How I Review Foreign Language Curricula (And Why You Should Care)

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Can I be brutally honest with you here? I've got something to get off my chest. 

Even though I'm (obviously) a blogger myself, generally speaking, I don't love all of the product reviews that I read on other blogs. I've been blogging in some capacity for over a decade now, and during that time, I've observed a disturbing trend: ever since affiliate marketing became a common practice among bloggers, it has been harder and harder to find honest product reviews. Want to know what I'm talking about? Here's an incredible exposé on affiliate marketing in the mattress industry--it'll definitely make you think twice about the online reviews that you read. 

Over here in my corner of the internet, however, I want to change all this. To that end, today, I'm bringing you behind the scenes, walking you through exactly how I review homeschool foreign language curricula. Over the next few weeks, I'll be reviewing quite a number of curricula, and I want you to fully understand how I do that. I think that this is important for a few reasons:

  1. I want you to know that you are getting a comprehensive review of the curriculum that you're considering. I hate when bloggers (in any industry) post a glowing review of a product that they've clearly spent only 45 minutes with--all, of course, just to get those affiliate dollars. My reviews, in general, take me 10-15 hours to write, and that time is spent carefully reading through, listening to, and watching the materials that each curriculum includes, using them with my own kids (as appropriate), evaluating them according to my rubric below, and writing up a comprehensive report. It's a lot of hours, yes, but they are all necessary to ensure that I can give you, my readers, the best sense of any given foreign language curriculum and how you might use it in your homeschool. 
     
  2. I want you to know that I don't write positive reviews just so that I can earn a commission. If a homeschool language curriculum is solidly constructed, I'll recommend it--regardless of whether or not I have an affiliate relationship with the curriculum company that produces it. If I don't believe in a product, I won't recommend it--regardless of how much money is on the table. By the way, if you're curious, you can access my full disclosure statement right here--you'll note that it does not currently include any curriculum companies. 
     
  3. I want you to know that my principal goal in writing reviews is to help you find the foreign language curriculum that is the best fit for YOUR family. For that reason, my reviews always go beyond "this worked with my kid!" That's important information, but just because my child enjoyed a particular curriculum doesn't mean that yours will--and it doesn't mean that you'll enjoy it as the teacher, either. Therefore, I strive to offer as much objective evaluation of foreign language curricula as possible--and that's where my experience as a language teacher comes in really handy. Also worth noting: this is why I can't say that there is ONE perfect Spanish curriculum for high schoolers, for example. There are many excellent language learning tools available to homeschoolers, and their effectiveness rests in part on their fit with your family's abilities and goals. 

I hope that you're on board with all of that. If you are, please keep following along, because I also want to share the rubric that I use to evaluate each and every foreign language curriculum that arrives in my mailbox. At the end of the day, my reviews center around two questions: 

  1. Is this curriculum pedagogically sound? and
  2. Is this curriculum practically useful--and for whom? 

In order to answer each of these, I address a whole slew of other questions--and those I've listed below. So with no further ado, here they are: 

My Guidelines for Evaluating Foreign Language Curricula

Question #1: Is this curriculum pedagogically sound? 

This is where my training and experience as a language teacher comes in. Before I can answer this overarching question, I consider each of the following: 

  • Does this curriculum use best practices in language teaching?
  • Is it developmentally appropriate for the ages that it is marketed to? 
  • Does it have realistic expectations for student learning throughout its course of study?
  • Is it logically sequenced? 
  • Does it introduce new material clearly and provide adequate practice opportunities? 
  • Are the assessments included in the curriculum aligned with its teaching? 
  • Is it engaging, from a student perspective? 
  • Does it include cultural learning to help students put language in a broader context? 

Question #2: Is this curriculum practically useful--and for whom? 

Here's where my experience as a homeschool mom is most useful. After all, you can have the most entertaining, engaging curriculum in the world--and yet, if it doesn't match your student's needs (or yours), it won't be good for your family. To that end, I always ask these detailed questions about any given curriculum, so that I can help you make a good choice for your family. 

  • What level of language proficiency does it require of the teacher (i.e. homeschool mom)?
  • What level of preparation and teaching does it require from mom?
  • If it does require mom's involvement, are the lesson plans and schedule presented clearly?
  • How much instruction is provided via screens? 
  • Can it be used for multiple children (either at the same time, or reused later on)? 
  • Does it align with any particular homeschool philosophy? 
  • Does the cost reflect the value offered in the curriculum? 

So as you can see, I have a lot to consider when I go through a new curriculum! I hope that you have found this enlightening--and that you're looking forward to my reviews this summer! I'll be providing as many as I can to help you make your curriculum purchasing decisions for next year. 

In the meantime, if you'd just like to get a quick look at what's out there, I highly recommended reading through my curriculum round-ups. While they aren't comprehensive reviews, these posts will give you a sense of what's available in the homeschool foreign language market, so that you can choose which reviews you'll be looking out for in the future. You can find them right here:

And if you have any questions about how I write my reviews, don't be afraid to share--leave them in the comments or join the discussion over in my Facebook group (where I've got over 600 members chiming in!).