Learning a foreign language is tough! You know your children should learn a foreign language. You know you should learn a foreign language. But how?!
Think about how you learned your native tongue as a young child. You heard the language spoken to you many times. Then you started testing out sounds, words, and word combinations. I still laugh at some of the phrases my children said as they were learning to master the language, such as:
This is funner.
After many years of hearing and speaking the language, they began reading and writing it.
It takes time and lots of practice to master a language. As you continue to learn a language, there will be times your sentence structure is not grammatically correct. Sometimes you will use a word in the wrong context. We expect this of young children learning their native tongue, but feel frustrated and discouraged when we are unable to express our thoughts in a foreign language.
Be patient and praise your efforts and your children’s efforts to learn a new language. With diligence and practice, you will be able to master a foreign language.
As we know from examining how we learned our native tongue, immersion is the best way to learn a foreign language. But you do not always have that option available. If you do not already know a foreign language or know someone who speaks a foreign language, you need to find other ways to learn. Below are some of the resources we have used in our efforts to learn a foreign language. Which one you choose will depend on your ability to participate with your children in learning the language and their age and ability.
Resources to Learn a Foreign Language
Games and Activities to Learn a Foreign Language
We incorporate a variety of games and activities to keep learning fun and engaging. One of the most difficult aspects of learning a new language is learning the vocabulary. Many of these games and activities focus on providing practice with vocabulary.
- Replace commonly used English phrases with phrases in a foreign language, such as “Wash your hands.” or “It’s time for lessons.”
- Spot-It (Spanish or French)
- Sing a song. Your library probably has a variety of CDs.
- Read a children’s picture book or beginning reader book in a foreign language. We like to purchase books that have the text in English and Spanish or purchase a book in Spanish that we already have in English.
- Use flash cards. I do not recommend flash cards often, but flash cards with a picture and the new word can be used in a variety of games or as review.
- Hang a poster of basic words or seasonal words to remind you to incorporate them into your conversations.
- Play Bingo. You could write words or draw pictures of the words you want to learn on a Bingo board. Or, you can search online for ready made Bingo cards in the language of your choice.
- Memorize a scripture passage or poem in a foreign language. This would be a great way to add variety to your child’s recitations.
- Play Charades.
- Say a word in a foreign language and instruct your children to run touch that object in your home.
Programs to Learn and Reinforce a Foreign Language
There is so much I love about this program. What I love the most is that you learn a method for teaching any foreign language. They provide the necessary resources to help you learn the language, but also teach you how to continue learning any foreign language. It is based on the Gouin Series of learning vocabulary, verbs, and sentence structure in the context of narrating something you can see or do. This method of learning engages all of the senses: hearing the series, performing the actions, and seeing the sentences if you write them down in a notebook. They also have MP3 files of the series so you know how to pronounce the words. You could use this method with any age children. It is also my preferred method of learning.
ULAT (Universal Language Acquisition Technique) is a unique online program that I have not seen elsewhere. You not only learn to speak a foreign language, but also to think in the language through an immersion approach. Through a series of pictures and video clips you learn vocabulary and verbs. As the lessons progress, you put the words you have learned together in new sentences. This is an effective method of learning for an older child or adult ready for slightly longer lessons and self-directed learning.
Everyone follows the same learning path in Duolingo, but you can test out of levels if you already know the material. As you continue to learn and practice words and phrases, your skill level tree updates a progress bar. You can choose to reinforce areas of weakness or begin a new study. We were frustrated that new words were not taught, but simply included in the lesson. You are not always told what a new word means, but have to choose the corresponding picture. For some activities, you can click on a word to see a translation. You are not timed as you work through the lesson so if you need to look up a word or think about how to answer the question, you have time to do so without the pressure to finish before your time runs out.
Language Zen uses a customized approach to learning a foreign language. It adapts your lessons as you progress so you will practice the words and phrases you need to reinforce and learn new ones. New words and phrases are explained before practicing them in the context of a sentence. You cannot test out of a level, but since the program adjusts your learning as you go, you would not need to practice words or phrases unnecessarily. If you answer incorrectly, you can try again. And you can choose to see the correct answer as well as additional examples of how the word or phrase would be used. You are timed as you work through the lessons. This frustrated my daughter, but might be an incentive for some students.
(Disclaimer: both programs have content that may be considered inappropriate for younger users such as dating and drinking lingo. This is minimal and has not been a problem for us, but is present. Duolingo allows you to block mature content.)