Foreign languages are one of my very biggest passions ever. Even when I was a small child, I was fascinated with languages. I would try to learn new words and phrases in various languages, and try to understand the structure of the language, in comparison to my mother tongue, English. I loved meeting people from other countries and reading stories and looking at maps of other countries. I’m only a tad bit nerdy, haha.
When I was twenty, I traveled overseas for the first time, to the nation of Honduras. It was on that trip that I decided that I was finally going to buckle down and learn a foreign language, and that it was going to be Spanish. I knew that I would be eventually returning to Honduras, and when I returned, I wanted to be a translator for my mission team.
I can now say that, over a few years, I successfully became fluent in Spanish, without taking one single class. My approach was multifaceted. It has been an indescribable blessing to be bilingual, especially since I later on ended up marrying a native Spanish speaker! Our kids are now learning two languages simultaneously; our oldest daughter, who is three, is completely bilingual. We love it so much! In fact, we have now started learning our third language together as a family: Mandarin Chinese! We’ll see how that goes over time. We have made a plan of how we are going to learn, based a lot on our lifestyle, and on how my husband learned English and how I learned Spanish. Our approach can be summed up in one word, and that is ORGANIC.
If learning a language as a family is something that you desire, these are some tips that you can for sure implement, and not one of them includes going to a class!
1. Buy a basic language textbook and a bilingual dictionary for the family to share. The textbook will help you with the nitty-gritty, like grammar.
2. Start by learning ten words a day. You can do this at the dinner table, in the car, or anytime your family is all together. Memorize the words in categories. For example, on Monday you could memorize ten words for members of a family:
On Tuesday, you could learn ten colors. On Wednesday, you can learn ten household objects. On Thursday, you could learn ten foods. On Friday, you could learn the months of the year. On Saturday, you could learn the days of the week. Other categories include: places, occupations, articles of clothing, actions, numbers, etc. Practice by repeating the words over and over together. Our brains can memorize it very quickly if you try to say the words out loud to a four-count rhythm, and then picture what you are saying in your mind. You can also take turns quizzing each other. I used Spanish as an example, but this same technique applies to any language. You can also label household items, and make flash cards to quiz each other on each set of new words that you learn. If you do this simple habit together every day, after one year, you will have learned over 3,600 new words in your target language! How amazing!
3. Buy music and movies in your language. Listen to the music in the car frequently. Watch the movies together as a family, with the subtitles on in that language. In this way, you all will SEE and HEAR the language at the same time! One family-friendly option is to watch Disney Pixar movies, switched to a language that they have available, with the corresponding available subtitles. Let me warn you— This is NOT easy. Your kids (or you) may or may not have the patience to watch a full-length movie while not understanding the words. It helps if it’s a movie you’ve already seen in English. I personally LOVE doing this, for many reasons. Most movies are purely dialogue, and so when you watch a movie in a foreign language, you are soaking up the language in its conversational form, which is what most people want. You may also be able to detect grammar patterns in the language, and that may help you to “figure out” the rules of the language, without even having to study! Keep a notebook and pen with you and write down as many unfamiliar words/phrases as you can. Then, in your spare time, look up the new words. You will have PAGES. This is a fantastic option for homeschool families who want to learn a foreign language. Believe me, this works!
4. Download a free app to help you learn more of the language. There are so many out there!
5. Go out and befriend native speakers. This is THE most important step, and it is the most important thing that I did that helped me to learn Spanish quickly. It will also motivate you to keep learning, because it will become relevant in your real life. You will want to be able to communicate with your new friend more and more in his/her native language. You will also connect language to culture. This person can help you with pronunciation, questions that you have, etc. What is really amazing is if this person doesn’t speak English. Yes, you read that right. That’s what I did. I started going to a Hispanic church where no one spoke English, even when I knew very little Spanish. I was forced to use what little Spanish I knew to try to talk to people, and they had to try to explain it to me over and over again in Spanish. It was messy. The key is to just talk, knowing that you are going to make mistakes. If you are not willing to do this, you will never learn. You have to be willing to make mistakes in order to practice. You will make A LOT of them. And ironically, this will endear you to your new friends—they will appreciate that you care enough about them to try to learn their heart language, and you will also be able to understand how it feels for them to struggle to learn English. If you can laugh with them at your mistakes, you will have made lifelong friends. I’m not kidding. Just don’t be surprise if your heart, your life, and your whole understanding of the world changes as you go this route to learn a foreign language. Also, your kids will be learn empathy and be so much more well-rounded. You will be modeling for them how to love their neighbor. Plus, if they become fully bilingual, that will put them way ahead of everyone else who is not bilingual when they go to apply for college or get a job. #homeschoolgoals
I hope these ideas have helped you. One of my goals in the near future is to start offering resources on Start Homemaking for families who desire to learn a language together. Is that something you would be interested in? Comment below and let me know your thoughts!