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Homeschooling Foreign Language

Give Kids a Headstart on Learning a New Tongue


Girl in France
Blend Images/Picturenet/Getty Images

Foreign language can be one of the hardest things to teach as a homeschooler, but there are advantages too. If you yourself are not fluent, it can be daunting to try to help your kids. On the other hand, homeschoolers can introduce their children to a new language in the elementary school years, when the brain is most receptive.

Instead of being limited to the handful of languages offered at most schools, your child can choose any language, from ancient Latin to Inuit to American Sign Language. And homeschoolers also have more freedom to find a tutor or use electronic media that lets them learn how people actually use the language, instead of the stiff and formal sentences found in most school materials.

Learning with Live Teachers

Homeschooling students have lots of options for practicing their language face to face. Ask around and you may find a friend or neighbor who can tutor your child. Check the library bulletin board or online listings to see if there's a conversation circle in your chosen language, where interested people meet to chat and help each other learn.

Tutors may be willing to work with your child one-on-one or in a group with other homeschoolers. Or find a tutor who teaches remotely over webchat service such as Skype through a company like Verbal Planet.

In the community, you may be able to find language schools for kids, afterschool enrichment classes, and even summer camps. When my sons were older we all took a refresher class in French through the school district's continuing education program that was extremely helpful.

Print and Electronic Resources

Books, audio, and software aimed at children and adults who want to teach themselves a language are available for all levels, from preschool to advanced, and in all price ranges. Some are available online, through public libraries, or as downloadable audio books.

In the earlier grades, my kids worked their way through several offerings on the BBC Languages website. The BBC has video and audio files and animations for kids for learning 40 different languages. There are complete courses for kids in some languages, and beginner courses that are for all ages. You can also stream the BBC World Service news broadcast in many European languages.

More recently, my son enjoyed using Duolingo to review French. The free website quizzes you in writing and verbally. You can use a microphone to test your pronounciation.

Although the site itself is pretty straightforward, there is a game aspect to the presentation (you win hearts when you answer correctly) that motivates kids to keep going. We used it alongside a workbook called Barrons E-Z French, which included stories and writing practice.

A popular -- if pricey -- choice is Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone homeschool version allows the parent to monitor the child's progress and print out tests and worksheets. It can be used by up to five students, and can handle different levels. The main complaint among homeschoolers is that the company does not allow you to sell the software when you are done with it. A similar program, Instant Immersion, is less expensive.

Other programs recommended by homeschoolers include:

  • Mango: an online language-learning system available through many library systems.
  • Memrise: a website that relates words to images submitted by users.
  • Livemocha: an online learning community that lets speakers interact with each other.
  • Little Pim: instructional DVDs for ages 0-6.

Language Learning Tips

  • Try a video course featuring native speakers. My family loved the high school-level French in Action, which you can watch online for free on learner.org.

  • Look for easy ways to work the language into your every day routine, like word-a-day calendars.
  • Buy or borrow illustrated children's books in the language. The pictures will give you visual clues.
  • Find a foreign television website to follow a news story your kids are familiar with. Some also have a kids' sections with games and cartoon clips.
  • Seek out catchy songs or commercials in the language you're studying -- they'll stick in your head. (The company Earworms Musical Brain Trainer relies on this method.)
  • Watch foreign-language movies with subtitles. Slapstick comedies work well in any language. You can also set some kids' DVDs to a foreign language.
  • Create your own immersion experience. Spend a day speaking, eating, dressing, playing and sleeping like the culture you're interested in.
  • Visit ethnic communities in local cities and have a meal in one of its restaurants. On vacation, spend time in foreign-speaking regions such as Quebec or Latin America.
  • Check out the languages learning sites on About.com. There are About.com sites for French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, and Mandarin.

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