Teaching a Foreign Language in the Elementary Years

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. However, it is increasingly important to learn additional languages in today's global economy. Americans are alone in their arrogant assumptions that everyone else should learn English, and that everyone in foreign countries are just waiting to assist you during your visit there. In addition, learning another language is important for future jobs. It may start as communicating with fellow dishwashers in the back of a restaurant, but it could end up as negotiating the deal that makes the company $100,000 that quarter. Even the study of a dead language like Latin or Greek can be beneficial to solidify grammar rules and usage, and about word roots, suffixes and prefixes.

Teaching a foreign language is extremely mother-friendly in the elementary years of education. You don't need a curriculum at this age, only consistent and fun activities like:

  • Read easy 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 CD with accompanying picture book
  • Learn songs in target language (from educational materials; days of the week, etc.)
  • Listen to the radio (multilingualbooks.com/online-radio.html) of target language online (while chilling around the house) or in the car
  • (PREVIEW!) Watch TV shows (beelinetv.com) 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, middle school age,  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.)

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 I made a bingo game that was based on the Adventures With Nicholas Spanish story book and CD 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 laguage 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!

Teresa Dear is a homeschooling mother of four. She and her husband do not worry about socialization. You can follow the blog exploration of Classical Christian Education in general and their homeschool lifestyle in particular at http://highereducation-mama4x.blogspot.com. Teresa divides her time between education, the home, shopping for curriculum, and stocking her www.mama4x.etsy.com storefront where you can find handmade cards and vintage photos.

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One Response to “Teaching a Foreign Language in the Elementary Years”

  1. Thanks for this! We’re going to begin our foreign language studies this spring officially, and I must admit, I am a bit intimidated by it. We’ve decided on Mandarin Chinese; wish us luck!
    .-= Sam(antha) Burns´s last blog ..Chronological History of the World Unit-Studies for Homeschoolers updated Thu Dec 3 2009 6:06 am CST =-.

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