Sunday, February 12, 2012

Learning a second language

I grew up with a bilingual father who did not see the importance in teaching any of his children his mother tongue. He did not see the value in me knowing a second language and saw French as all but useless in the United States. The only exposure I got was through family gatherings listening to my grandparents. Needless to say I never learned French. Had my father just spoken to me as a child I might today have another language in my pocket. Now if I would to learn it will be quite the struggle.

My next opportunity was high school where I chose to study Spanish as I saw it more relevant in America. Unfortunately, much like most of my peers, it was easy to not succeed. I had a teacher I hated, little to no practical usage, no encouragement, as a lazy and rebellious teen resulting in little to no benefit. Six years of Spanish off and on into college and “Como estas mi amigo! Estudio EspaƱola” is about as far as I go. Due to my two experiences I would like to give my children a better opportunity than I had. Although people argue as to what is the best age to learn a language, I feel as if I would have done better where my lessons private, and at an age where I had less distraction, with a parent near to supervise and encourage my progress. I hope to do that for my children.

Why second languages

Learning a second language has numerous benefits. Languages can open up employment opportunities at home and abroad. If you are looking to business in foreign markets it sure helps to know the language, mainly because you’ll never see the opportunities without it. If you want to travel be it for tourism or to make a permanent move to another country, again knowing the language can make or break the experience. The languages you know may also determine the list of places you may want to or be able to go. There is so much knowledge in the world hidden within each culture as each part of our global village has something to share. Knowing a second language can help you study in different universities across the globe. In the end you really don’t know how far you can take it until you’ve got it.

How to do it?

In order to learn a language you typically need three things. A book, a teacher, and someone to practice with. If you were going to immerse yourself in a foreign country then all you really need is a teacher and a curriculum, the country will practice with you after that. Not all of us have the ability or the money to take a 6 month vacation in Costa Rica to learn Spanish never mind pay for a teacher and living expenses once we arrive. Therefore we need to look for ways in which we can still attain these resources without emptying our pockets. So here are a few ideas.

What resources you have

The internet is great for homeschoolers and independent motivated learners. You can learn just about anything, one of which being a foreign language. There are social networking sites like LiveMocha. Livemocha is a free website which allows you to practice a language through various lessons and levels, focusing on vocabulary, listening, reading and speaking. It is a social website much like Facebook which allows for you to meet up with others who are learning the same language, or speak your language of choice but need help with yours. Options for additional lessons and materials for an additional cost are available, but quite a bit can be done through their website absolutely free of charge. Again it is a social website so supervision is highly advised.

ITunes This application is absolutely amazing. You can download it here and for an idea of how to get set up you can check out our previous review in our post Homeschooling: Taking it to the next level. For a foreign language use you want to go through the same set up and once you have the application running on your computer you want to open up ITunes Store and then go to the section called podcasts. Once you are there, type into the search bar any language you want to study and you’ll have any number of options at your fingertips. The languages available are many, from French, to Spanish, Arabic to Italian, all in free podcasts at different levels to help you get on your feet. Some of them have musical intros so be forewarned.

Textbooks: Finding a textbook can be difficult, but for the major languages of the world one is about as good as another. I don’t have a specific advice for a specific text here because it is relative to whatever language you are going to be studying, but I do know where you can get excellent text books for free, and that is your local college or university. That’s right, at the end of each year, many professors throw their old books out for the taking. I have two Spanish textbooks that are teacher’s editions with the audio CDs barely used, and it cost me nothing.

Teachers / Speaking Partners: This often seems like the most difficult part due to the fact that we automatically assume you have to pay for such a service. Nothing is free of course, but if you’re on a tight budget as most of us are then finding someone for free or for a minimal charge is going to be optimal. Here are three ideas that you can try.

1.  The elderly or recently retired. Their social lives can be pretty idle upon retiring and making the transition from the 9-5 to siting around all day can be tough. Having a cute little visitor a few times a week would brighten up their day. The best part is most likely they won’t want any compensation, but if your able it’s always good to give them what you can. Ask around and you’re sure to find someone who meets your requirements.  If you can find a relative this would obviously be the best choice as it is someone you know and can trust.

2. Doing a tradeoff.  If you’re living in a city chances are you have many people of different cultures. Many of them either need to learn English themselves and likewise their children. If you cannot afford to pay someone or are unable to find someone willing to do it for free then see if you can make some sort of trade off or mutual agreement, where you teach English in exchange for a lesson for your child.

3. College Students First because finding them is simple. You can call the language department of your local college or university, and speak to the specific language faculty you are targeting and ask them to approach their best students. Or you can just post up a few flyers. If they chose the language as their major, they most likely love it, and will be more passionate about teaching it. Also college students typically need money and will not expect too much. Grouping up with other families can also cut down the cost burden. Again this category you might want to take quite a bit of precaution and supervision.

Picking a language

What language should I pick for my child? Well this all depends on your motivation. If it is for religious reasons you might lean towards Arabic. If it’s for business you might look more towards Chinese or German. Some people look at the number of nativespeakers. For me I find it more relevant the geographical distribution of the language speakers. There are a whole lot of Chinese speakers but they are mainly located in one area of the world which I don’t plan on traveling to. French on the other hand is widely spoken on more than four continents. Maybe your spouse is from a Spanish speaking background and you want your children to be able to communicate with their grandparents. At the end of the day you have to evaluate what is most beneficial for your children.

For our situation I hope to start with my oldest son learning French within the next few weeks. I have recently found a teacher for him who happens to be my Aunt. Although she lives very far away from us, she was more than happy with the idea and agreed to teach my son over Skype. I will be looking for a textbook to use for support, and hope that with some of the additional resources listed above, we will be able to make a lot of progress even if it is at a slow but consistent rate. God willing it will also be a lot of fun, and as with most homeschooling adventures, I hope to sneak in on some of the learning as well.