Language Learning 101: Activate Your Senses! (Tip #7)

When you speak your native tongue, do you always do it sitting down and perfectly poised with pen in hand?

Of course you don’t! So why would we expect our children to learn a new language in such an artificial scenario?

When we are talking with others in our native language, we are constantly gesturing, shifting position, and even moving around the room to make ourselves understood. Language learning, then, is naturally enhanced by such a physical element—after all, we communicate not only with our words, but with our bodies.

Some homeschoolers are catching on to this and studying through curriculums like Excelerate, which uses a method called Total Physical Response to teach Spanish.

But what if you’re not following one of those curricula?

Here are some ideas on how introducing physical movement to your child’s language study can help reinforce his or her learning.

  1. “Active" verb conjugations:
    • Have your child practice conjugations aloud and apply a particular motion to each conjugation. For example, if he is reviewing the present tense conjugation of the verb HABLAR in Spanish, he could clap between each conjugation like this: Yo hablo (clap), Tú hablas (clap), Él habla (clap), etc. Not only does the action help make the conjugation more memorable, but saying the conjugation aloud also reinforces it in the brain. 
    • Playing “Simon Says” with your child is a great way to practice the command form of verbs along with new vocabulary (such as body parts or colors). 
  2. Vocabulary Charades:
    • Play “Vocabulary Charades" with your child to practice his/her vocabulary. Suggest a word and have your child act it out. Not only will the game help cement new words in your child’s memory, but it will also likely be a lot of fun for you as well! 
  3. Drama practice
    • For the child who can read and write in her language of study, encourage her to read and act out scenes from authentic pieces of literature. She can prepare by watching any cinematic representations of the scene—which will not only provide acting clues, but challenge her listening skills as well! 
    • Have the child memorize a poem in his/her target language and perform it for the family, complete with “choreography”—timed breaths, movements to emphasize certain words, meaningful glances at key moments in the poem. You might be surprised at how physical a poetry performance can be! 
    • And my personal favorite: have your child write out brief scenes based on thematic vocabulary (a supermarket scene, for example, to practice food vocabulary). If you speak (or are learning) the language along with your child, you can offer to be the other “actor” in the scene—or perhaps there’s another homeschooled child who’s willing to fill the role! I love this from a pedagogical angle because it hits all of the key components of language learning: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Honestly! It doesn’t get much better than that. 

Do you have any strategies for integrating physical activity into your language study? Are you using Excelerate? I’d love to hear about your experience!

[Image provided by Flickr user Sam Deng and used under a Creative Commons license]