Reader Q+A: Creating an Immersive Environment for Homeschool Language Learning

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Happy Wednesday, readers! Today’s Q+A question comes from Jennifer, who wonders if it is possible to do language immersion at home. Is it practical, or even realistic, for homeschooling families who are trying to balance language learning with many other subjects? Here’s what she shared in our Language Learning At Home Facebook community

How do you recommend doing an immersive approach while still charging forward in other areas of study?

Very quickly: I do think that it is possible for parents—even those who don’t speak another language—to create an immersive environment in their home and maintain momentum in other areas of homeschooling, but it does require some thoughtful planning. 

If this is something that you would like to do in your home, I suggest that you use this basic strategy to keep from being overwhelmed: instead of thinking about adding activities in the target language to your to-do list, consider making easy trade-offs that will provide your children with effortless, everyday exposure to the language that they’re learning. You likely won’t be able to create a 100% immersive environment—that would be nearly impossible for any family to do—but you will make great strides towards giving your children lots of access to the target language. 

Here are some trade-offs that our family has used to help us, as non-native speakers, create an immersive environment for our sons: 

  1. Trade screen time in English for screen time in the target language. In my opinion, this is the absolute easiest thing that parents can do to give their kids more exposure to the target language. If you’re starting out with young children, you can make a blanket rule that all screen time must be in the target language—that’s what we’ve done with our sons and now, they don’t even question it. If you have older kids, however, you might face some resistance to a rule like this, so instead, consider establishing two or three days a week where screen time is in the second language. To get their buy-in, work with them to find entertainment options that fit their interests, such as foreign language Netflix showsvideo games in a foreign language, or You-Tube read-alouds in a foreign language
  2. Listen to music in the target language. During dinner, in the car, while you’re folding laundry—all of these are easy times to listen to music in the target language. And regardless of whether or not you do a single extension activity, your children will learn something from the music that they’re exposed to. If you’d like more information on how to do this and where to find great music, you’ll enjoy my mini-series on using music for homeschool foreign language learning.  
  3. Host “Language Night” once or twice a week. If you already speak the language that your children are learning, or are learning alongside them, designate one or two nights per week where you will converse in the target language over dinner. And don’t forget to write it down—and even ask your children to hold you accountable! If you have neighbors or friends who speak the language that you’re learning, don’t forget to invite them as well! The ultimate goal of language learning, of course, is to be able to communicate well with others, and so having a conversation with speakers of other languages (even when they’re awkward) can be a powerful motivating tool for your children’s learning. 
  4. Look for caretakers who are fluent in the target language. If you have relatives who speak the language you’re learning, you can outsource some conversation practice to them, be it via Skype or in person. And if you need to hire paid childcare for any reason, consider prioritizing native speakers of your target language. You can ask them to do read-alouds that you have planned for your children, listen to music with them, and help build your children’s vocabulary by playing basic, no-prep games with them. 
  5. Do family devotions in the target language. For those families who are religious, you may choose to do some or all of your religious learning in the target language--Arabic for Muslim families, Hebrew for Jewish families, etc. Our family is Christian (Protestant), and we have collected a number of favorite resources in Spanish that we’ve used over the years and often recommend to others. If you’re not very proficient in the language that you’re studying, you can use family devotions to memorize Scripture verses in the target language. Just the process of memorization itself will deeply enrich your child’s language learning. One other thing I’ll add for my fellow Christians: doing devotions in the target language can be a powerful way to communicate the value and urgency of the Great Commission to our kids, so this is a strategy well worth considering. 

Now remember—and this is really important—you don’t have to institute all of these trade-offs at once. You can incorporate them into your daily life very incrementally—maybe focus on one new trade-off every two weeks. And if one isn't working for you, don't worry--using any number of these strategies will be beneficial to your kids. 

Furthermore, if you’re learning a language alongside your kids, don’t forget that these trade-offs will also help spur your own language development. All of these activities will also get you more exposure to the target language, so that you can maintain your motivation and momentum to keep learning languages as a family.

Do you have other tips for creating an immersive environment at home? Please share in the comments!