foreign languages - children holding up foreign word signs

How to Homeschool Foreign Languages Confidently

by Anne Guarnera

If you want to study foreign language in your homeschool but don’t speak one yourself—or even if you do!—you might have a million questions:

What’s the best age to start a foreign language?

  • Which curriculum is right for our family?
  • Should I speak to my kids in the foreign language if my accent isn’t perfect?
  • What if my kids just aren’t interested in learning a foreign language?
  • Are they ever going to use this in the real world?

Don’t worry—you’re not alone! These are common questions, and as a homeschooling mom and former language teacher with a PhD in Spanish, I’ve heard them all. But foreign language study doesn’t have to be mystifying; in fact, you should know that How to Homeschool Foreign Languages Confidently.

Whether you’re just starting out with a second language or already have some years under your belt, there are a few basic principles of language learning that can help you be successful in this area of your homeschool. Today, I’m highlighting three of these principles in the hopes that they will encourage you and provide a good foundation for your family’s future language study. For more practical ideas and in-depth discussion of these principles, be sure to follow the links that I’ve included—and visit my blog, Language Learning At Home, where I write all about foreign language learning for homeschoolers.

1. First, know that learning a foreign language can enrich every aspect of your child’s development.

For families who are questioning whether or not they should pursue language learning in their homeschools, this can be a powerful reassurance. Decades of research have shown that learning a second language has long-lasting cognitive benefits that can improve your child’s academic performance in nearly every area, from language arts to math. And yet, these aren’t the only benefits of learning a foreign language. Recent studies suggest that children exposed to foreign languages are more empathetic toward others and even have better impulse control. In this way, language learning can help support the character development goals we have for our children, which are also important to us as homeschoolers. Even if your child never goes abroad or uses the foreign language as an adult, these benefits will remain with him or her for life.

2. At every stage of language learning, remember that languages are best learned in context.

Compared to the traditional school system, homeschoolers have enormous freedom in choosing which language to study—and that’s great news! Having a personal connection to a foreign language dramatically increases student motivation, so it’s worth taking some time to decide which language is best for your family to study. What resources do you have available to you to learn the language? Do you live in a community where another language is frequently spoken, or do any of your relatives speak another language? Does your child hope to be a missionary to a particular region of the world? All of these questions can guide your decision.

3. Children of ANY age can learn a foreign language, but it is true that younger children (toddlers through elementary-aged) do learn languages differently than older kids.

In my experience, this is the language learning principle that causes the most frustration for homeschool families. Younger homeschool students may struggle to follow along with curricula that is (unintentionally) mismatched to their age, while older students can feel like they’ve missed an opportunity by starting a second language during the high school years. Neither of these frustrations is necessary, however, if we keep these basic facts in mind:

Younger children generally learn languages best through an immersive approach—which, by the way, is not impossible for a homeschool family to provide (even for parents who don’t speak a foreign language). While a few sharp elementary-aged kids may grasp a more analytic method of teaching a language, most will not benefit from direct grammar instruction. Instead, think about all of those fun things that you did to help your children learn English, like singing them nursery rhymes, labeling everyday objects, reading aloud and playing games with them. All of these activities are highly effective for teaching a foreign language to a young child, and therefore, curricula that focus on these real-life applications of a second language will be most useful for this age group.

Older children, by contrast, generally do learn languages better through a more analytic approach. Because they already have an awareness of grammar and the way that language functions, they can actually use that knowledge to learn new languages more efficiently than a younger child. Even so, I don’t recommend that older students focus exclusively on grammar and vocabulary drills—that’s a sure way to make them hate language learning! Instead, I recommend that parents supplement skill-building activities with authentic exposure to the target language, like watching Netflix in the foreign language, listening to foreign language audiobooks, or scheduling regular online conversation practice with an affordable language tutor from another country.

With these three principles in mind, you can move forward with homeschooling foreign languages knowing that you will bless your children by doing so. And if you’ve got questions that I can answer, please know that I’d be happy to do so. I’ll be attending all three days of the 2018 HEAV Convention in Richmond and would love to speak to you there.

Anne Guarnera blogs at Language Learning At Home, where she uses her PhD in Spanish and experience as a homeschooling mom to help other families learn foreign languages. She firmly believes that language and cultural learning are not only important academic pursuits but key to helping children understand the beauty and diversity of God’s creation. You can find her on Pinterest and (her favorite) Facebook.

Anne also runs the Language Learning At Home Community on Facebook, where homeschooling families can find real-time support and recommendations for their foreign language study. No matter what language you’re studying or where you are in your language-learning journey, you are encouraged to join!

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