Even though homeschooling is growing in popularity each year, most Americans were taught in public school, by people who were taught in public school, by other people who were taught in public school. We, as a society, never experienced what education was like before public school. This means that our viewpoint of education, as a society, is framed by the way things are done in public school.
If you are homeschooling, you’ve already come to question what Americans think of as education. I started to question “education” when I was in high school. By the time I’d spent seven years teaching public school, I realized how strange the system is when you compare it to how education was for all of history before we had our modern institution of public school.
One of the things I question is how we (many homeschoolers included) think of subjects as these tidy little compartmentalized packages. When I taught public school, and even more as a homeschool mom, I see how the subjects interrelate.
So, why do we put foreign language in a box by itself?
Learning a foreign language strengthens so many other skills that I don’t think it’s a matter of finding time to teach foreign language. You don’t have time to not teach foreign language.
Let foreign language out of the box!
Foreign language plays nicely with other subjects. It can be a natural, integrated part of the rest of education.
Language, of all things, isn’t something that’s isolated from other subjects. We use language to learn about everything. Foreign language overlaps with so many other areas, especially when it comes to things we cover in elementary school — the alphabet, seasons, colors, shapes, numbers, months, directions, positions, days of the week, time, families, addresses, and neighborhood people and places are joyous to cover in both English and a foreign language. All of these items can be learned in song format, from DVDs, CDs, and free internet videos. They can be learned in English and another language at the same time.
When my oldest child started learning Chinese at age 6, I never imagined that in some ways it would make my life easier. But it did! I remember when he was finishing second grade and I thought I should teach him how to use a dictionary. Imagine my surprise when I sat down with him and he could already use a dictionary like an old pro. He learned in his two hour a week Chinese class that all of my kids take now.
He learned how to do in a foreign language before I had the chance to teach him in English.
How to tell time to the minute.
Calligraphy. (We love using this reusable “magic” cloth set that uses only water, but looks like ink: Reusable Chinese Calligraphy Brush Water Writing Magic Cloth )
Eastern Hemisphere geography.
Chess and other games.
Metric system measurements in baking.
Philosophical concepts about how language could affect our thought processes.
(Some of those were things that I taught him, but we did them in Chinese or French first because that’s how the subject came up.)
There are even more ways that foreign language saves me time in other homeschool areas.
The practical benefits of foreign language lessons continue beyond initial introductions. Learning a foreign language strengthens and overlaps with other areas, which means that I spend an equal or less time teaching these:
Non-American and Non-western culture.
Singing and music.
Bible (the Chinese school my children attend has a one-hour Bible class once a month).
Linguistics and linguistic history.
Making and recording videos.
Cooking. (How cute is this French language video about cooking apple crumble?)
Crafts. (Try these Passport stampers and passports and plan some virtual travel: Passport Stampers and 12 sticker books)
Going to a co-op.
Learning a foreign language replaces some time that would otherwise be wasted.
I cannot seem to rid my house of “twaddle,” but I’ve managed to make it educational. If my children want to watch a Disney movie or a cartoon, they usually watch in Chinese or French rather than English. My girls love their Sofia the First episodes so much that they don’t want to give them up. They’ve watched the episodes so many times that it doesn’t matter if they don’t understand all the words, so they’re happy to watch in French. We’ve seen Frozen 4,000,000 times now, and it’s pretty cool to watch it in Chinese.
Attending a formal foreign language class also provides these opportunities that I would otherwise struggle to provide in homeschool:
Taking tests from an adult who is not Mom.
Losing with grace.
Playing with other kids (at recess at Chinese school).
Paying attention in a classroom setting.
Compassion for other cultures and peoples.
Attending a “school” show.
I could go into detail about all of these areas where foreign language has actually made our school lives easier. It doesn’t always feel easy! There surely are times when we have a midterm to study for, or when I want to be done with school but we have fifteen minutes of French scheduled, and I think to myself, “I want to skip it, this is adding extra time!” But, when I step back and look at the whole picture, I feel that our whole school lives are made so joyous because of education, and there are so many areas where foreign language saves me time.
Foreign language has been so worthwhile for us that I want to share it with everyone!
Lisa Yankey is a regular contributing writer for HomeschoolSuperFreak.com and the author of the upcoming book, “The Homeschool Path to Foreign Language.” You can find her at www.highenergyhomeschool.com, on Facebook, on Pinterest, and on YouTube.
Learning Foreign Languages for Homeschool
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