How to Choose a Foreign Language Curriculum

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There are lots of great materials out there for anyone wanting to learn a foreign language. Having had experience with languages, as well as experience in studying abroad, I know that the most important part of learning was the immersion experience. I knew that we needed materials that guaranteed not just the basic skills needed but also materials that create a hands on experience while learning a foreign language in our homeschool. Specifically we needed materials that would allow our kids to get involved in doing things. When learning a foreign language there needs to be a foundation formed which encourages specific skills our children want and need.

How to Choose a Foreign Language Curriculum - By Jennifer K.

Take your time in choosing your materials, start by considering if the materials you are considering will:

  • Provide a challenge to allow growth
  • Clarify meaning
  • Maintain interest and attention
  • Give enjoyment and motivate

I have some fancy language learning materials. Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur…I admit it. I have gone and spent way too much money on the programs that are guaranteed to work. You know the one, they promise that you will be speaking a foreign language in no time at all. The problem is, for kids, there is little enjoyment in these programs. They are dry and require a lot more time and attention than our kids have and thats okay because they are kids.

Ultimately we need to bring learning to life for our kids; we need them to see and personalize their experience. The materials we use are only as effective as we make them.  Most materials will need some level of adaptation and personalizing to match the level our children are at as well as where their interests lie. We want them to absorb the language. If you are struggling to find something that works for your family, perhaps you should consider making your own materials. It is not hard to make your own. Simply cut and paste, laminate, and copy. After all we’re homeschool moms, we can do this!

Kids learn when they are playing and having fun. So, let’s talk about making our own foreign language curriculum.

First things first. Determine how your child learns best. Presentation is everything! Are they visual learners, hands on? Do they love to read? Watch videos? Play games? Next, take time to plan how you will sustain their interest and learning. There needs to be plenty of follow up to the things they are learning.  Also, make sure your plan is something you can manage.  You may need to tweak it now and again; so be sure to evaluate it regularly.

As you’re getting started some things you want to keep in mind are:

  • Are you presenting enough information? Too much?
  • Are materials being used successfully? Repeatedly?
  • Are they challenged? Bored?

How much and how long we study something will be different for every one. I have four children and it is different for every one of them and that’s okay. Follow your child’s lead as much as you can; if something is too difficult put it away. We don’t want to discourage our children in their learning. Sometimes we need to take a few steps backward. My oldest son cannot move forward until he has “mastered” specific material (his choice not mine), so we may spend a lot more time on the basics. My younger son and daughter love to learn and tend to move through a lot of material faster. They may not master certain material as quickly as my oldest, but they love to learn things they can use “right now”.

We have been working on collecting bilingual books (stories, rhymes, songs, dictionaries), language audio/video and games. Cooking is another fun way to explore the language and culture you are learning about. How about making your own books? What about puppets or games? Remember to focus on concrete objects (real things that matter to your kids). Use lots of visuals (photographs, pictures) and if possible even other people. Maybe there is a local community center for the Spanish speaking in your area. Perhaps a Chinese or French group. If not, how about finding a penpal for your child? I have such fond memories of my pen pal from Italy. We had such fun exchanging letters, postcards and now and then simple little treats. It can be lots of fun to collect tangible, realia (things related to the language and culture) items too. Perhaps you know someone who travels overseas? Is there a train ticket, a coin or postcard they could give your child? You can contact visitors centers in the various cities and often they will send documents, magazines, maps related to the area, for free. We have coloring books, little postcards and even language games we have received from various parts of the world. Our children have little boxes they keep these in and they can search out items to add as we learn.

Online learning can be beneficial for learning a foreign language too! For online learning here are a couple of my kids favorites for you to enjoy with yours:

Digital Dialects: http://www.digitaldialects.com

Ages it is good for: Mostly for ages 8 and up; you can use with younger kids if you assist them with activities.

There are 60+ languages to choose from on this site. Each language has a variety of topics you can choose from like: colors, numbers, animals, basic phrases, clothes, etc  Some fun games; all with audio and text.

Literacy Center:http://www.literacycenter.net/

This is great for ages 3 and up; lots of visuals, in some cases the child needs to be able to read or be read to.

They offer Spanish, German and French

Your children can learn the alphabet, colors, numbers, even some random vocabulary. As they move along the program offers more challenging material, but this is geared towards younger kids.

Language Guide: http://www.languageguide.org

This is great for all ages! They have quite a few languages and are working to add more. They actually use native speakers with this program too, so its very authentic!

What it’s like: This is a very visual site; lots of reading and lots of images too. From basic concepts and drills to colorful pictures with native speakers used for the audio and the readings. This can be a great way to advance your language learning (but I don’t know that I would start here myself!).

Languages Online: http://www.education.vic.gov.au/languagesonline/

Good for ages 8 and up; this includes French, Chinese, German, Indonesian, Italian.

This is a very nicely organized i mmersion style site with lots of video clips, interactive games, and downloadable printables. There are a few grammar exercises included as well. Some of the games are hard to understand at first, there are instructions for each game, but some of them are a bit confusing. This is also something really neat offered by this site: “Download these free programs and create your own interactive games and activities. Follow the simple steps to add your own text, pictures or voice recordings. Suitable for all languages! ”  

Whatever you use, however you decide to encourage your child’s interest in learning languages, be sure to make it fun!  The more opportunities they have, the more determined and encouraged they will be to continue. From reading and writing to the spoken language itself, there are so many fun ways for our kids to learn any language they choose!

What foreign language program are you using in your homeschool? How do you make it more fun for everyone?

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