I’m continuing my little series on unschooling foreign language, and I promise this all relates back to it. Let’s talk about motivation to learn a new language while unschooling.
Unschooling is not easy to get right.
Almost everyone born in the US either attended a school institution or was taught by someone who went to a school institution. Our minds are boxed in through institutionalized schooling, and we don’t even know it.
Our school institutions keep repeating the same mistakes year after year, or they make even worse changes.
I’ve witnessed the decline my entire life.
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The saddest thing is, it wasn’t even good 30 years ago.
Especially in foreign language, where less than 1% of Americans become proficient in the foreign language they studied in a US public school. Yeah, you read that right – it’s less than 1%.
Repeating those methods is madness. Yet that’s what we, collectively, are doing.
We as a nation are so boxed in that we can’t see any other way besides the way we are currently doing things.
But there are other ways.
It starts with shifting towards teaching basic competency in reading, writing, and math.
Those subjects really aren’t very hard to teach when you have motivated students who are interested, and allowed to read good literature, write their own thoughts or copy others’ intelligent thoughts, and have enough life experiences to understand what math means in the real world.
It continues with allowing students to pursue things they’re interested in.
Here’s the tough part for us today – our children are accustomed to sitting passively while they’re bombarded with stimuli.
If you want to unschool, you’ve got to teach them how to become interested in things. You’ve got to help them develop internal motivation.
Let’s concentrate on one area at a time, and we’ll start with getting your kids motivated to learn a new language.
7 Ways to Get Your Kids Excited to Learn a New Language
1. Increase your own internal motivation to learn a new language.
I’ve always had a knack for getting kids to be more internally motivated. It was like that even when I taught public school and had to use a lot of public school methods.
I feel like I’m naturally internally motivated, but maybe my parents helped me develop it. Either way, I share my internal motivation with the kids.
They pick up on it.
2. Allow children to set their own goals.
People who set their own goals always work harder to reach them than those who don’t.
Allow children to set their own goals for learning a new language.
I cover this in my book, The Homeschool Path to Foreign Language on an adult level as far as the factors to consider, but kids often will have a certain language that they gravitate towards.
If they pick a very difficult language, help them understand that, for instance, it takes twice as many hours of study to become proficient in that one vs. choosing an easier language for English-speakers to learn.
3. Get rid of external rewards
Don’t give external rewards when a child reaches a goal they set for themselves. You can ruin internal motivation fast if you give external rewards for reaching a goal that children set for themselves, so DON’T DO IT.
The reward for reaching an intrinsic goal is the satisfaction of having reached that goal, and that goes for working to learn a new language, too.
If you give external rewards the child will set lower goals in order to get the candy, toy, or whatever.
Caveat: I have bribed my kids with a penny per word if they will speak to native-speakers in their language.
Sometimes you’ve got to get them over a small bump, and a few pennies will do the trick. I understand that this inhibits intrinsic motivation, but I also know how hard it can be to get over shyness in speaking a foreign language.
4. Reclassify external rewards as a treat that’s a perk of learning the foreign language.
A trip to a local bakery with French speakers is technically an external reward, and you could use it as a nice treat to celebrate that you’re studying French. Classify it as a perquisite of studying French.
No French, no French bakery trips.
It’s just part of life.
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5. Allow failure.
Be positive with your child even when they don’t meet their goals.
When your kids learn a new language, make sure they get comfortable with making mistakes.
Failure is a big part of life. Getting back on your feet and trying again is a big part of success.
When a child knows it’s OK to fail, they’ll set higher goals and try harder. (Remember, you’ll sabotage this process quickly if you give external rewards.)
6. Create a bilingual environment in your home.
It’s really simple once you understand the difference between monolingual and bilingual households. You won’t wake up tomorrow with a perfect bilingual environment, but if you make small changes then you will build it bit by bit and it will feel effortless and enjoyable to live in it.
FlashSticks® flash cards set is my current favorite for getting print and vocabulary all around my home. There’s an app that scans and reads the flash cards for us, so our accents won’t be quite so bad.
We use the 600 word set in French. It’s very well organized by subject. My kids have a LOT of fun sticking them around the house, and our big set came with folders to save the flash cards in after they’re learned.
My kids decided, all on their own, to learn six words per day so that they could do all 600 words in 100 days.
I know we’re not going to quite keep up that pace, but we’re going to come close.
7. Show (don’t tell) your child all the benefits of knowing a foreign language.
I’m not talking about abstract benefits like better brains, lessening the risk of dementia, or even making more money someday as an adult.
I’m talking about the fun stuff!
Help them find friends or relatives they can talk to in “their” language. This is a very big motivator, but unfortunately something that is hard for Americans to find. However, once you start looking you might find that you have more resources than you thought!
You might even have retired folks in your neighborhood who would be happy to have a visit from some friends who want to speak their native language.
Also, I only allow educational screen time during our 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. “school hours” each day. But, I allow non-educational screen time if it’s in a foreign language.
Go for the fun stuff that native speaker kids would enjoy watching. That stuff that’s designed to teach a foreign language has its place, but it’s not usually motivating. There are so many YouTube channels, fun websites, TV shows, and movies out there in other languages besides English. As your kids enjoy those, they’ll be more motivated to understand them.
Which of these seven ideas do you think would work the best for your children?
Lisa Yankey is a regular contributing writer for HomeschoolSuperFreak.com and the author of “The Homeschool Path to Foreign Language.” You can find her at www.highenergyhomeschool.com, on Facebook, on Pinterest, and on YouTube.