Mom, I Want to Learn Urdu! Part I
- 2008 7 May
“Mom, I want to learn Urdu.” A simple sentence like this can send a wave of trepidation through a homeschooling parent, even if the foreign language your child desires to learn is of a less exotic variety than Urdu. Homeschooling parents are known for their resourcefulness and ingenuity, but the idea of facilitating language study is often an intimidating one, even for parents who have some experience studying languages themselves. As a result, many parents are left feeling that introducing a foreign language to their daily curriculum is impractical, or maybe even impossible. This is unfortunate, because studying a foreign language is an invaluable tool for developing the mind, and it enriches a student far beyond a simple knowledge of vocabulary and grammar.
In this article, I will be discussing strategies for home language study that will help you open up this wonderful academic field to your child.
Choosing a Language
Even before the memorization and grammar gymnastics begin, homeschooling families are faced with the choice of choosing a language. This is often a difficult process, due to the sheer number of foreign languages available for study and the many different factors that must be taken into consideration, including availability, difficulty, and of course, practicality. A fun and cheap way to give your student exposure to a variety of foreign languages is to visit your local library. Usually, a library will have a variety of CDs, phrasebooks, and videos that you can check out and use to introduce your child to a language. This can be a lot of fun, and you will probably notice that your child gravitates towards a certain language or languages. Take this into consideration, and keep the following factors in mind:
• Availability is an important factor when choosing a language, because no matter how much enthusiasm a student has for that language, the road to fluency is going to be long and frustrating without language materials that are intuitive, interesting, and of course, fun! Usually, if your family chooses to study one of the major world languages, you will find an abundance of programs and materials; some that are effective, and some that are not. If you choose a more obscure language, like Sanskrit or Klingon, you may find yourself with more limited choices! If you are considering studying a lesser known language, you might find it helpful to go on the Internet or to a large bookstore and see what materials are available for that language.
• Difficulty is another important factor to consider when choosing a language. Certain world languages are considered to be more challenging and difficult to grasp than others. Now, a possible choice should by no means be eliminated simply because it is known to be difficult; but it is important to make sure there are quality materials available for that language so the experience of learning it does not become overly frustrating for your student. You should also consider the amount of time you wish to spend on language study each week, because certain languages require much more study to master than do others. Think about your daily routine, and try to make a rough estimate of how much time you would like to spend on language study each day or week.
• Practicality is probably the most debated factor concerning the selection of a foreign language. Even the most adamant supporter of educational exploration may be taken aback when their child declares his intent to learn Tagalog. The time and effort required to learn a foreign language naturally lead to questions of practicality, and it is important to consider all aspects of this question. I am often approached at homeschooling conventions by parents who question their child’s desire to learn a certain language. The parents usually tell me that while they appreciate their child’s interest and initiative concerning a particular language, they think it is better to guide them in the direction of a more practical language.
Certainly, choosing a highly practical language has benefits, but parents must carefully consider what their children’s wishes are telling them before they steer them in a certain direction. Quite often, a desire to speak a language is prompted by much more than a simple fascination with exotic sounding syllables: it indicates a genuine interest in a culture and way of life. Your child may have seen or heard something about a certain language that intrigues him and is the driving force behind his desire to learn it. If this is the case, steering your child toward a different language is not simply a matter of substituting one set of foreign words for another at all—it is a matter of trying to shift his interest, which is usually a difficult task! Gauging your child’s interest in a language is very important, because it can often mean the difference between success and frustration.
Additionally, a student’s choosing one language now does not preclude him or her from learning another language in the future, and learning that second language will probably be easier than the first. There is a great amount of truth in the notion that after learning a first foreign language, additional languages become easier. I strongly believe that this is due to the experienced learner already knowing how to efficiently study a foreign language because of his previous experience with languages. This valuable knowledge is gained by the student regardless of what language he or she studies first. In some cases, the knowledge of one language may apply directly to another, as is the case with Romance languages. My first Romance language was French, and when I started to study Spanish, I was pleased to find that the grammar was nearly identical.
As homeschooling parents know, nurturing a student’s enthusiasm for education is just as important as the education itself. Keeping this in mind will help you choose the right language to study. A desire to choose a practical language must be balanced with the desire to choose a language that your child is interested in, and therefore will strive to excel in. Choosing a major world language is never a bad choice, because typically these languages (such as French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and others) are considered major languages because they have deep cultural and intellectual tradition, as well as a large number of native speakers. French, for example, is spoken not only in France, but also in Belgium, Switzerland, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Quebec, just to name a few places. On a recent trip, I had the humorous experience of receiving directions in French from a young Chinese man while biking through rice paddies in southern China!
Choosing to study a major world language is always a good choice, and by carefully considering the points just discussed, you can decide whether a lesser-known language may also be a good choice for your child.
Next week: Choosing a program.
Peter Groth was homeschooled K-12 by his parents, and is the creator of Adventure Languages, which produces foreign language programs designed specifically for homeschoolers. You can check out Adventure Languages at www.adventurefrench.com, and read more of Peter's writings at www.homeschooledanddangerous.blogspot.com
This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr ’08 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com