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Teaching Foreign Language at Home

by Melody Moore

Sound like an impossible task? Don't lose heart! In spite of the challenge, homeschooling your children in a foreign language can be an enjoyable, rewarding family experience.

Choosing Your Homeschool Curriculum

Begin your efforts by finding a foreign language curriculum that will meet your needs. Look for interesting content and an exciting approach that utilizes student involvement. Consider the textbook publisher’s philosophy by asking yourself questions as you browse. Does the textbook promote biblical values? Are there any humanistic or anti-Christian ideas? Will it push your student beyond academic goals and prepare him for ministry? Are there dialogues that students (and family) can act out? Does the program contain ways for students to learn to present the gospel, pray, and memorize Scripture in the new language? Are supplementary materials such as audio CDs and workbooks provided?

Homeschool Teacher Preparation

Once you have chosen your homeschool curriculum, the next step involves preparing for the learning experience. This includes planning lessons, charting an assessment schedule, gathering any supplemental materials, and preparing your teaching aids. The goal is to remain two or three weeks ahead of your student. To prepare yourself consider taking a night class at a local community college. This will give you a foundation in the language and should make you more comfortable with the material you will be teaching.

The basic knowledge provided by the language class, along with your foreign language curriculum, will give you a starting point for your lesson plans. Local high school teachers can give advice on what materials they use, examples of how they test, and ways they present a lesson.

Visual aids are an important teacher resource. For example, in a grammar lesson, use visuals to demonstrate what the prepositions are doing in each sentence. For the sentence "The dog is next to the cat," draw a dog next to a cat. Then have your student say, or write down, the proper sentence. This will give a visual reminder of the prepositions when it is time to fill in the blanks.

The Homeschool Classroom

Now you are ready for the job of language teaching. The four basic skills – reading, speaking, listening, and writing – should be practiced in every lesson. Sadly enough, many foreign language programs follow a procedure of simply completing a reading and writing exercise, correcting it, and moving on to the next lesson. However, having prepared for the lesson, you can introduce your homeschooler to the material in such a way that he discovers a new idea before seeing it in his book.

To relate new vocabulary to family situations, start by labeling common items around the house with their foreign language names. (Your students can help.) Identifying words by association and repetition will substantially aid in learning. Every night your student will see his 'cama' instead of 'bed'. He will learn to close the 'porte' instead of 'door.' And as his learning progresses, he should begin using these words to construct sentences such as 'la cama está en el dormitorio' or 'fermez la porte, s'il vous plaît.'

Also, transitioning between lessons will be easier if your student is already a little  familiar with the vocabulary when he sees it in his textbook. Look for everyday ways to encourage participation with visuals.

What about pronunciation? Try using your new language in family devotions. You can read a familiar verse in the language and help your children memorize it over the course of a week. You and your homeschooler should also take the opportunity to pray in the target language. If possible, find a native speaker and practice pronunciation in real conversation. This will help you with the flow and rhythm of a language, as well as the pronunciation of individual words and sentences.

Good pronunciation comes from listening to and imitating good spoken examples. Whether included in your homeschool curriculum or as a supplemental tool, audio recordings of native speakers are a must. BJU Press offers audio supplements for both Spanish and French. Your local library and bookstore will probably also carry audio resources. Even foreign language music recordings will help familiarize your student with the language. As your student listens to the native speakers on CD, have him repeat the words and sentences used. Since he often cannot judge his own pronunciation, be available to compare it with what you hear on the recordings. Once he is pronouncing correctly, your student can record his own voice. Playing it back can be both humorous and encouraging.

Homeschool Assessment

As you incorporate reading, writing, speaking and listening into your homeschool language curriculum, how can you assess your student’s development in each area? The answer is simple: test the material the same way you taught it. Assessment should be a natural outgrowth of the teaching time. In your daily interaction with your student, you will discover how he learns, the effectiveness of the exercises you assign him, and how long he takes to complete each task.

Many foreign language programs include complete test and answer keys that can be purchased separately, but if you decide to write your own tests, make sure to include sections for speaking, writing, reading, and listening. Test questions should be similar to the exercises the student is accustomed to doing. When a particular textbook section includes two or three exercises, use one for a quiz. Or choose one or two items from each exercise as quiz and test questions. Quiz frequently so that your student does not have to face a large amount of material at one time.

Constant review keeps concepts from fading after the lesson. Repetition not only aids foreign language learning, but may also be essential to it. Therefore, testing must cover each of the four basic language skill areas to properly assess the student’s abilities. For example, to test prepositions, have the student act out 'the pencil is on the book.' Then ask him to call out the preposition after you demonstrate 'the cat is beside the sofa.'

The same method can be used to assess reading and writing. Write a prepositional phrase on a flash card and have your student read and then act out the phrase. Alternately, you act out the phrase and have your student write it. Since one concept builds on another, review previous lessons before beginning new ones. Tests and quizzes are perfect opportunities for reinforcement through review.

Foreign Language Practice for Homeschoolers

As your student's command of the material grows, solidify his learning by using the language in everyday contexts. For instance, when studying food vocabulary, teach your children the expressions used at the table. Try fixing an authentic ethnic meal to correspond with your target language, and then speak only that language while you eat. Encourage younger children to dress as natives of the originating country,and invite a fluent foreign language speaker to dinner to make the occasion even more memorable.

Do not limit foreign language to an allotted time. Encourage your homeschooler to use it in his other subjects. When studying a country in history class, place a label on the map with the name of that country in the target language. Make a chart for each country with words such as 'area, population, government, and capital.' You can even use the language when you write out work assignments.

Successful homeschooling in foreign languages is worth all the effort. Even more important than the vast number of jobs for which he will be better qualified, your student will be able to minister and witness in the foreign language. So go ahead—teach a foreign language to your homeschooler. You’ll both be surprised at how much fun it can be –'nicht wahr?' (Is it not so?)


Reprinted from Home School Helper. Used with permission of BJU Press. Please write hshelper@bjupress.com for permission to reproduce this article. All other correspondence (subscription requests, change of address, etc.) should be sent to bjupinfo@bjupress.com.

BJU Press offers foreign language curriculums in French, Spanish, and Latin. Supplemental program materials include DVDs, CDs, tapes, tests and answer keys. For product descriptions and more information, please visit the Foreign Language subject page.

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