Language Learning 101: Involve others. (Tip #9)

As part of our journey towards “official” homeschooling, I’ve spent the past few months working my way through a stack of the most influential books on the subject. I’m really into immersive learning (like a unit study—for me!), so I’ve been cashing in all of my birthday gift cards to buy more and more resources.

Along the way, one of the most intriguing philosophies of education that I’ve studied has been that of Charlotte Mason (you’ve probably heard of her).

Although prior to reading her books, I knew that Charlotte Mason promoted foreign language education for her students, I was pleasantly surprised to find that her philosophy of language education was strikingly similar to my own. 

In her book Parents and Children (aff), for example, Mason writes:

What shall we teach our children? Is there one subject that claims our attention more than another? Yes, there is a subject or class of subjects which has an imperative moral claim            upon us. It is the duty of the nation to maintain relations of brotherly kindness with other nations: therefore it is the duty of every family, as an integral part of the nation, to be able to hold brotherly speech with the families of another nations as opportunities arise; therefore to acquire the speech of neighbouring nations is not only to secure an inlet of knowledge and a means of culture, but is a duty of that higher morality (the morality of the family) which aims at universal brotherhood; therefore every family would do well to cultivate two languages besides the mother tongue, even in the nursery. (7, emphasis mine)

Her methods for teaching language also had a distinct emphasis on the language learning in service of the “other” and emphasized fluent communication as the goal of language learning. By the time her students were high school age, they were said to have been able to watch a play in French and deliver a proficient narration of it.

But for homeschoolers, consistent conversation practice can be difficult to schedule. Beyond tutors and outside classes, it might be difficult to find fluent speakers with which your children can practice their developing language skills. Yet it is certainly not impossible! Here are a few ideas for how to locate speakers of another language:

  1. Look into volunteering opportunities in your community. 
    • Does your nearest city have a population that speaks the target language? Plan a visit to their ethnic neighborhood to see if any churches or community organizations might need help. Perhaps there is a church- or locally-sponsored food bank seeking volunteers to serve its Spanish-speaking clients. The whole family can get involved in an activity like that while supporting the language learner’s development.
    • Look on a site like for non-profits that serve different populations in your community—their volunteer opportunities are often linked to their listings. 
  2. Investigate language societies in your state or city that offer cultural events and conversation practice. 
  3. Get creative! These random suggestions might work for you:
    • If you are Catholic, why not attend a Spanish Mass at another parish?  
    • Check to see if your local library has conversation groups and if they don’t, start one! 
    • Search for a playgroup that is conducted in the target language. 

What suggestions do you have for involving others in your child’s language learning?

[Image provided by Flickr user Bill Benzon and used under a Creative Commons license]