Is your child just starting to learn a foreign language?
Perhaps this is the first school year that your bambino has chosen to study Italian, or your filho, Portuguese. That’s great!
Now, how’s your routine for language study going? Is your child struggling to implement regular practice sessions and review?
If your family is still looking to find a groove for language learning, let me encourage you to keep it simple.
Remember: when studying a foreign language, consistency often counts more than intensity. Short, targeted practice sessions are more effective than epic, sweeping reviews, so if your children develop consistent practice habits, they will be well on their way to fluency.
And this is great news, because if you can help your children develop these habits—even if you don’t speak the target language yourself—you CAN support them well in their language learning.
So, exactly what habits should language learners practice? I’m so glad you asked!
Here are three helpful, research-proven habits that I suggest to all new language learners:
- Connect language study to a bigger goal.
- Practice the target language every day.
- Model a positive attitude toward mistakes.
Let’s talk about these a little more in-depth:
1.) Connect language study to a bigger goal. This is essential. Your child has to know the “why” behind your family’s choice to study a foreign language. Is it because you have relatives who speak the language? Or perhaps you’re planning a #worldschooling experience and want to be prepared to communicate in the countries you visit? Or maybe your daughter loves Pablo Neruda’s poetry (me too) and she wants to be able to read it in the original Spanish? Whatever the reason, write it down—on the dining room wall if you have to! Language learning can be challenging, but keeping this goal front-of-mind will help your child see a purpose to the grammar practice and vocabulary drills, because it helps them develop what’s called integrative motivation. And it’s precisely that kind of motivation that is key to successful language learning.
2.) Practice the target language every day. In an ideal world, your child would be able to speak the language every day, but since that is near-impossible for most homeschool families, make it a goal to practice at least one element of communication every day: listening, reading, speaking, and/or writing. This is called deliberate practice and oftentimes, it can be satisfied by simple changes in your family’s lifestyle. For example, I’m a big fan of replacing everyday activities with substitutes in the target language. For example, could your family listen to a few songs in French during breakfast? Perhaps your high school student could read one blog post in Chinese every afternoon. Work with your child to develop a loose schedule of practice that fits his/her interests and personalities. This doesn’t need to take lots of time every day, but it is best if—just like math practice—it happens every day.
3.) Model a positive attitude toward mistakes. So let me back up a little bit. This piece of advice assumes that your children will make mistakes while learning the language—which is actually great! Making mistakes indicates that your children are taking (good) risks in their attempts to use the language. Therefore, it’s important to know that mistakes are par for the course with language learning, and that a bit of struggle is actually a good sign—not an indication that your child “can’t” learn languages. So when your child encounters an obstacle, try your best to model a positive attitude towards mistake, by treating them as the learning opportunities that they are. If you speak (or are at least familiar with) the language that your children are studying, try your best to correct the mistake alongside your child; if the language is totally unfamiliar to you, this would be where (one would hope) your chosen curriculum would give you the necessary resources to support your child.
What habits have you helped your child develop to support his/her language study? Are there any habits that I haven’t included here that you’ve found particularly helpful?
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