By Lee Binz
Hard work and consistency are not popular in our culture. We often want things to be instant, easy, and fun! But there are some things in life that take hard work to achieve success. Learning a foreign language is a great example. It takes time and effort. Unfortunately you can’t just plop your kids in front of a TV and have them watch videos until—voila!—they speak French! However, I know it’s possible to teach a foreign language at home, even for homeschool parents who don’t know a foreign language, because I did it myself! When my kids were in high school, they learned both French and Latin, and it wasn’t because I was so smart. I never actually mastered either of those languages myself; they did. All I did was supervise, and make sure they did the work. Along the way, we figured out ways to make it fun and accessible. I’m pretty sure that if our family was successful, yours can be too!
My Child’s Not a Genius!
Some people think that only smart children or gifted parents can learn a foreign language. But just because something takes hard work doesn’t mean it’s impossible for ordinary people. Foreign language is like math, you just have to work at it a bit. In fact, in some countries they don’t think foreign languages are hard at all. Can you believe it? Most European countries teach several different languages during school. In Germany, for example, children learn one language in elementary school, one in middle school, and then another in high school. When you add that to their native language, that equals four different languages by the time they graduate from high school! Of course, they get to cheat a little, because they can travel just a few hours to other countries to practice their language. We don’t have that same luxury in the United States! But it clearly demonstrates that learning a foreign language is possible for just about anyone, even young children, and even average minds.
Big Secret to Success
A while ago I was at a homeschool convention, and decided to do a little research into different foreign language programs. During a lull in the busyness, I spoke to a foreign language curriculum consultant who confessed a startling truth. She said that it didn’t really matter which foreign language program you chose, so long as you practiced for a minimum of fifteen minutes a day. Without that daily practice, she said, a student will not retain what they learn. With daily practice, even a moderately successful program can work. Practicing once a week for an hour is not nearly as successful as fifteen minutes every day. Every. Single. Day.
While I agree that curriculum isn’t as important as the regular practice, I do believe that you’ll find the most success with a curriculum that doesn’t assume you already know the subject. Think about it this way. Most programs are written for schools, and assume the teacher knows the language. So unless you know the foreign language already, use a homeschool curriculum that assumes you know nothing. It will teach what you need within the program. Of course, if you do know the language your child is learning, that’s an added bonus.
Let me share what I’ve learned to help you with high school foreign language. I’ve collected great tips, fabulous resources, and fun ideas to help!
6 Reasons to Learn a Language
In case you need more convincing, here are six great reasons to study a foreign language:
1. English Skills. Learning a language is a great way to learn more about English. Studying a foreign language usually requires you to learn about verb tenses and grammar, which can’t help but improve your grasp of English grammar.
2. Critical Thinking. Learning a foreign language improves critical thinking skills. It takes effort and thought, and also tends to increase a student’s study skills.
3. Worldview. Learning a language can expand your worldview. When you study a language, you usually gain some cultural education as well as linguistic. This can help a student learn more about the lifestyles and beliefs of people around the world, which can encourage reflection on why they believe and act the way they do.
4. Great Commission. If you’re a Christian, students may be called to serve in a foreign country. In Matthew 28, Jesus tells his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” It will sure help if you can speak the language of the country!
5. Employment. Knowing a foreign language can improve your chances of getting employed. There are many jobs in the marketplace that give preference to a person who speaks a foreign language, including sales, construction, finance, and teaching. If you have even a few years of language under your belt, you’ll have an advantage over the competitors.
6. College Admission. Most universities require foreign language for admission, and most of them accept any one language (not a mixture of several), so it doesn’t really matter which one you choose. Most schools even accept Latin nowadays, which is a great language for kids who have a logical, computer-oriented, or non-linguistic bent. There are, however, some schools that don’t accept ancient languages like Greek or Hebrew, or something like American Sign Language, so you should definitely check with any colleges you’re interested in to find out their requirements.
4 Keys to Choosing a Language
There are a few factors to keep in mind when you are considering foreign language. Nobody can tell you which language to teach, and as homeschoolers there are many options available to us. Here are a few things to consider when choosing.
1. Student Preference. It’s easiest to teach a language that the student wants to learn. If your child is eager to learn a language, they will be more motivated, which means there will be less nagging at home. When possible, follow the student’s preference, and your job will be easier.
2. Parental Experience. It’s easiest for a parent to teach a language when they are somewhat familiar with how it sounds. You don’t need to be fluent, but even a small understanding of a language can increase your success. Like other subjects, you don’t have to know a language in order to teach it. But it’s less stressful to be around foreign language lessons when you know what it could sound like.
3. College Preference. Some colleges will have unique requirements on foreign language. Some do not accept Biblical languages, like Hebrew, or Biblical Greek. Some colleges will not accept Latin, but prefer modern or spoken languages. On the other end of the spectrum, some colleges emphasize linguistics over languages. Believe it or not, I have heard of a college accepting Klingon. Yes, I giggled when I heard that! Some colleges may want additional testing in foreign language, or want to see it taught in a classroom setting. Always check with your college policy, to see what they want. Not all colleges, but some, will want to see a subject test like AP Exam, SAT Subject Test, or CLEP.
4. Resources Available. Obviously it will be difficult to learn a language without any materials other than your brain. For that reason, sometimes choosing a common language is helpful. Spanish, French, and German are very common. It’s easy to find curriculum and supplemental information and experiences for those languages. Arabic and Mandarin Chinese are becoming increasingly common and important in some sectors, so it’s increasingly convenient to find resources for them. Latin is historically common for a high school language. My 87 year old father took Latin in high school! And because some colleges may require additional testing in foreign language, you may want to choose a language that has a test available.
5 Important Skills to Teach Kids
The most common homeschool foreign language programs are Rosetta Stone, Power Glide, Tell Me More , with other options for Latin. These can also be found from most homeschool resources, including Sonlight Curriculum, RockSolid Discount Homeschool Books, and ChristianBook.com. When we homeschooled, we were very successful with Power-Glide for French, and The Latin Road to English Grammar, but the best fit for you will depend on the learning style of your children. There are certainly many other choices, and most of them are a little expensive, so take your time when choosing and don’t just pick the most popular if it doesn’t fit with your child and your style of homeschooling. Whatever you choose, remember there are many different components of learning a foreign language.
1. Speaking: Learn how to speak the language.
2. Listening: Learn how to listen with understanding.
3. Reading: Learn to read with comprehension.
4. Writing: Grammar, writing and composition skills to communicate effectively.
5. Culture: Learn about the history and culture of countries that use that language.
You’ll notice how many pieces are involved. Each school across the country must mix and match these components as they teach. Some classes will have more grammar, others will teach more listening or verbal skills. It’s not possible to do everything 100% perfectly, and your child won’t become fluent in just one or two years.
10 Ways to Learn While Having Fun
Whatever kind of curriculum you wind up using, it’s important to supplement with fun things too! Here are a few ideas to try:
1. Books: It’s fun to try and read a children’s book in a foreign language, especially when you’re already familiar with the book in English! My boys loved the Tin Tin books, which conveniently come in many different languages, and they had a great time reading them in Latin and French. We found “Les Aventures de Tintin : Tintin en Amerique (French Edition)” in our public library.
2. Movies: If you’ve ever looked at the menu of a DVD, you know that there are different languages you can listen to a movie in. Usually they’re only the common languages of French and Spanish, but if you’re studying one of those languages, try watching the movie in it! Children’s movies are especially easy to follow along with, because they use more simple language, “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles” for example. If you have any family favorites that your children can practically recite from memory, it will be even more fun to hear them in a foreign language! Your children don’t have to understand every word, but will learn to figure out what’s happening and get used to the spoken word. Listening will help improve their ear for the language, and their pronunciation.
3. Video Games: Just like movies, some video games come with the ability to set the language, so this is a great way to add a little fun to the mix. Even Microsoft executives have been known to refresh their French by changing the language on the games they play!
4. Facebook: If you have a teen who uses Facebook, encourage them to try it in another language! This would be a fun exercise for a very social student. To do this, go to the Settings, Account Settings, and Languages, and choose your language.
5. iPad: For families who use iPad or iPod, practicing foreign language is just an app away! There’s an application called TVU, which will allow you to receive channels from different countries around the globe, broadcasting in French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Italian, and many more.
6. Volunteer: A great place to practice what you’re learning is to volunteer with a program that serves people who speak the language you’re trying to learn. While this might be hard if you’re trying to learn Egyptian, for example, if you’re learning one of the more common languages, it should be relatively easy. Many social services serve a clientele who don’t speak English, and would welcome the help of a volunteer who could communicate a little in a foreign language.
7. Travel: The ultimate in language learning, traveling to a foreign country immerses you in both the language and the culture of a place, and forces you to sink or swim! If you travel overseas during high school and your child works on their foreign language there, you can certainly give them high school credit for the experience.
8. Cooking: Enjoy the flavor and food of the culture you are studying. My favorite example of this is a great book by Shirley Solis called “Not Just Tacos A Journey Into the World of Authentic Latin American Cuisine.” It’s an awesome, fun book! Cooking is like a tour of a foreign land, without leaving your home. You'll learn about unique ingredients, flavors, customs, and cultural insights in a deliciously different way.
9. Art: Crafting is a great introduction to the culture and heritage of different people groups. Coloring maps and discussing geography, culture and history, are all important parts of learning about different cultures as much as the language. When I was in public high school Russian class, we spent months making Ukrainian eggs, while listening to music of the culture.
Just because your student is learning a foreign language in high school does not necessarily mean they will wind up fluently conversing with native speakers. High school foreign language is simply exposure to a variety of different language-acquisition skills, such as speaking, listening, reading, writing, and culture. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, so our students will excel in some areas and not so much in others. Instead of striving for perfection, try to relax and have fun with foreign language learning, knowing that there will be some benefits to the process no matter what!
What classes do you need to teach? How do you cover them all within four years? Use what you know about your students and their learning styles and consider the subjects that colleges want to see. It's all covered in my class Planning High School Courses (Online training)
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Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school. Get Lee's FREE Resource Guide "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School" and more freebies at www.HomeHighSchoolHelp.com/freebies.