Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your kids could learn a second language as they’re growing up? There are some great benefits—especially in today’s increasingly globalized society. When my wife and I began homeschooling our three boys, I had high hopes of teaching them Spanish. After all, I had majored in it and had a graduate degree in language teaching. But in spite of those advantages, it didn’t happen. My plans fizzled out before we even got started—mainly because I didn’t make learning Spanish a priority for the boys but also because I had some misconceptions that got in the way.
If you want to give your kids a good foundation for learning another language, don’t allow the following four misconceptions to keep you from making Spanish part of your homeschooling or to derail your efforts in the early stages.
“If they hear lots of Spanish, they’ll just naturally pick it up.”
It’s true that the best way to bring up fully bilingual children is to immerse them in both languages from the very beginning. Ideally both parents speak the two languages, and the children have plenty of opportunities to interact with a variety of native speakers. But few families have those ideal circumstances.
Work with the resources you have, but remember that unplanned, unstructured exposure to the language probably won’t have much impact. What will help learners of any age is input they can understand about activities or topics they are interested in. (And by all means, if you do know Spanish, speak it to your children often!)
“I should have started sooner.”
Younger kids do very well at picking up pronunciation, but school-age children (and even teenagers) have definite advantages when it comes to other aspects of language learning. For example, they understand better how language works, and they’re more skilled at deducing patterns. So no matter what age your child is, the best time to start teaching him Spanish is now. Thinking that some magic moment of opportunity has already passed may be just an excuse on your part.
“It’s too hard to teach a foreign language.”
While it is more difficult to teach than some skills because language involves a complex set of abilities, making Spanish a part of your homeschool curriculum is likely more doable than you think. It’s essential to have reasonable expectations and to use the most productive approach. Your goal should not be for your child to master a certain number of vocabulary items or verb tenses.
A better initial goal might be to create lots of positive “Spanish-friendly” experiences that can set the stage for later learning. Instead of mind-numbing drills and endless lists to memorize, think in terms of playing with language—having so much fun with Spanish that your child will pick it up almost without realizing it. Of course, on your part it will take discipline and a good bit of work (thinking, planning, arranging, etc.) to make it happen.
“I can’t teach a language I don’t know.”
This is a big hurdle but not an insurmountable one. Obviously it will be easier and you can do more if you do speak Spanish, but here are some balancing points to keep in mind:
- You can commit to learning along with your children. Homeschooling parents often have to do this in other subjects they have no expertise in, whether it’s geometry or economics. It’s not easy, and we all have limitations, but for the sake of our children’s education, we tackle these subjects. (Warning: If you take this on, set a realistic goal and be sure you’re willing to stick with it. If you give up before reaching the goal, your student will have little motivation to keep trying.)
- See yourself not as the teacher (as the expert who provides content) but as a facilitator (one who provides access to content). In language acquisition, the learner’s success largely depends on receiving comprehensible input (i.e., hearing and reading authentic, understandable communication in the target language). This is something you can do without knowing the language.
- Similarly, an essential part of your facilitator role is to guide the learning by means of an organized, systematic approach. Usually that means using a curriculum that is designed to present things in a logical sequence. It should provide a framework without being rigid and limiting. In a future post, we’ll take a look at one such curriculum.
Perhaps you’ve had more success in teaching your children another language than I did with mine. What has worked for you?