As if the idea of teaching your children English, math, history, and science is not intimidating enough, consider a foreign language. Learning a new language is a great way to become a more analytical thinker, to increase opportunities, and to develop as a well-rounded person. If you never learned another language yourself and the idea of teaching one scares you, fear not. There are many great ways to get your kids into a foreign language and culture, and it is not as difficult as you may think.
Why learn a new language?
The world is a big place, and that can be a tough concept for youngsters to grasp. This is especially true for most kids who see only their own neighborhood, town, and maybe some other parts of the United States. If you have the means to travel with them, that is wonderful. But if not, you can bring the world home. Teaching your child about foreign cultures and languages gives them an important perspective and helps them to understand the world and their place in it. It also helps them learn to value and appreciate what they have.
As the world shrinks with increasing globalization, your child’s chances of encountering foreign cultures and peoples grows. While fifty years ago many Americans lived very isolated lives, today we are exposed to much more. Encourage your kids to be a part of the world, and their opportunities will expand.
From a purely academic perspective, learning a foreign language is immensely beneficial. By studying other languages, your child will be stimulating parts of the brain that improve creativity and critical thinking. Your child’s abilities in other subjects can be improved by becoming a better critical thinker. And if your child is college-bound, consider the fact that many institutions require foreign language study before admittance.
What languages should I consider?
The world is your oyster, and you have the freedom to teach your children any language you or they desire. However, some languages will be more useful than others. Some of the most commonly taught language in public schools today include French, Spanish, German, Mandarin, and Japanese. Schools tend to offer languages based on demand. Parents are generally interested in their kids learning a language that may serve them one day. For instance, for someone going into a banking or finance career, German is a useful language. Spanish is also helpful because so many people in this country and around the world speak it. Mandarin is increasingly popular as China’s dominance in the world economy grows. French is a perennial favorite, as many educated people throughout the world learn English and French.
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Select a language that you think would be beneficial to your children. Or choose one that would be meaningful. For instance, if your ancestors came from Greece, it might be fun to learn Greek language and culture so that your kids understand where their family history. Another consideration will be your ability to find educational resources. You are more likely to find books, CDs, and DVDs for learning Spanish, for example, than Tagalog.
What if I don’t know the language?
If you do know a foreign language, you are in an ideal situation. Kids are great at becoming bilingual from an early language. They are like little sponges that soak up knowledge. Their ability to take in and remember languages is unprecedented. You have a unique opportunity, and if you start them young enough, all you have to do is make sure you speak with them in English and the other language you know.
And if you don’t know another language besides English, not to worry. You can still help your children learn. Just be careful that they don’t learn too much without you or they will have a secret code for talking in front of you! There are plenty of resources out there that you can use and as a bonus, you can learn the language as well.
What are some tips and tricks?
There are so many great ways to incorporate a foreign language and culture into your homeschooling days. Whether you speak the language or not, you can use several techniques, ideas, and resources to help your children learn it.
- Start early. The earlier you get your kids into languages, the easier it will be. By a certain age, we all lose the ability to learn language quickly and easily. It is a skill that we are born with that decreases fairly quickly. Start giving your toddler books and videos in a foreign language and you will be amazed at how quickly she starts to pick it up. If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon that early, though, it is still possible to learn.
- Books, DVDs, and CDs. Use these resources liberally. The more your kids watch videos in the language, listen to CDs, and read books, the more information they will absorb. Picture books are great for this purpose. The images will help you kids pick out the meaning and learn new vocabulary without needing to use a dictionary on every word. It works even better if you can find books in a foreign language that they have already read in English. And don’t hesitate to give picture books to your older children. Even if they wouldn’t deign to read it in English, it can be very valuable for learning a language. The CDs and DVDs are particularly important for learning pronunciation.
- Labels. A great way to learn vocabulary is to label items throughout the house. Make cards with the names of objects in your new language printed clearly on them. Attach them to everything in the house and eventually, the words will become new knowledge.
- Every day! It is very important to use and learn your new language daily. Repetition is key and does not always have to be boring. Come up with new activities each day to incorporate your language. It can be as simple as having a Spanish-only dinner, or a Mandarin-only walk through the woods.
- Host an exchange student. If you can’t afford to travel to a foreign country, bring the culture and language to your home. By hosting an exchange student from Germany, your kids will have an invaluable opportunity to improve their language skills and learn the culture from a first-hand source. You may be able to host a student who will be attending the local public school. Check with exchange programs and your local district.
Where will I find resources?
If you don’t speak the language you are teaching, finding good resources is crucial. Start by finding a resource set that you can purchase. These can get pretty pricey, so look for something used on sites like Amazon. These sets typically come with workbooks, CDs, DVDs, and textbooks. To keep costs down, try buying the books online and checking out discs from your local library.
The Internet is a vast source of free resources on many topics, including foreign languages. A quick search should turn up plenty of free lessons and dictionaries for reference as well as free books and stories in foreign languages. Enchanted Learning offers picture dictionaries in several languages. The BBC website has sets of high-quality lessons and worksheets for French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Greek, and more. They even have a proficiency test that will tell you where you need improvement. Wanna Learn gives you free lessons in over thirty different languages. Wikiversity from Wikipedia offers even more languages.
You might also consider sharing resources with other homeschoolers. If you have a local group formed, find out if any of the adults are more qualified for teaching a language. Maybe another father is a native Spanish speaker. If so, you could trade lessons with him for something you are good at teaching, such as gardening or math.
However you go about teaching your kids a new language, you will not regret embarking on this rewarding experience. As you learn alongside your children, you will be opening up new doors and new worlds of opportunities for them and for you.
©2012 Off the Grid News