Teaching Foreign Languages

When it comes to teaching foreign languages, parents have the ability to teach their children so much more than vocabularies and grammar. They have the amazing opportunity to instill in their children a respect for foreign countries, a concern for people of every language, and a desire to use language as a way to tear down barriers and even share the gospel. 

Why Teach Foreign Language

Many people don’t give foreign languages much thought before their student is required to take it during the high school years.  Of course it’s great if you can introduce foreign languages before then, but don’t fret if your children are all taller than you are and you’ve just now gotten around to it.

For most people, the most obvious reason to teach foreign languages is because it’s required.  Most states require at least two foreign language credits in the same language for high school graduation.

Aside from that obvious fact, you might want to consider the following:

–          Students seem to have a more global perspective on the world when they study foreign languages (in other words, they aren’t the center of the universe)

–          Fluency (or even a moderate level of proficiency) in a second language can translate to better jobs and more job opportunities

–          The ability to speak with someone in their own language can sometimes mean the difference between a positive relationship and a negative one

–          If you ever move to or visit a foreign country, you’ll be a step ahead in learning the language (even if you learn a different second language while you’re young, it makes learning other languages easier)

–          Foreign travel is more fun when you can communicate with natives of the country.

–          Study of foreign language helps students with English vocabulary.

–          Students who study foreign languages seem to have a greater grasp of other subjects and can even study original sources in the original language.

Many people in the United States see no point in learning a foreign language.  As a matter of fact, many have the attitude that everyone in the world should learn English.  However, practically every other country teaches their children more than one language and most other developed countries require fluency in one, two, or even three foreign languages before they can graduate. 

Not only is our lack of foreign language aptitude embarrassing, but with our foundations as a Christian nation, I also find it sad.  We cannot GO into the world, as Jesus told us to do, and share the gospel if we can’t even communicate with the people of the world, but I can tell you that other religious groups like Muslims ARE learning other languages and they are teaching foreign languages to their children from very young ages so those people sure will be able to share their “gospel” with anyone who is willing to listen.

Choosing a Language

If a student attends public or private school, unless he plans to study foreign languages at home, he is pretty much limited by which languages the school offers.  Many schools offer a great variety of languages, though, so check with yours to see what the options are.  Some offer the traditional languages and even a few eccentric ones!  There are some amazing schools across the United States that actually focus on foreign languages through immersion programs.  Some of these are public government schools and they even teach languages like Chinese, Japanese and Korean! 

If you teach your child at home, you can pretty much any language with the only limitation being the ability to locate materials and your ability to teach the language.  Since you can pretty much choose any language, here are some general guidelines.

Obviously, it makes sense to study Spanish if you live in an area with a large Hispanic population, Arabic if you live near an Arabic population, etc.   If you live in a bilingual neighborhood, take advantage of that fact and allow your child to learn the foreign language through natural conversation from other local children.  I always recommend that parents learn languages along with their children, but in the case of bilingual neighborhoods, it’s even that much more important that you study the language with your child so that you’ll know what he is saying!  Develop the ability to communicate with your neighbor.

If you move frequently or if you know you’ll be moving in the next few years, find out what language is spoken in the place you might move to.  If you will be living near the Canadian border, learn French.  If your company has headquarters in Brazil and there is a possibility that you could travel – or live – there, learn Portuguese.  If you’re trying to adopt a child from Thailand, learn Thai.

Here are some other ideas: 



Language is helpful in following ways…

Latin Sciences, medical, journalism Vocabulary, terminology, body parts, grammar
Chinese Travel, communication, business Spoken by more humans than any other language
German Business, technology, banking, science English is Germanic; great stepping stone to learn other Germanic languages such as Dutch, Swedish
Spanish Medical, fast foods, service industries So you can talk with increasing Spanish-speaking population
French Poetry, research, travel, science Considered world’s second most influential language; good for international communication
Arabic International issues, religion Quickly becoming a dominant language simply because of the spread of Islam


Another idea is to study a less common language simply because it is less common.  If you teach your child a language that very few people in the United States speaks and he becomes fluent in that language, his skills could be in high demand as he grows older.  Of course the difficulty with that plan is that you’ll need to provide opportunities for him to practice the language to learn proper pronunciation and colloquialisms and continue to keep his skills in practice over the years.  If no one in your area speaks the language, this might be difficult.

The above factors are important when considering which language to study, but I believe there is one final factor that outweighs all the others.  As a Christian, I believe God knit each of us in our mothers’ wombs and knew us before we were even born.  He loved us enough to send his son to die on the cross to atone for our sins. When considering which language to study, I believe it’s important to pray about the decision of language study. 

Look at your child’s unique talents and gifts.  Pray for that child.  Pray for guidance.  Rather than casually selecting a language to teach your child based on what you studied in high school or what was on sale at the last curriculum fair, thoughtfully choose a language based on the leading of the Holy Spirit following prayer and consideration.  God knows what that child’s future holds and with proper guidance, you can prepare your child now for something that he/she will use for God’s glory later in life.

Teaching a Foreign Language

Of course there are many ways to teach a foreign language.  You can travel to a foreign country and immerse yourself in the language.  You can purchase books, DVDs, audio materials, computer programs, and more.  You could hire a tutor, enroll in a co-op class, or study at home alone or as a family.  There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to the method of learning a foreign language.  You have to do what works for your family! 

There are some things suggestions that might make a difference in how well your child retains the language.

First, realize that when you teach a foreign language, you have the ability to make language REAL for your child.  It’s not just more schoolwork.  When you introduce foreign languages to your children, you don’t even have to start with the language.  Once you have picked a language, start with the people.  Bring the language alive for your children by showing them pictures of the people who speak the language.  Locate countries on the map or a globe where the language is spoken.  What’s the economy like?  Do the people have fresh water?  What type of government do they have?  Religion?  Education?  Does everyone go to school?  Are they allowed to homeschool?  Make it personal for your child.

Once you have created an interest in the people, then introduce the language with whichever method you choose.  Meanwhile, remember to have fun!  It will be easier if you learn the language as a family.  If your child is learning Chinese, learn it with her!  Practice using vocabulary words together.  Make vocabulary cards and tape them to the objects.  Count as you go up and down the stairs.  Practice giving orders and saying words like “please” and “thank you” in the language.

Recommended Foreign Language Programs

Here are some ideas as far as the different programs available…

Rosetta Stone is terrific for visual/auditory and hands-on learners, but is incredibly expensive.  This is a computer based program so that’s another thing to keep in mind if you don’t have a one.  Another drawback with Rosetta Stone is that it is great for teaching conversational language, but I do not recommend it if you also want to learn grammar because the program itself doesn’t really teach grammar.  This is a downside that I do not think is acceptable for college-bound students.  If you do use Rosetta Stone, which I think is a wonderful program for teaching vocabulary and conversational language, I think the parents should also add in a grammatical component with another book.  There is almost any language imaginable available.

Auralog’s Tell Me More is similar to Rosetta Stone, but adds in a little more grammar training.  I’ve had a little difficulty with the software working properly sometimes, but it’s still a good program and much cheaper than Rosetta Stone.

Personally, my favorite language program is Living Language (published by Random House), which is funny because I started using it in high school for fun.  The Living Language programs are great and they have a terrific combination of spoken language AND grammar.  I don’t think it’s enough to “speak” the language, but it’s also good to understand what you’re doing.  This program is good for auditory learners since it’s on CD.  In the book, you follow along with what the CD is saying so that reinforces what you’re learning.  This is a fabulous program and they actually have a new version specifically for children ages 4-8.  It comes with stickers (in Spanish to identify objects), three books (Spanish for the kitchen, the car, and everywhere else), and audio CDs with songs, etc.  The younger programs come in the most popular languages, but materials for older students come in many different languages.

I also love any of the Berlitz language books, but they also have a lot of audio and software products.  I use the books quite frequently when I need to look up something and I’m not familiar with a language.  They are designed so well that you don’t have to read the entire book just to find a simple answer to a grammatical or vocabulary question.  I recently started the Berlitz program for German and the boys really like this.  It comes with audio CDs and thus far we’ve really enjoyed the whole program. 

For Latin, we’re using Latin’s Not So Tough.  It’s a very good program and it’s easy to use even if you don’t know Latin.  There is a DVD that comes with it and you can use it as video school for each lesson because it actually teaches the grammar, goes over pronunciation of vocabulary, etc.  It is lively and entertaining. 

Greek-N-Stuff produces a wonderful curriculum for learning Greek called Hey, Andrew!  Teach Me Some Greek!  You can buy vocabulary cards, audio CDs, and other materials to supplement the books.

Bob Jones also has the mainstream languages – Spanish, French, etc. – and they come in a whole set with CDs, books, workbooks, etc.  These are nicely done and would work for any homeschool family wanting to give their child a good base in any of the traditional foreign languages before they go to college.  These are DEFINITELY meant for high school age kids (possibly junior high) and the work is intense, but like any Bob Jones material, it is very good. 

If you child feels led to study something exotic, then try to make that possible.  Living Language covers dozens of languages, as does Rosetta Stone and Berlitz.  You should have no difficulty finding the language your child wants to study.  If you need help, let me know and I’ll help you find a good program. 

The Learnables, published by the International Linguistics Corporation, is a simple, economical foreign language curriculum.  The principle behind The Learnables is that if you hear the foreign vocabulary word and associate it with pictures, you will learn the language.  Linguistically, children think in “pictures” until about puberty, at which time they switch over to translation mode.  The Learnables forces students who have already passed the age of puberty to think pictorially again and it is much easier to learn foreign vocabulary when you are not also trying to translate.  One drawback of the program is that you have to be looking at the book to learn, but even very young children can use this program independently to learn vocabulary and sentences.  There is an extensive evaluation of The Learnables here

If you want to introduce very young children to Latin, I would use Song School Latin.  It’s terrific and it is especially designed to appeal to early elementary age children.  You can read a full review here

For the family that prefers a bit more structure and less activity, you might prefer Latina Christiana by Cheryl Lowe.  This is a good elementary age Latin program and it goes more in depth than the Song School Latin, but it is not as “activity” oriented.  So it’s just a matter of what teaching style you prefer and the learning style of your children. 

I love languages and I’ve used many programs over the years so I hope this information is helpful to you.  I still enjoy using these and introducing languages to my children.  If you have any questions about a particular curriculum or a particular language’s difficulty, etc., I would be happy to help you.  Just e-mail!

Sonya Haskins



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