Language Learning 101: Seek Authentic Exposure. (Tip #2)

When I was in high school, I thought that I would improve my French proficiency by checking the Pimsleur CDs out of the library. I listened to them on my father’s gigantic, state-of-the-art CD player, dutifully repeating the phrases back to the lifeless speakers and trying hard to scrutinize my own accent. 

Well, if you’ve read my last post, you know how that all worked out. I wasted hours of my life and made little to no gains in my language proficiency. 

While there is a place for grammar and vocabulary drills in language learning, and I have often used such methods in my own classroom, too much emphasis on these activities can severely limit students’ fluency in the target language. Just think about your own language development—did you learn your mother tongue from tidy grammar drills and listening exercises? Of course not! You learned your first language from being immersed in it, in all of its vibrant and sometimes messy glory. 

So it makes sense, then, that we should strive to include authentic language in our home language study. Some of the benefits to doing this include: 

  • Increasing student engagement
  • Providing an easy way to study cultural topics
  • Exposing students to the complex language that they need to encounter in order to develop true fluency

Luckily, there are MANY kinds of authentic texts that you can use in your homeschool, including:

  • Newspapers in the foreign language (check out this post from FluentU to find newspapers published online in many different languages)
  • Magazines in the foreign language (we subscribe to Highlights High Five Bilingüe)
  • Blogs written by native speakers 
  • Podcasts by native speakers (my preschooler LOVES PNC’s “Crezca con Éxito” series with Sesame Street characters) 
  • Internet radio in (we listen to Mexico City’s IMER—similar to NPR—and Baby Radio—a Spanish-language station for kids) 
  • Apps and Online Programs (GLOSS, which the U.S. Military uses to train its interpreters, is available for free online and is an excellent tool for any language learner) 

And best of all, any one of these resources can be used to supplement your homeschool language curriculum. You don’t have to choose between a more traditional grammar-focused course of study and authentic materials—they naturally complement each another. 

Next month, I’ll be writing with some more recommendations on how to use authentic texts—particularly for parents who are not familiar with their child’s chosen language of study, but until then, I’d love to know if you’ve found ways to incorporate authentic texts into your language study. 

How do you use authentic texts in your homeschool? What resources have you found most helpful? 

[Image provided by Flickr user Stijn Nieuwendijk and used under a Creative Commons license]