Do you plan on having your children study a foreign language in your homeschool? I’m learning Japanese, and it’s made me look back over my years of homeschooling and our attempts at learning different languages. I think learning a different language is an important skill that is often given a back burner in homeschools but deserves a 2nd look. A foreign language can open all sorts of doors – from future employment opportunities, ministry (for those of you who are Christians), and just making friends in a variety of situations. It also helps a student become more aware of how our own language is constructed and opens doors to understanding other people and cultures.
When the kids were really small I intentionally exposed them to different languages via our local radio stations (we would listen to Asian broadcasts for hours sometimes, even though we didn’t understand a word), and I also checked out free resources from our local library like the Teach Me series. These softcover books come with a CD of songs (used to be cassettes at that time, lol) that mix English and another language via cheerful songs. We also used to check out Muzzy materials, which are now available online.
Our children’s adventure with languages
As my children got older, we took language study more seriously. All of my kids studied Latin at one time or another. I feel it gave them a better understanding of English grammar, and they were able to tackle difficult vocabulary more easily. My daughter studied German, my oldest son dabbled in Chinese (and studied German as well), and my youngest decided to learn a bit of Spanish. In college my daughter started learning Japanese on her own. Long story short…she is now married to a Japanese native, lives in Japan, and is quite fluent in that language! (Click here if you want to read her blog about living in Japan!) She’s the reason why I’m currently studying Japanese. I want to be able to talk to her mother-in-law (who is a wonderfully sweet woman) and to share in my future grandchildren’s Japanese heritage. They will be raised as little polyglots (or at least they will be bilingual)! I also just like learning something new. 😉 That’s the homeschooler in me that I hope never dies!
There are so many choices!
In recent years, the resources for learning a different language have exploded. I wish I had all of the current resources at my disposal when I was homeschooling. There are countless YouTube channels and videos, tons of interactive websites, games, lessons, and more that just didn’t exist even several years ago! If you want to learn a language, now is a GREAT time to do so.
When you are first starting out, unless you are already fluent in another language, the choices can be intimidating. I encourage you to take your time and look through the options. Every family is different, and what may work for one may not work for another. Many full language programs can be expensive, so you may want to explore free trials and check your local library before committing to one particular method or resource. Try out some free apps too and get a feel for what you will be studying! You may find a combination of resources works the best. It does for me!! I find it really helpful to use a many different things – many of them which are free or low cost (because that best matches my budget, lol). Make sure you check out workbooks and books on grammar available at your local library (or Amazon) to help you practice the nuances of the language you might not pick up otherwise or to supplement the program you choose. I’m using the Japanese from Zero workbooks!
How do you pick a language?
You may wonder which language to commit to. Some families choose a language from their family history. That’s why my daughter learned German. I used to be fairly fluent in German as a child, since my family lived in Germany for awhile and my father’s family is German. Working with German was a no-brainer. I already had it somewhere in my brain, so I felt more confident in helping my daughter learn it. My son chose Chinese because he was interested in the military. My other son chose Spanish because he was interested in a law enforcement career, and the state we lived in encouraged officers to have at least a working understanding of that language. Your choice for a language may come from some other motivation, but I encourage you to allow your child to explore several different languages and choose one s/he is most motivated to learn. There is nothing like a natural interest to spark the drive that is necessary to successfully assimilate another tongue!
List of Language Learning Resources
Back when we were starting out, Rosetta Stone was one of the only interactive resources for learning another language, but there are many more available today. Here is a list of resources for you to explore. Make sure to check out the apps that go along with many of these sites that will allow you (or your student) to learn on a tablet or phone in addition to the computer! My favorites have a heart next to them.
Amazon – There are tons of books, workbooks, and other resources to help you learn languages (and don’t forget to check Audible)! When we were learning languages I liked to purchase young children’s books (especially familiar stories) to help us pick up easy vocabulary words and simple grammar.
Babbel currently has 14 different languages to learn with audio and is interactive with speech technology.
Bussu has free and premium lessons. The free lessons have audio and are interactive!
Classical Academic Press
Classical Academic Press – This publisher has resources for learning Latin, Greek, French, and Spanish.
Drops – If you want an easy, addictive way to learn vocabulary (and a few travel phrases), Drops is a terrific app. It’s actually relaxing to play and you’ll pick up new words in very little time!
This website has all sorts of languages to learn, including Klingon, lol…The lessons are interactive with audio and activities designed to help build retention. I’m using it for Japanese!
edX has a variety of free courses supported by different universities. Many of the courses are self-paced and have videos. While the courses are free, you can pay to get a certificate of completion.
The Learnables – My son and I used The Learnables to study Spanish. I wish I could afford their Japanese books because I retained their lessons easily. Sadly, it appears they are no longer keeping their Japanese program updated. The lessons come with consumable books and CD’s. Some of their lessons have been updated to use on the computer. The downside to The Learnables (in my opinion) is that their materials are expensive.
Lingo Deer – Lingo Deer is one of my favorite apps for learning Japanese and brushing up on my German.
Little Pim – Do you have a little learner who would like to learn a language? Little Pim is designed for the under 6 crowd with videos available for download or streaming!
Mango is an online, interactive program that features over 70 world languages! Many libraries have a subscription to the website, which means it could be a FREE resource! I’m currently using Mango to supplement my Japanese. I enjoy the lessons and find that they are pretty effective.
Memrise has lots of free courses for languages and other subjects. I’m using it on a daily basis to practice reading Japanese. The flashcard format with memes to help you remember the content is easy to use and many courses have audio.
MIT Open Courseware
MIT Open Courseware has free language courses featured at MIT. These courses aren’t the easiest to navigate or use and you will need to purchase textbooks from Amazon or another similar resource (for most of the courses). Still, this could be a good resource for a very motivated learner.
Muzzy is also a language program designed for younger children through teens. I used it when the kids were little, and they really liked it.
PBS Learning Media
PBS Learning Media has lots of free video courses for various languages. Many of the programs also come with printable student and teacher checklists that accompany the videos. Here’s an example of one of their courses (which I have bookmarked for myself!): Irasshai – Welcome to Japanese
Pimsleur is a listening and speaking only course with over 50 different languages to choose from. I’m using Pimsleur as part of my learning Japanese arsenal (thanks to my local library staff who purchased it per my request). Pimsleur is very effective (at least for me) and is designed around scientifically proven principles. You only have to spend 30 minutes a day to learn a new language! You may want to explore the site as there is a free lesson in a language of your choice as well as information on the Pimsleur Method and why it works. They also have a money-back guarantee!
Powerspeak (I believe they used to be called Power-Glide.) Some of my kids used the Power Glide program back when it used to be a book and audio lessons (which are still available from Rainbow Resource at the time of this writing). It wasn’t a hit for us, but the program appears to have changed and is offered online at this time with the option to have a certified teacher’s support.
Rocket Languages has interactive audio lessons but not a lot of language choices. I took a look at the free trial and while I like the audio, I don’t like how it has you type in answers from the very first lesson. My own personal preference is to focus more on listening, speaking, and reading vs. writing.
Rosetta Stone – Rosetta Stone has been around for a long time. They’ve updated their programs since we used them years ago. My kids enjoyed Rosetta Stone, but never progressed very far in the program(s). They have a free demo you can try. Some libraries also have a subscription. There are quite a few languages to choose from. Despite their popularity, they are not one of my favorite resources. They may be just right for you and yours, though!
YouTube – Do a search for the language your student is interested in. You will likely find multiple YouTube channels that feature free lessons, as well as songs and other helpful language learning videos. I like finding Japanese cartoons made for little kids that teach numbers and characters (Hiragana)! While you probably can’t rely on YouTube for an entire language program, you’ll probably be able to find all sorts of fun, supplementary material! Don’t forget to look for movies and video clips of TV shows and such in the language of your choice! You’ll be surprised at how much you can pick up from these types of resources.
Learning a Language is Beneficial
Learning a foreign language is something that anyone can do with a bit of motivation. You may be surprised at what paths it opens up for your students in the future! I never would have imagined that all of the language exposure I naturally included in our lives and homeschool would be so important to my daughter’s future! I believe her early exposure helped develop her current gift for and interest in languages! I think it was also a great thing for both of my sons, even if they didn’t choose to pursue learning more as adults, because studying a language was good “brain food”! Learning a new language has been shown to help make a brain more efficient, integrated, and increases gray matter. There are lots of scientific studies showing how learning a language is good for any age…it can even potentially delay Alzheimer’s! The scientific reasons for studying a language are beyond the scope of this post, but if you are interested or need extra convincing, you can always google up some articles.
I hope this post help someone out there thinking about foreign language study. Share what languages you (or your students) are learning via the comments! I would also love to know about your favorite programs, apps, and websites, and will update this post when I discover new, great resources!