Five Foreign Language Learning Tips

Many homeschoolers want to incorporate foreign language learning into their studies, but it seems like a daunting task if no one speaks the desired language at home. In much of the US, access to foreign language speakers can be hard to come by. Even if you’re interested in Spanish, one of the most commonly spoken languages in the US after English.  Many language curricula are built around a common and widespread language learning structure that is not only actively hostile to home use, but serves to give Americans some of the worst foreign language acquisition skills ever.  So what can you do if you want your child to learn a language and be actually able to use it?

Study Latin

If you’re going to learn a Romance language, some basics Latin will go a long way to jump-starting your language learning. There are plenty of Latin language resources available. Many focus on Latin roots and general language competence instead of teaching Latin as a formal language. As a bonus, scientific names will make much more sense with a little basic Latin

Sticky Tab Your World

Infants tend to learn names for things, i.e. nouns, and simple verbs first. Get some sticky tabs or notecards with a little poster tack and label everything you possibly can around the house. Learners can practice looking at the item and saying its name in the target language.

Play Games

A girl learning English in Shanghai. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A girl learning English in Shanghai. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Uno is a good game for colors and numbers, as is Sorry. Other board games and games like the old playground favorite Red Rover can be adapted. The key is to use existing vocabulary to play the game, and to strive to use only the new language while playing the game. There are also online games available in foreign languages.

Use YouTube and TV

There are lots of great language segments on YouTube, and many are available for free.  You can also watch foreign language  television shows and movies (some are also available online). Watch once with subtitles and then again without to help increase learning.  Find foreign songs and music videos and sing along.

Children’s Books

No matter how old the learner is, really basic children’s books can be a fun way to increase language learning. It’s possible to find Dr. Suess books in Spanish for example. Don’t overlook original foreign language children’s books as well. That way you can get a taste of the culture as well as increase language learning.

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Our Love Affair With Latin Language

Homeschooling With The Latin Language

Seneca plaque, via wikimedia commons
Seneca plaque, via wikimedia commons

Although it might seem that our love affair with Latin came from our attachment to Classical-style education methods, my own love affair with Latin predates our homeschooling. I was raised among people who thought that Latin was a desperately important feature of a “good education” and who mourned that it had been discontinued from the local high school. I got bits and pieces of Latin, nouns and phrases and heaps of Roman and Greek mythology, but no formal Latin training. By the time I got through college I could pronounce anything you put in front of me, read and decipher simple stuff, and trace Latin/English word roots. Besides being able to identify bizarre Latin literary terms like “bathos” and read scientific nomenclature, I felt that my hodgepodge of Church Latin, random bits thrown at me by desperate teachers, and Latin puzzled out in the course of being a medieval recreationist had enriched my vocabulary and my life in numerous ways. So I was determined, even before our final commitment to homeschooling, to make sure that my kids got Latin.

Starting Latin Young

Before I found The Well Trained Mind, I imagined that Latin would be a subject that would wait until late junior high age or high school. Despite my passing familiarity with it, I viewed it as a big, scary subject that, like Calculus, should be approached with extreme caution. Almost all the older people who had been forced to take Latin before it was discontinued in my hometown had Latin phobia. Sure, I had picked up a little and it was fun, but truly studying Latin was hard and scary and traumatizing, or so everyone said.

So when Well Trained Mind recommended Latin for kindergartners, complete with textbook suggestions, I was thrilled and apprehensive. Sattler’s Latin (not an affiliate link, I just like it) was pretty much the only children’s Latin around at the time, though Minimus became available in the U.S. shortly after we started homeschooling.

Teaching Latin at Home

One of the big complaints that Latin instructors have about children’s Latin books like this is that they don’t teach your children “real” Latin. By that they mean that the programs are not set up on the model that foreign language instruction in the U.S. is typically organized by. We recently learned through my son taking Japanese that the official standard of language instruction is so entrenched that you can’t get high school course credit for a language taught by any other method or standard.  If you count how many U.S. friends you have who are truly bi-lingual and then subtract those who come from bi-lingual households, you might start wondering why the public education system is so addicted to a method of language instruction that to me looks to be full of fail. The naysayers have their reasons for their negativity and some of them might even be valid, but for the most part you can ignore them and get on with your fun Latin learning.

Types of Latin Instruction for Homeschool

Latin instruction for homeschoolers mostly comes in two types. Programs like Sattler’s and Bell’s (Minimus) can be used to introduce very young children to Latin early, or they can be used with older children as a light, more informal and fun introduction to Latin. Other programs, like Wheelock’s Latin, are very rigorous and are meant to prepare the student for an in depth understanding of Classical Latin and Medieval Latin. We’ve mostly stayed with the light Latin programs, though we’re planning another attempt on Wheelock’s this year. Some people stick with really light approaches to Latin like English from the Roots Up, others prefer rigorously Christian systems like Latina Christiana. I think there are benefits to studying Latin no matter which approach you take. Most of these programs require no previous knowledge of Latin by either the student or the teacher/parent and come with ample support materials to help you along. So it doesn’t matter if you don’t know Latin; you can learn alongside your children.

The Benefits of Learning Latin

My kids are teens now and have been exposed to Latin ever since the eldest was five. Neither of them are fluent, but they’re both well able to cope with basic Latin, including cases. Both of them have expanded vocabularies and strong grammatical skills for their ages. My son tested out at sophomore college level in language arts when he was 11. Some of that is because he’s very bright, but a lot of it came from the Latin. Studying Latin helps directly and indirectly with English, and it’s also the language of Law and Science. Sure, most of us are not going to grow up to be doctors, lawyers or scientists, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to know what these people are saying to us when they use their big words– without needing a dictionary or Google?

Our Family’s “Secret” Language

My kids sometimes think of Latin as their own secret language, since they mostly have public school friends who aren’t exposed to it at all. When they were younger, they were thrilled to be able to go to the zoo and read the Latin species nomenclature below the English and discuss why the names were sometimes different. They’re not always thrilled with conjugating verbs and working out the fine details of “to be”, but overall our Latin studies have been enjoyable ones.


5 Comments

  1.  Anna-Marie

    As a home schooling Mom I have considered teaching Latin but have not done so yet. Mainly because I don’t know how and I have an awful ear for languages (I am learning Spanish with my kids and they are constantly telling me I am saying it wrong:)). I really need to look for a good curriculum for us to begin, know of any that actually pronounces the words for you?

  2.  tlryder

    Hi Anna-Marie, both Minimus: Starting out in Latin and Sattler’s Elementary Latin have Audio CDs. I think Latin is easier to pronounce than Spanish, so maybe that’s a plus! The Sattler Latin has Itsy Bitsy Spider and Old MacDonald, along with some other children’s songs in Latin. My kids loved that part.???? And Minimus is a mouse whose best friend/worst enemy is Vibrissa (Whiskers) the cat. They live in Romano-Celtic Britain at the Roman fort of Vindolanda, so it’s a British during the Roman occupation history lesson too.

    What I don’t recommend is the teacher’s manuals. Sattler’s teacher’s manual isn’t all that different from the student books and you can get through Minimus without spending $60+ on the teacher’s book, even if you had no Latin previously at all. I say this as someone who’s trying to get people to buy things through affiliate links too, so you know I’m totally serious! That would be a big commission sale, but I’d feel horrible about it.????

  3.  Justin Schwamm

    Anna-Marie,
    You might be interested in the Tres Columnae Project (http://trescolumnae.com/beta). Full disclosure: I’m one of the founders of the project, which is designed to make high-quality Latin learning available to anyone who’s interested — especially home schooling families.

    Like the “light” approaches, we have a continuing storyline about several Roman families, including some very interesting animals. But we have audio _and_ illustrations for every sentence and story (it’s all online — no need to buy CD’s or books), we have self-correcting exercises available, and we encourage our participants to create and share their own Latin stories, illustrations, audio clips, and other things they create. In the process, our participants are exposed to everything in the “rigorous” approaches like Wheelock’s, but in a much more organic, natural way. We aim to build what we call a “joyful learning community” for our participants.

    tlryder, your kids might enjoy our approach, too. Since they’re fairly advanced learners, they’d find the first few Lectiones quite easy — and they might enjoy contributing stories or even exercises as well as reading what we already have in place.

    Please take a look at the site and let me know what you think: jschwamm trescolumnae com. And whether you like “TC” or not, I encourage you to go ahead and learn Latin with your kids!

  4.  tlryder

    Salve, Magister Praeceptor Schwamm!

    Your site looks very interesting. I’m excited to see how it all turns out as you work through your beta. Perhaps when you’re ready to launch, you’d like to do a guest post here on Latin learning.

    Thanks for stopping by! Your comment was very encouraging.????

  5.  Justin Schwamm

    salve iterum, Magistra Ryder! And thanks so much for the kind words.

    Yes, I would love to do a guest post on Latin learning any time you’d like. In the meantime, if anyone’s interested in knowing more about the thinking that went into the Tres Columnae Project, please feel free to check out our (recently inactive) blog at http://joyfullatinlearning.wordpress.com or the site itself at http://trescolumnae.com/beta.

    I hope your kids continue to enjoy and treasure their “secret language!”