Sunny days, sprinkler play, and popsicles on the porch….although the temperature may be in the single digits where you are right now, it’s time to start thinking about summer! Whether or not you homeschool year-round, summer is a great time to study foreign languages.
Want to know why? Here’s a few quick reasons why you should include language learning in your summer plans:
If your child is showing interest in learning a foreign language, the summer can be a great time to “test drive” a language program without the pressure of the school year. It doesn’t have to be an “official” part of your curriculum—it can just be part of the year-round lifestyle of learning that you’ve developed in your home.
If your child is already studying a foreign language, it is essential to schedule practice time during the summer. Sadly, it is possible to lose language ability without consistent practice, so if you want your child to continue progressing in the language, you must make time for it. It doesn’t have to be hours a day—15-30 minutes is usually sufficient—but it should be regular. (if you’re struggling with that, you might want to check out some of my tips here). And don’t be afraid to think outside the box or add a little fun to the routine—it doesn’t have to be 30 minutes of worksheets every day! Summertime practice sessions can include watching a foreign language show on Netflix, listening to music in the target language, or writing postcards to a foreign pen pal. And of course, there’s always audiobooks in the target language to help with listening comprehension as well.
The summer offers unique opportunities for immersive language experiences. Depending on where you live, you may be able to send your child to a language immersion day camp, or you may be able to attend a sleepaway language camp as a whole family! If you’re traveling to another country, you can easily incorporate language study into your preparation for the trip or learn the language while you’re there. These are unique experiences that are otherwise unavailable during the traditional school year.
So, now that I’ve convinced you that the summer is a great time to homeschool foreign languages, just how should you go about it? Well, here are some creative ideas (at different price points)—I hope that your family will find one that’s a good fit!
Start a kids’ conversation class (or weekly playdate) at your local library. This is an especially good idea for parents who already speak the language that their kids are studying. If you’re looking to help your child get more conversation practice, why not try to meet other families who are studying the same language? We do this with our own kids at our local library. On Thursdays, we attend the library's weekly Spanish story time and will often extend our “learning time” with a Spanish playdate at the library playground. To find other interested families, you can do some low-tech recruitment with flyers, or use a site like Meetup.com or even your local Facebook moms’ group to make connections.
Start your own language camp with help from your local college or university. There are three basic ingredients for this plan: a willing language major (or two), a couple of interested families, and a backyard or basement. If you live near a college or university, it is likely that they have language majors who are planning on becoming teachers. Why not give these students some experience (and get your kids some exposure to a new language) by hiring them to run a “backyard language camp” for a week? You can find interested college students by e-mailing the chair of the language department and asking him/her to forward an e-mail to the university’s language majors. I’d ask the students to prepare 2-3 hours of activities in the target language per day (this can include read-alouds, snack, cooking classes, sports, theater, and music) and offer to pay a rate that’s about 1.5 times your local babysitting rates (or more, depending on how many children attend). With a few families participating, this should be a very affordable and fun way to expose kids to a new language.
Learn a language together as a family—in the U.S. or abroad. As I mentioned earlier, there are language camps in the United States where you can learn a new language alongside your kids. I love this idea, especially as someone who takes mother culture seriously—what a great way to model an enthusiasm for learning! The most well known program is Concordia Language Schools, which offers week-long family camps in Minnesota (along with other camps for individual learners). Middlebury College also has a highly respected program for language learners, although it is targeted at individual students (not families).
If your family is planning a vacation abroad, why not include a little language learning in your itinerary? You can have a full immersion experience by choosing a home stay—like this family, who studied Spanish in Guatemala—which are often cheaper than hotels (and usually include food). Living with another family is not only a great way to get in some language practice, but it also gives you and your kids an up-close view of how other families live—which is a great cultural education opportunity.
Are you planning to study languages this summer? How is your family doing it?