Back in my own high school days (we won’t mention just how long ago that might have been), one of my favorite daily high school classes was French with Ms. Springman. There was something absolutely magical about listening to her speak French so eloquently — even when I didn’t understand a word of what she was saying, I could still imagine I was in Paris, sitting at a café listening to conversations of people at a nearby table. It was a dream of mine to visit there, and I was blessed after three years of French language studies to finally have my dream come true. I was especially thrilled to be able to actually read, write, listen to, and speak the language when I arrived!
What I didn’t know then was how many other benefits I received during those three years in her classroom. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has some pretty fascinating statistics and research documented on their website about the benefits of second language learning for school-age students. They have dozens of research articles for your reading pleasure, but here is a short summary of a few of the key academic benefits:
- increased standardized test scores
- better performance on college entrance exams
- improved reading abilities
- the transfer of skills from one language to another
- even increased ability to solve science problems!
Having said that, many homeschoolers want to see curriculum choices do more than just improve academic achievement. One of the most important elements to consider with any curriculum choice is how it will impact the values and character of the child. In our homeschool, we always seek to encourage our children to pursue personal attributes that help them build relationships with others and have a positive impact on the world around them.
Studying a foreign language is a great way to accomplish those goals because:
- Acquiring language and cultural understandings help them to find common ground with others.
- Their ability to communicate with a larger number of people grows with each lesson learned.
- They are more likely to want to travel to places where the language is spoken.
- In a country such as the United States, they are likely to encounter non-English speaking people just about everywhere; knowing a second language increases opportunities to communicate about important topics or just to make new friends!
These benefits are just the tip of a very big benefit “iceberg.” Check out Auburn University’s list of Twenty-five Reasons to Study Foreign Languages if you want to view even more!
How your child learns a language is critically important for reaping the long-term rewards.
The most popular language learning program is reportedly Rosetta Stone software, but reviews of this product’s success vary greatly. For homeschoolers, it can be a convenient tool, especially if a homeschooling parent doesn’t have the foreign language background to use a textbook program effectively. It certainly is better to use software rather than to ignore foreign languages altogether. And new software and applications options for language learning are being developed to improve on the personalization of these tools.
Still, without repeated and regular opportunities for students to engage in spontaneous, unscripted oral and written exchanges, software alone can do little to promote fluency in the speaking and writing areas. As a user of two different software-based language instruction programs in our homeschool, I saw first-hand their strengths and weaknesses. In a 2013 article in The Guardian, Huw Jarvis of the University of Salford put it this way:
“The primary purpose of language is communication — grammar is important, but there’s a bigger picture. Language is no longer seen as being learnt through mechanical exercises, it’s developed through students interacting and engaging” (What’s the best way to teach languages?).
Remember how I told you learning French with my high school teacher made me confident? After three years of study, I was prepared to take on the challenge of integrating into a foreign country. That is how prepared I want my kids to feel when posed with opportunities to travel abroad or when they encounter Spanish-speaking people at our local soccer club or store.
The modern live, virtual classroom provides an amazing opportunity for real-time, real-world learning brought right into your home. So I am excited to share Bridgeway’s Live Learning Labs for Spanish I & II! Immerse your students in the Spanish language, culture, and heritage, so they can build interactive experiences that build many academic and personal rewards for learning a second language.