum

Duolingo was launched as a mobile application in which people translate phrases from English into the target language. Recently, Duolingo added its “Bots” function in which learners “chat” with Siri-style bots. In contrast, Calico Spanish Stories Online includes step-by-step lesson plans, engaging Video Stories, flash cards with all vocabulary, 2-3 Activity Sheets supporting each lesson, fun song videos sung by native speakers, 4-5 Culture Capsules per Level, games, write-on posters, and 3-4 Storybooks per Level to read together or with the accompanying audio recording.

Research-based, multi-sensory program

Using the Duolingo app, children will translate and re-translate sentences and phrases. This translation function seems to be Duolingo’s sole approach to “teaching” language (the new Bots application is for practice).

Babbel is an online subscription-based application that works very similarly to Duolingo in its commitment to translation as the primary method of “instruction.” Because of this similarity, we group the two programs in this comparison.

This exclusive translation method of instruction has been almost completely abandoned by modern language learning experts as failing to produce any significant gains in language proficiency. However, on their website, Duolingo offers a link to a research study that they sponsored that showed that the program was effective in helping learners improve their language skills. Before you assume this means Duolingo will help young children develop speaking ability in Spanish, you should know the following about this research:

  • The average participant age was 32 years old.
  • The “gains” measured were over a period of 8 weeks.
  • People who were motivated by travel did better, but those motivated by personal interest showed the least gain.
  • The tests used to measure gains consisted of multiple-choice vocabulary and reading tests, not any measure of speaking ability.

With the Calico Spanish Stories Online program, children learn the way research indicates we are able to best acquire second languages: through experiencing messages we can and want to understand as we slowly experiment with producing those messages ourselves.

For language learning, for young children

Duolingo was invented by an engineer who wanted to create an innovative way to get people to help translate the internet while they practiced a foreign language. Babbel was not designed to be engaging or effective for young children, either. Calico Spanish Stories Online was designed from the beginning to be a language learning experience for young children.

Developed by experts in the field

The founder of Duolingo is the computer scientist who invented the CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA programs that help websites make sure a human and not a robot is using the site. He says of the app’s beginning, “Neither I nor my co-founder knew anything about teaching languages. We were just a couple of engineers trying to come up with the best way to teach languages.”

Calico Spanish Stories Online is developed by moms and teachers with strong ties to homeschooling. The curriculum specialist has a degree in Spanish Education and another degree in Linguistics with an emphasis in Second Language Acquisition. The company is committed to principles founded in solid research on how children learn languages.

Making the choice

There’s no reason any language learner should not give Duolingo a try as a practice tool. The game-like mobile platform will be attractive to many young people, especially learners from middle school up. With the free price tag, there’s nothing to lose. However, the application should not be considered sufficient to be a child’s foreign language “curriculum.” Babbel is not a free program, but its platform, like Duolingo’s, may be interesting to older students, though we caution against using translation applications as the sole method of instruction. Teachers and parents should additionally investigate an affordable, comprehensive curriculum appropriate to their children’s learning level. For young children, Calico Spanish Stories Online effectively fills this role.

Calico Spanish vs. Foreign Languages For Kids By Kids

Calico Spanish Stories Online and Foreign Languages For Kids By Kids are both Spanish immersion programs for young learners centered around video stories that do not include English translations. Both are available for schools and families as online subscription programs at a similar cost, and both are able to be implemented regardless of the teacher or parent’s Spanish-speaking ability. Both integrate repetition of key structures and vocabulary to help children acquire real language in context.

Beyond these similarities, we note several differences that will help you choose which product best fits your situation. Calico Spanish Stories Online offers a standards-based program developed specifically for young children by experts in the field. Very young children find it highly engaging because of the 100% meaning-based video stories, relevant accompanying activities, comprehensive support materials, and fun songs supporting the program. Children can also engage in in-depth cultural inquiry directly related to the program content, ending in an actual target-language performance based on national cultural competence standards.

Specialists who know your world

Calico Spanish Stories Online was developed by two moms who speak Spanish and have strong ties to both formal education and homeschooling. The Calico Spanish curriculum developer was homeschooled from fifth through twelfth grades, holds a bachelor’s degree in Spanish Education and a master’s degree in Linguistics (Second Language Acquisition), homeschools her own three young children, and has thirteen years’ experience teaching Spanish to hundreds of students from 2 years of age through twelfth grade advanced courses. She continues to teach Spanish and is the blogger behind the longest-running active blog in world language education. She frequently presents on best practices in language teaching at schools and conferences across the country. You can know that the Calico Spanish Stories Online program is founded on the best principles researched and put to practice by experts in the field. For information on the founder of Foreign Languages For Kids By Kids, see the about page on their website.

Engaging for very young children

Teachers and families report children from ages 2 to 14 being engaged by the Calico Spanish Homeschool program, particularly the video stories, but the program’s sweet spot is from around ages 4 through 9. Each level of Calico Spanish Stories Online offers 8 sequential Video Stories that feature fun animal characters. The stories these characters portray are the vehicle that engages young children in meaningful, comprehensible language so that they can acquire it naturally. From the time they are introduced to Pedro the blue fish in the first lesson of Level A to the time they read a bedtime story with Rita the green frog at the end of Level C, children learn language by meeting new animal friends and experiencing their world with them. If your learners are over age 9 or so, it is likely they will be more engaged by Foreign Languages For Kids By Kids. However, claims that real-life videos are more effective than animated stories are unfounded in research or general experience. With Calico Spanish Stories Online, you can know that very young children will enjoy walking through our video stories with fun animal characters. To get to know all the characters, try playing a few of our free Sugarcane games.

Comprehensive support materials

With Calico Spanish Stories Online, there’s no guessing game on what materials are and are not included. With your full access to the online program, you get access to all of the materials supporting all three currently available levels. You have immediate access to all of the Teacher’s Guides with step-by-step lesson plans. You can view, download, and/or print the flashcards, the posters, and the activity sheets that accompany the program. In addition to the Video Stories, you can view and use the supporting Storybook videos and song videos. With your subscription, you gain access to the members-only store, where you can also order full-color, professionally printed/bound copies of the Teacher’s Guide, Student Activities Book, flashcards, posters, storybook sets, and audio/music CDs (which are, remember, already available to you in digital form on the subscription site).

The flashcards available to you represent every vocabulary word or phrase for every level: 80 flashcards for Level A, 122 flashcards for Level B, and 160 flashcards for Level C. Foreign Languages For Kids By Kids offers in their online store a set of 150 flashcards representing the vocabulary from their Volume 1 lessons (1-3) only.

Calico Spanish Stories Online is developed on the premise that children learn through stories, songs, and meaningful context. We offer beautifully illustrated, full-color posters and storybooks with instructions on how they support your lessons explicitly written into the lesson plans. Those not yet comfortable reading the storybooks on their own benefit from audio tracks of a native speaker reading them. Lessons are also paired with the Calico Spanish original music, representing some of the most popular song videos available on YouTube for young Spanish learners with well over a million views. Foreign Languages For Kids By Kids does not feature posters, story books, or music.

Each lesson of Calico Spanish Stories Online offers 2 or 3 Student Activity Sheets that directly support the content of that lesson. The Activity Sheets start with word-level practice but quickly ask children to make meaning with language as they interact with the activities. Children are never asked to do an activity like a word search that tries to incorporate vocabulary disconnected from meaningful context. Teachers and parents using the workbooks for Foreign Languages For Kids By Kids may find that not only are they not available for all levels of the program, but within the levels that do offer workbook activities, the activities may seem disconnected at times from the goals of the lesson.

Unmatched cultural inquiry

Twenty-first century education is all about inquiry: not so much memorizing information as learning how to find information and evaluate what do with it, how to be changed by it, once it is found. It’s about empathy with perspectives that are not like our own. Calico Spanish Homeschool has taken a bold approach to intercultural education unlike any other program. Whereas Foreign Languages For Kids By Kids offers a somewhat typical approach of presenting a collection of information about a particular country at a time, Calico Spanish Stories Online includes in-depth culture capsules built on an inquiry model. Children explore cultural information in English and then are asked to investigate deep questions of culture together, such as how and why people celebrate birthdays or what leads people to label a particular food as “disgusting.” Each culture capsule is directly related to the content of the level, and each level includes 3-4 capsules. Each capsule ends with a Spanish-language task that meets one or more national standards for intercultural competence.

Making the choice

You may want to choose Foreign Languages For Kids By Kids if your learners are over age 9 and will be more interested in videos featuring real children than those incorporating animated animal characters. They may also enjoy the addition of the Dice-Off! game. Additionally, if you need your learners to complete closed-ended questions within the computer application and have these scored and reported to you, you should investigate Foreign Languages For Kids By Kids further, as Calico Spanish does not yet offer this capability.

You will want to choose Calico Spanish Stories Online if your young learners will be more engaged by animated, fun animal characters and if you want a program designed by experts in the field and supported by detailed lesson plans, storybooks, more visual aids for your home environment, and music in every lesson of every level.

Calico Spanish vs. Middlebury Interactive

Calico Spanish Stories Online and Middlebury Interactive World Language Curriculum both provide schools and families with online, video-based, immersion-style curriculum developed by experts in language education in light of national language proficiency standards.

Beyond these similarities, we note some differences that will help you choose the product that best fits your family. Calico Spanish Stories Online is a program exclusively focused on helping young children experience Spanish in a way that is fully comprehensible.

Language is collaborative, and so should learning be

As moms of language learners, at Calico Spanish we know that it’s tempting to look far and wide for a program that promises children can work as independently as possible. We firmly believe that world language study, however, is not the subject where that feature is the highest priority. We believe that focusing on language study as “independent learning” and “self-study,” especially for young children, is attractive but deceptive: a life-long language journey is always experienced in community.

Comprehensible now, authentic later

The Video Stories that form the core of the Calico Spanish Homeschool program are designed in every way to be as comprehensible as possible to young children without offering English translations. In the videos, children will see arrows, character movements, and flash cards that help them understand. The narrator will ask them many questions per story, offering alternative answers to help them move from yes/no and either/or answers to producing Spanish answers to questions. All Spanish audio in the program is recorded by native speakers, but the content has been manipulated to focus on high-frequency words, phrases, and situations that children can relate to and understand from the start.

Children working with the Middlebury Interactive program will find that in an effort to focus on the authenticity of the language, comprehensible words and phrases that are targets of a story, for example, will be surrounded by complex language incomprehensible to early learners.

Parents using Calico Spanish Stories Online will find authentic cultural and Spanish-language resources in our Culture Capsules and in the lesson-supplementing links online, but these are opportunities for the children to explore. An authentic resource created for a child even four or five years old contains language that is directed at someone who has had years of extensive input in Spanish already, not a young language learner. At Calico Spanish, we prefer to make our language-learning input rich but simplified to be comprehensible with children beginning this journey.

Culture Capsules on an inquiry model

Middlebury Interactive integrates authentic resources into their materials that present language and cultural concepts at the same time. With the Calico Spanish Homeschool program, we have chosen to use an inquiry model to develop separate Culture Capsules that accompany each level. Each Capsule is directly related to the lessons’ content in the level, but invites the parent and child to explore in English the cultures of the Spanish-speaking peoples. Within the Capsule, learners will investigate deep cultural questions and compare the answers they find to their own cultural perspectives and practices. These Capsules are not independent of our language goals, however; each one ends in a real Spanish-language task, usually based on an authentic resource such as a house-for-sale advertisement, that supports national standards in intercultural competence.

Making the choice

Middlebury Interactive World Languages Curriculum is an attractive program for children to work on in languages other than Spanish, or to work independently. Families with older children or who desire a program featuring high levels of complex, authentic language may find it particularly fitting for their language journey. Also, Middlebury Interactive offers one-on-one online teacher support and feedback.

Teachers and parents who are looking for a program to experience together with language input designed to be highly comprehensible for young children beginning their Spanish journey will want to further explore Calico Spanish Stories Online.

Calico Spanish vs. Whistlefritz

Calico Spanish Stories Online and Whistlefritz are both immersion-style, video-based programs designed for English-speaking or Spanish-speaking groups to use with young children. Both programs offer in-depth, thematic units that are supported by a variety of songs that include traditional tunes.

Beyond these similarities, we note some differences that will help you choose the product that best fits your context. Calico Spanish Stories Online is a web-based comprehensive curriculum that is truly thematic and integrates a variety of fully integrated support materials.

Online, all the time

Whereas Whistlefritz is a program incorporating DVDs, CDs, a teacher’s guide, and a matching card game purchased and shipped to you, Calico Spanish Stories Online is an online program you can access at any time via the internet. This means that it does not require a DVD player and that we are able to continually update and add features that improve your learning experience. Within the online portal you can download and print the resource materials, but you can purchase print copies of the materials as well.

Genuinely thematic units and Video Stories

A question frequently asked about Whistlefritz materials is whether the videos should be watched in a certain order, and the answer is that the videos can be watched in any order. The Calico Spanish Stories Online program, in contrast, deliberately sequences the engaging Video Stories to scaffold learning; each video builds on the ones before, setting learners up for success and also for a continual challenge to go further in their language-learning journey.

Whistlefritz claims to be a thematic curriculum but lists true themes such as “Around the House” with “themes” like “Colors, Numbers, [and] Shapes” that are specific vocabulary targets, not themes. In Calico Spanish Stories Online, children will first experience Level A, “I Am Special,” on the theme of talking about who I am. Children continue with the thematic units of Level B, “I Love My Family,” and Level C, “I Live Here.

Fully integrated, comprehensive support materials

When you order the complete Educator’s Collection from Whistlefritz, you will receive their DVDs, CDs, an extensive teacher’s guide, and the matching cards set. This indicates the curriculum is fundamentally videos and songs with instructions on what to do with them.

With the Calico Spanish Stories Online program, you receive access to digital copies of our comprehensive support materials but can also order print copies through the Online Store. In addition to our Video Stories and fun original and traditional songs, each level fully integrates beautifully designed posters, flash cards, Activity Sheets for practice and assessment, and Story Books, with detailed step-by-step instructions for how each accessory supports the child’s learning in every lesson.

Making the choice

Teachers and parents who want to expose very young children (2 or 3 years old) to fun, comprehensible language without formally working through lesson plans should certainly investigate Whistlefritz’s quality multimedia products. For those who want to work through a more comprehensive elementary curriculum that is online all the time and offers a variety of supplements that set children up for success in language learning, we encourage you to consider Calico Spanish Stories Online.

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