Reader Q+A: Simple Ways to Start Studying a Foreign Language

pin schedule foreign language study.png

*This post may contain affiliate links. 

It’s Wednesday, and that means that it’s time for the second installment of my brand new Reader Q+A feature! 

This week’s question comes from Anne, a member of our Language Learning At Home Facebook community, who writes: 

I become so overwhelmed with all of the ideas on the internet….what are 5 simple ways that I can incorporate a foreign language into everyday life? 

First, I hope that I haven’t contributed to that overwhelm! While I love to provide my readers with how-tos for things like Poetry Teatime in a Foreign Language or Using Pinterest for Language Learning, I also realize that some of you are just starting out, and I definitely don’t want you to feel like this is an impossible climb. So let’s talk the basics. 

As I’ve written before, the biggest “secret” to language learning is simply this: consistent practice. So let’s talk about how language practice might fit into your family’s daily and weekly routine—realistically.  Here are my five favorite ideas for how you can make language learning a natural part of your family’s routine, no matter how long you’ve been studying a foreign language: 

  1. Pick a homeschool foreign language curriculum and use it—alongside practice activities—daily. Unlike other subjects—like history and science, for example—that can be learned through twice weekly lessons, language learners really do need daily practice. So once you have a curriculum that you like, make sure to use it throughout your school week! If you’re still undecided on a curriculum for next year, you’ll appreciate being able to see all of your options in my comprehensive round-ups of homeschool Spanish, French, and Latin curricula. However, it is very possible that your child may need more than your curriculum’s 20-minute lesson to grasp new concepts. This is totally normal—as a language teacher, I always expected my students to need more practice than they could get in class. Therefore, it’s definitely worth checking out additional resources for language practice. Two free ones that I particularly like are and the BBC’s Primary Languages site. 
  2. Spend five minutes/day building vocabulary with flashcard review. There’s a reason that the old flashcard has stuck around so long—it’s a teaching tool that works! If you’re just starting to learn a new language, you can use visual flashcards to build your child’s foundational vocabulary. We’re using Linguacious flashcards with our sons, and it’s amazing how fast their Portuguese is developing with what really amounts to very little daily practice. The key is to stick with it and to review previously learned words—kids will forget vocabulary if it’s not reviewed periodically. By the way, Linguacious flashcards are available in Spanish, French, Chinese, and Hebrew too, if you’re just getting started with those languages. If your child is an intermediate or advanced learner, you can use the free app Tinycards to create customized flashcards related to your child’s language curriculum.
  3. Swap out screen time in English for screen time in the foreign language. This is a strategy that our own family has used with great results, and it’s especially practical because it doesn’t require you to add anything to your schedule. If you have younger children, you might be able to make a blanket rule of no screen time in English (like we do) or you might ask your older child to exchange 30 minutes of screen time in English for 30 minutes of screen time in the target language. That might mean that your child watches a foreign language show on Netflix or uses a language learning app to reinforce what he/she is learning. 
  4. Listen to the target language for at least 15 minutes a day. There are so many ways to do this—you could use audiobooks in the foreign language, YouTube read-alouds, or even podcasts in the target language. And of course, watching Netflix in the target language also counts! Remember that repeated listenings aid in developing comprehension, so consider downloading a single audio resource and listening to it once a day during the school week. This also means less planning for you! Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, either—I not only have my kids listen to audiobooks while they’re in the bath (and eating lunch….and in the car…), but I also invested in a waterproof bluetooth speaker so that I can listen to audiobooks and podcasts in the shower.  If you’d like a list of some of our family’s favorite audiobooks in Spanish, here they are
  5. Designate a foreign language family game night. This could be weekly or monthly—but however you schedule it, put it on the calendar and make it a real event! If you need ideas for games to play, I’ve got a list of board and video games here, as well as ideas for no-prep multi-sensory games for kids of all ages. 

Even if you picked just three of these activities to do each day, your child would be getting lots of meaningful exposure to the language that you’re learning. 

And in case you’re asking yourself what a daily schedule that include these things might look like, here’s a suggestion: 

8-8:30 AM: “Official” language lessons using a homeschool curriculum 

3-3:20 PM: Kids watch Netflix in target language OR listen to audiobook in target language 

4:00-4:05 PM: Flashcard practice on the way to soccer 

8-8:30 PM: Family game night in the target language (weekly)

If you have young kids, you’ll need to be directing some of these activities, just like you would for any other subject in your homeschool. But if you have older ones, they can take much of the initiative for this themselves—provided that you help them set aside the time to practice. 

I hope that this has been a helpful list to you—and readers, if you have any other activities that you would add to help Anne get started, please leave your suggestions in the comments!