Seven Ways to Motivate Your Homeschool Language Learner

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As I wrote last week, motivating language learners can be tough! In our family, this is a challenge that we face constantly, as we’re trying to raise our sons bilingually in Spanish and English. We take language learning seriously, but we don’t want to be TOO serious about it, since as I learned last year, I have to make it fun if I want my sons to embrace Spanish. 

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So today, I’d just like to share a few quick ideas of things that we’ve tried to help motivate our sons to practice their Spanish: 

  1. Buy their favorite books or music in the target language. My son has been a fan of the Frozen soundtrack since he was just two, and since we bought it in both English and Spanish, he can now sing “Let It Go” in both languages. Funny enough, I actually prefer the Spanish version myself! If you need help finding these kinds of materials, I’m working on a FREE resource list for foreign language materials that will be ready in the New Year—be sure to sign-up so that you can get access to it right away! 
  2. Find a new TV show in the target language. Netflix is an amazing tool for this and likely one that you already have access to. Many of the shows that Netflix produces itself are available in popular foreign languages, including Spanish, French, Mandarin, German, Brazilian Portuguese, and Italian. For the toddler crowd, we like Word Party, and for preschoolers, Clifford’s Puppy Days, Octonauts and Puffin Rock can’t be beat. Older kids will appreciate Netflix’s Magic School Bus reboot as well as its new VeggieTales episodes. Make sure to use subtitles (in English or the target language) to aid in comprehension—research shows that target-language subtitles make a big difference for language learners. By the way, all of these shows fit our family's media rules. They emphasize character values, reinforce the joy of learning new things, and are developmentally appropriate for the ages I’ve assigned them to. So if those things are important to you as well, you can rest assured that they will be okay for your kids. By the way, here are some more suggestions from bloggers that I trust: Spanish Mama’s Spanish Language Cartoons on Netflix, FoodRetro’s French Language Shows on Netflix, and Chinese Cartoons for Kids from Miss Panda Chinese. 
  3. Buy (or invent) a game that you can play together. Gaming is one of the best ways to learn a new concept, as the growing Gameschooling community can attest—and foreign languages are no different. As a language teacher, I frequently used games in my classroom to reinforce new grammar and vocabulary without the drudgery of long drill sessions. So, if you’re learning a language as a family, why not make some time for a game? Here are some great recommendations that would work for homeschool language learners. Another easy one to play as a family is charades—it’s excellent for vocabulary review and guarantees lots of laughter for everyone. And if you have an older homeschool student who is studying a foreign language on his or her own, Duolingo is another excellent option. 
  4. Learn (kid-friendly) jokes in the foreign language. Here are some appropriate jokes in Spanish and in French (with audio!). 
  5. Family movie night—in a foreign language! Common Sense Media has a list of foreign language films that are suitable for different ages. 
  6. Memorize poetry in the target language—and reward recitations.  We do this with poems selected from Spanish Playground’s excellent library, but you could choose to learn kid-friendly poems in French (more advanced ones here) or in German. We always reward recitations to make them fun, but we keep our rewards reasonable (some might say stingy…): every time our son recites a poem in Spanish, he gets a single m&m. That’s enough for his chocolate-loving self to feel motivated, but your child’s treat might be different.   
  7. Play word games in the target language. This works best if you yourself have some familiarity with the language, but it’s not impossible if you’re learning it alongside your children. We like to play “I Spy” and “Simon Says” when we’re waiting on lines, and we also love to play our “Stories” game—I give my son three hints about a particular story, book, or movie (or a character in any of those) and he has to guess what I’m thinking of. It goes something like this: I’ll say in Spanish, “a disobedient,” “a collection of treasures” and “a witch that is an octopus” and he will guess “The Little Mermaid.” Then we reverse, and he gives me the clues. If you’re not fluent in  the language that your children are studying, you can still play this game—just take basic vocabulary from your read-alouds for your clues.  

These are just seven possible ways to motivate your homeschool language learner. If you’ve got more to add, please do so—I’d love to hear from you in the comments!