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Decisions, decisions. Making short- and long-term decisions about the direction of your children’s education is one of the greatest privileges (and responsibilities) that homeschooling parents enjoy. Sometimes, the sheer number of options alone can be overwhelming—to say nothing of the decision-making process itself. Since homeschool curricula is so customizable, it sometimes feels like we’re obligated to study ANY and EVERY subject, perhaps even all at the same time. I know that I’ve been tempted to think that way, even though my kids are still young and really only need the basics.
But let’s say that you’ve made the decision to include foreign languages in your homeschool. Where do you start? If you find yourself asking that question, well, today’s post is for you.
Here, I’ve developed three questions that can help you narrow down your choices. They’re by no means the ONLY questions to ask yourself when deciding which foreign language to study, but they should help guide you toward the right decision for your family. Since your answers to each of these questions might not all point to the same language, you will have to decide which factors should weigh most heavily. My hope, however, is that these three questions will be a great “jumping off” point for deeper conversations in your family and help you feel like you are making a purposeful and well-informed decision.
So, ask yourself these three things when choosing a foreign language to study:
- What world cultures are most interesting to your family? Since motivation is such an important part of language learning, it helps to connect your family’s language learning to broader interests. So when you’re deciding on a language, ask yourself this: Which language will help you develop your existing interests and thereby contribute to building your family culture? Do you love Italian food and Renaissance art? Perhaps studying Italian will be a way to dive deeper into these interests and help your family appreciate the beauty of Italian culture. Maybe your family is the adventurous type and has a shared dream of traveling to Buenos Aires. Why not expand that dream by studying Spanish and learning about Argentinean literature, music, and food in the language spoken by the porteños—that is, the people of Buenos Aires—themselves?
- What languages might be most practically useful to your family? You can take this question in two directions. First, you can ask yourself what educational interests your children might pursue in the future. While this might be hard to predict if your children are little, your family culture might be a good predictor of their future careers and callings. Therefore, if you’re a science and engineering family, it might be worth studying German to prepare your children for potentially studying or working abroad. Or, if you’re a family of history buffs that adores reciting epics, Latin and Greek would be a natural choice—and would enrich any future historical study that your children choose to pursue.
Second, you can look around you to see what languages you might be able to put to use in your community. For many Americans, the most obviously useful language is Spanish, given the number of Spanish-speaking immigrants and heritage speakers who call our country home. But depending on your location, you might consider studying other languages. If you live on the U.S. and Canadian border, for example, French might be a language that members of your community speak. For our part, my husband and I grew up in an area with a large Portuguese-speaking population and now live in an area with a considerable number of Chinese immigrants. We could find practical uses for Spanish, Portuguese, or Chinese in our family. So considering that fact, your strategy could be to choose a language according to which cultural and service opportunities might be available close to home.
- What resources are available to you to study the target language? Think of three categories of resources when developing your answer to this question: communities, curricula, and tools.
Communities: How can you arrange real-life practice of the language for your children? Are
there classes available through your homeschool co-op, local libraries, or dual-enrollment
programs that will enable your child to practice the language with a fluent speaker and
other language leaners? Do you have the resources to enroll in on-line classes for your child
or to hire a private tutor to teach your family?
Curricula: Are foreign language courses available through the curricula that you already
use? Bob Jones University, for example, has its own Spanish course for its students, while
Classical Conversations recommends a particular Latin textbook to use. If you are not using
a boxed curriculum or participating in a program like Classical Conversations, do you have
the time and energy to evaluate your curriculum options? If you need a little help in this
area, I would suggest asking around your homeschool community and checking Cathy
Duffy Reviews to research your choices further—she has an excellent list of curricula in
Tools: Would your child benefit from any of the apps and programs that exist to teach
foreign languages? I consider most of these a supplement to formal language learning
curricula, but they are excellent for reinforcing new concepts and increasing student
motivation. The apps Duolingo and Mango are a great place to start and free through many
libraries. I’ll be posting soon on how to maximize the use of those apps in your homeschool
language learning—so stay tuned!
Also consider how easy it is to acquire authentic texts in the target language; are there
foreign language books, CDs, and DVDs available through your local library, or can you
order those materials online? Since authentic texts are one of the best ways to engage with a
foreign language, this is an important consideration. Your ability to access authentic texts in
a particular language may be better than another. For our family, while we can get most of
our Spanish-language resources from the library, our Portuguese study requires a more
serious financial investment, because our library has no Portuguese-language books and
those that we do use have been imported into the U.S. (read: expensive). However, there are
creative ways around this: for example, could you share some books with another family
studying the same language, or could you subscribe to a service like Epic!, which lets you
check out foreign language e-books for kids?
The more resources that are available to your family for a given language, the greater your
chances of being able to learn it well. I like a wrap-around approach to language learning
that includes practice in all four areas of language learning: reading, writing, listening AND
speaking. You may have to pull resources from two, or even three categories in order to
satisfy all of those areas of learning, so the more resources that are available to you in
general, the better.
I know that this all seems like a lot to consider—and it is!—but I hope that these questions will help you feel more confident in your decisions about language study and help your family to understand exactly why you’ve chosen the language that you have.
What other factors did you consider when choosing a foreign language to study in your homeschool? How did you ultimately make the decision to study a particular language?