04 June 2009

Learning a Foreign Language

It can be very intimidating to learn, much less teach, a foreign language. If you don't know a language other than English, it can be especially difficult. Did you know that over 20% of Americans don't speak English in the privacy of their own homes (AP)?

Here is a quote from Edward Trimnell, author of Why You Need a Foreign Language & How to Learn Onethat I whole-heartedly agree with:

"A foreign language is one of the most practical skills you can acquire. It gives you the ability to move freely in a non-English-speaking environment without the aid of an intermediary.The key is to make language study part of your daily routine. You don’t have to attend formal classes, although they are effective if you have the time and resources. There are many audio programs that can be purchased for less than $100.
It is also a good idea to expose yourself to unscripted bits of “real” language as soon as possible. I have also benefited tremendously from Spanish-language cable television and from various foreign-language radio programs that are available over the Internet. When you learn a foreign language, you are better able to represent American viewpoints abroad."

I love languages and figuring out grammar. I love speaking to people from other countries in their native tongue, and seeing if they can understand me. I love talking to foreigners who are trying to get me to understand what they're saying! I even love foreign food. I have studied Spanish, Russian, Italian, Japanese, and American Sign Language.

I took Spanish from Kindergarden to my senior year of high school, about three times a week for each school year. I also traveled to Mexico 3 times for 1 week each, and to Costa Rica once for 3 weeks. Then I studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute for 47 weeks; about 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. When I was done with my Russian training, I knew Russian as well as I knew Spanish. What a contrast in intensity of study though.

My suggestions for the homeschool study of a foreign language in the elementary years especially are these:
-Read picture books in target language to your children
-Look at large, colorful picture dictionaries with your kids (my 1st 1000 words)
-Listen to books on tape/CD with accompanying picture book
-Learn songs in target language (from educational materials; days of the week, etc.)
-Listen to the radio of target language online (while chilling around the house) or in the car
-(PREVIEW!)watch tv shows for children or nature shows in target language from internet

The key is to do it each day, by which I mean at least 4 days a week. For older kids, a sit down, listen, write, read and speak curriculum is excellent. Siblings should take the same course together, even when they are different ages, so that they can talk with each other. Plus tutoring and such can be two-for-one! The language instruction for younger kids is alot less structured.

Fifteen minutes a day in the foreign language will seem tedious when you are going over the same phrases for what seems like months, but it is valuable. In our home we (ok, I) made a bingo game that was based on the Adventures With Nicholas (Spanish Edition) that we use. It was alot easier than you may suspect, because one benefit of that series is a picture dictionary at the end- just copy it, cut it up, glue it in the boxes, voila! a bingo game. The pictures match the words you learned in the story, and now you have a Bingo that builds on the story.

A week of language instruction in our homeschool might look like this:

Monday: listen to a chapter in Adventures with Nicholas a few times. Go over plot in English.
Tuesday: play Bingo that matches story (there are 3 Nicholas books)
Wednesday: listen to CD of songs, singing along as best we can, in car on the way to and from the grocery store. (most songs have the English and Spanish (or whatever language) in one song)
Thursday: listen and dance to Tejano radio station or watch Spanish Sesame Street while we make lunch and eat. Glance through picture dictionaries while eating.
Friday: Listen to chapter again. Afterward, go over introductions in conversation with each other. 'Hello. My name is Jackson. How are you? I am fine."

Other things to consider: Trade speaking practice for childcare, dinner prep, whatever you can to get your kids speaking with a native speaker of that language. Kids are excellent, if merciless, teachers; laughing at your mistakes, admitting when you make no sense, and correcting you with great joy. Split the cost of a great language program with someone who is a few years ahead or behind you. Then you can take turns with it, and resell it. Check your library for resources such as bilingual picture books or Rosetta Stone software. My favorite idea, though, is to get an au-pair or housekeeper who lives with you and is willing to help you learn their language too... then you get childcare or housekeeping and language instruction!

I hope these ideas are useful. Don't be intimidated by early second language introduction! What has worked for your families?

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