OURAY – When the Ouray Schools’ French and Spanish teachers retired last year, Superintendent Nick Schafer was faced with the quandary of how to provide better foreign language education in the school district whose motto is “Building minds to match our mountains.”
Schafer decided on a radical approach by buying a site license for Rosetta Stone, an online language-learning platform that is being used in the high school and will eventually be available to all grades – kindergarten through twelfth – and will give students access to lessons in 25 languages.
Allyson Crosby is heading up the Rosetta Stone program at Montrose High School, where the language lab has been expanded and more computer terminals added.
Crosby said the students will learn differently through Rosetta Stone, in that they will be focusing on vocabulary, usage, reading, writing and pronunciation.
“It’s a total immersion program and doesn’t teach grammar or verb conjugation in the classic sense,” she said. “They learn a language as a child learns a language, by repetitious exposure to a limited vocabulary, and then their vocabulary begins to grow.”
Students begin to understand a foreign word when they see a picture on the screen and hear its name on a headset. Students speak the word into a microphone and are graded with a “thumbs up or thumbs down” on how well they do. It’s that constant feedback and interactivity that helps students learn quickly, she said.
As Crosby talked about the program, several students in headsets worked at terminals in the language lab, among them freshman Cassidy Crowell, who is studying Mandarin Chinese and Castilian Spanish, who said she likes the program.
Crosby said students can even press a button to hear their own pronunciations and display a voice graph showing how they differ from the online instructor’s pronunciation.
Each student enrolled in the class is required to devote 30 minutes per day to Rosetta Stone, and Crosby regularly charts their rate of progress and overall score. Each week she does an update of test grades and can see how students are doing day by day.
Approximately eighty students are enrolled in the Rosetta Stone classes, Crosby said, and some, like Crowell, are taking more than one language.
The online class is also available to Ouray community members, free of charge, she said, and about seventy have already signed up.
The school pays about $5,000 per year for the Rosetta Stone site license, Crosby said, which allows for 220 users. With school and community enrollees combined, only slightly more than half the slots have been used up, and others are available on a first-come, first-served basis. (To learn more, email Crosby at email@example.com or call her at the school at 325-4505.)
When students take college courses in languages they’ve studied through Rosetta Stone, they’ll have some disadvantages in not knowing grammatical rules, but will be ahead in vocabulary and usage, Crosby said, and it shouldn’t take them long to pick up those grammatical details.
They won’t know why a word has a particular ending, and “would need a teacher to learn tense endings,” she said.
But using the program allows the school to expose many more students to many more languages, she said. In addition to Mandarin and Castilian, students are currently studying French, Spanish, Dutch, Greek, Latin, Russian and Italian, she said.
‘The benefits are that we do have the ability to make many more languages available,” she said.
The language courses cover five levels and are spread out over two years, Crosby said. Students receive one credit for every two levels.
“The aim of Rosetta Stone is to make a person be able to have a good enough vocabulary to travel,” she said, “to speak with native speakers and be understood and understand.”
Schafer said the language program is being offered for the first time this fall as a pilot project.
“We’re hoping to implement it even more in the school this year and would like for all kids to have three languages under their belt in Rosetta Stone, but that’s long range and we’ll have to start in kindergarten,” he said. “But the kids love it and it seems pretty effective. They go in there, put on their headphones and go to work right away. They really seem to enjoy it.”