“I told him I didn’t need any," I explained to an American friend, as we passed by the Turkish street vendor, who was calling out to us by his bin of underwear on a dusty street in Istanbul. By his wide eyes, I knew something had gone wrong. When I got the chance, I opened the dictionary to discover I had announced that I didn’t use underwear. Learning to communicate is a necessity when living in another country, as my family was doing, but it should be the goal of any language study. My polyglot husband communicates readily with a lot of folks, knowing more than half a dozen languages. Here are some of my husband’s tips on learning a foreign language.
You have to start somewhere, and there are plenty of online programs that will teach vocabulary and grammar, and also provide a chance to listen to the spoken language.
Once you have a foundation in the language, it’s good to challenge yourself to read materials intended for natives in the language you are studying. Children’s books aren’t the best; they tend to use useless vocabulary. Attempt to read websites in the language you are studying. Another way to practice reading is to go through First John, one of the simpler Bible books, which can be easily compared to the English. It is important to read out loud; words don’t come off the tongue as easily as they seem to in our minds.
Finding a pen pal (through an online search or through your community) would give you a chance to read and write in the language. You can also use writing as a way to practice what you want to say out loud while you have the chance to think about it and formulate your words. Writing out dialogues and then practicing them out loud, even by yourself, is a great tool. Repeating formulaic sentences is a way to practice vocabulary, grammar, and conversation. You do that by writing and saying things over and over with slight variations. The phrase "I like dogs" can be substituted with a list of pronouns, a list of different nouns, and even with different verbs and adjectives.
Listen to It!
Listening is another language skill. You can use radio, TV, and videos for picking up the sound and feel of the language. Songs have repetition which can help with picking out words and memorizing phrases. Online audio Bibles provide a chance to listen and to read along. In this case, you’d want to look for a modern translation of the Bible. Think about how you’d sound spouting King James English if that’s how you had learned English!
You’ll never learn to really speak another language without speaking it. You can just talk out loud, having conversations with yourself, maybe in the shower, and look up what you had wanted to say, but didn’t know how. Another way to practice speaking is to have the whole family always use little phrases like please and and thank you in the language you are studying. You can’t just think a language; you have to speak it.
Having dialogues with yourself, reading out loud, and passive listening are useful, but they aren’t going to translate into conversation. It’s a different skill to work at picking up clues to conversation and quickly processing and preparing an appropriate response. This final step needs another human being. See if you can find someone local who speaks the language, or meet with that pen pal online. If you decide to hire a tutor, hire someone to converse with your child, not just to teach or to practice drills.
If you are considering paying for a class, I strongly recommend having your child take a college course. If you are going to pay for a class, you might as well get the credit.
My children started out learning their chosen languages in middle school with free materials found online. My current middle schooler is able to take a Spanish course free online and participate in a very inexpensive online Spanish class, which is just for speaking practice. My teens began taking online college courses their sophomore year, which enabled them to earn twelve college credits in foreign language before high school graduation. Their courses have included regular online meetings with a teacher’s assistant to practice conversation and to have graded conversations. My son had to do many recordings of him speaking for his class.
While not the same as living abroad, these are all effective tools for a homeschool family who wants to give their kids the opportunity to learn another language from home.
Lee Giles is creator of the Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool and author of Genesis Curriculum. Genesis Curriculum uses a one-room schoolhouse style for the whole family to learn together, guided by books of the Bible. Easy Peasy (EP) is a ministry to help families homeschool by providing free, ready-to-go, high-quality courses, pre-K through high school. EP brings life into homes that are burdened, bloated, or burned-out. EP has both online and offline options and an incredibly supportive online community.
Copyright 2018, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms. Read The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com, or download the free reader apps at www.TOSApps.com for mobile devices. Read the STORYof The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine and how it came to be.
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