Reader Q+A: Scheduling Foreign Language Practice

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Today’s reader question comes from Katherine, a member of our Language Learning At Home Facebook group. She asks: 

Is there a best practice time allotment for language study? How much time and for how many days per week should we aim? 

This is the perfect question for this time of year, as I imagine that many of you are planning out your 2018-2019 homeschool and trying to figure out where homeschool foreign language fits into your schedules. Making time for regular practice is essential to learning a foreign language, so here are some general principles (and sample schedules) to help guide you. 

How much practice is necessary?

It’s a bit difficult to pin down a specific number on this, given that each family’s language learning goals are distinct and the need for practice varies from child to child. 

However, that said, a general guideline would be to schedule 15-30 minutes of practice at least five days per week—in addition towhatever language lessons or curriculum you are using. 

Here’s how I did that math: as a college instructor, I spent approximately 3 hours/week in class with my students, but they were expected to spend at least 6 additional hours/week preparing for class, completing assignments, and studying for tests. If they were consistent with that level of practice, most students could expect to reach intermediate-level proficiency in about four semesters of study—or about 500 hours of practice, including class time and independent study. This is roughly aligned with the American Council of Teaching Foreign Languages's official estimates of how long it takes to learn a foreign language (to a level of reasonable proficiency).   

So far, the homeschool curriculums that I have seen include anywhere from 2-5 hours of lessons/week. If you have young children who are using a program like Song School Spanish, their time spent in formal lessons is naturally going to be lower—which is totally appropriate for that age! On the other hand, if you’ve got a teen studying Latin with Memoria Press, he might be spending up to an hour a day with his textbook. However, in both situations, students will need consistent, additional practice to help them develop well-rounded language abilities, though perhaps not quite as much as my college students. Here are two reasons why I say that: first, in my experience, homeschool language learning can be more efficient than classroom teaching, so we’re not necessarily aiming to reach that same 500 hours, though it certainly doesn’t hurt to get as close to it as possible! Second, homeschool students generally have more time to reach proficiency—a few years, for example, instead of a few semesters—and therefore, their practice can be more spread out. So for most students, 15-30 minutes a day (on top of lessons, of course) really should be enough to move them towards proficiency at a reasonable pace. 

What kind of practice is best?

That said, at this point, you might still be thinking, “My days are SO packed! How are we going to fit in an additional 15 minutes of French practice!?” If that’s the case, I have good news for you: foreign language practice doesn’t (necessarily) require adding additional time onto your school day. 

Instead, here are the activities that you could count towards your 15-30 minute practice quota:

All of these activities will move your child towards his or her goal of language proficiency and most of them don’t even feel like “school”! I recommend varying them throughout the week so that your child is getting practice in each of the four skills necessary for language learning: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. 

For even more ideas on how to fit in language practice throughout your day, check out these easy trade-offs that you can make to give your children the “immersion experience” at home—even if you don’t speak the language that they’re studying! 

If you have more tips for scheduling foreign language practice at home, or sample schedules to share, please leave your comments here—we’d love to hear from you!