Understanding Second Language Strategies for Homeschool Families
Understanding Second Language Strategies for Homeschool Families
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! There are essentially 5 components that will drive language acquisition for everyone and, while the public schools might touch on these things, they often leave much to be desired. They are, in short:
Whether it's a public or private school, homeschool, or self taught, managing these 5 elements is vital for successful language acquisition. While there are plenty of ways to make these things happen, sometimes something so vast can be difficult to nail down. Homeschool families and solo language studiers have a difficult enough task without trying to sort through all of the information the internet has to offer and public schools rarely take advantage of things that don't drive standardized tests.
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Unfortunately for the student that usually leads to students attempting to focus on test results rather than language acquisition. It also means that public and private schools tend to gear the student's education towards scoring higher on standardized tests rather than learning the language.
What are the strategies for second language?
There are multiple methods for approaching second language strategies, but one of the most important is necessitating repetition. Anyone working on developing a homeschool curriculum knows that they don't know everything. So it is important to lean on other homeschoolers and homeschool families to understand what has worked for them and what hasn't. Everyone has a unique learning style and attempting to standardize everything causes many to fail. It also creates a learning environment that is not conducive to long term success.
Facilitating necessity is probably the biggest driving factor. Immersion is by far the best way to learn a second language, but it is not available to everyone and certainly not of every age. That is why I urge homeschool families to focus on a localized immersion. That looks different to everyone based on the target languages, but there is a basic structure. The exciting thing is that it will simultaneously affect both homeschool students and homeschool parents. At times it will feel intense, but that just means it is working.
I've talked about the idea of facilitating immersion here:
But I'd like to give a better break down here. In short, the goal is to create an environment in which nothing but the target language is experienced for at least 1 hour every day. Ideally 2 hours if you can swing it. The most important aspect of doing this, whether it is a public or private school or any number of homeschool programs, is ensuring that there is no way to default to any language that is not the target language.
There will be times when this gets painful. Looking up every single word in a sentence after having understood the prior sentence completely. The problem with most academic instruction is that when this happens the students have the option to revert to their native language. When implementing this strategy into a homeschool curriculum it is vital to ensure that there is a system capable of ensuring against reverting back to the native language or really any language that isn't the target language.
Homeschooled children have an advantage in that the stimulus input can be targeted directly to their interests rather than something public schools deem acceptable. If you are interested in looking at what resources we have already aggregated be sure to check out Odin's Library where we will constantly be adding new resources in new languages.
When working on reading it is often tempting to only stick to things that can be understood 100%, but this is to the detriment of the student's education. One thing people seem to forget is that there are very few books that can be read without learning new words. Even as an adult, so if someone is learning new words as an adult every time they read, there is no reason to think that it's necessary to understand everything being read in a foreign language. It will come, but it is vital to continue reading irrespective of whether or not you or your children understand every word.
While it will be painstaking, reading difficult literature is a phenomenal way to improve. That said, even comics often have plenty of words and phrases that are worth knowing. They also provide a window into the culture of the countries where the target language is spoken. The greatest advantage, though, is that there are infinite resources out there for just about any subject at virtually every level available for free online.
As simple as it sounds, sometimes the best time to make this happen is by just reading about things you are interested in written in your target language. If you need help finding some materials, please do not hesitate to reach out! Resources are vital for homeschooled children and homeschooling parents, but even if you're not homeschooling, I am always happy to help hunt down some extra resources for you to use.
Something that can be done without any resources, on the other hand, is writing. I talk about writing all the time with the people I work with and it's for a simple reason, to enhance recall ability.
At the end of the day, the ability to speak comes from the ability to recall words swiftly and accurately. Without speaking, there are very few ways to train this, however, writing is a perfect way to practice. The way memory works, the more senses that go into something the better it is encoded and the easier it is to recall later.
So, if you hear a word, you might remember it. If you hear and see a word, you're slightly more likely to remember it. If you hear, see, and write a word, you're even more likely to remember it. Then if you hear, see, write, and say the word, you give yourself the best chance at being able to recall it later.
Writing even 5 sentences per day is good enough to get things moving in the right direction, but the more you write the better you will read. There is something else, though, that can help with both of these things.
When it comes to listening, there are ways to make auditory stimulus sessions more effective, but oftentimes just having ample passive listening will be good enough. What you'll notice is that as long as you are reading and constantly learning new words, even passive listening will yield results as you will understand more and more each time. Audiobooks are excellent for this and most public domain books are available for free on YouTube and other platforms.
When attempting to create an environment of localized immersion, ensuring that there are ample resources for you to go along at your own pace. Generally, I recommend attempting to replace one thing per week that you do in your native language with something you do in your target language.
For example, if you usually listen to sports highlights in your native language, start listening to them in your target language.
If you usually listen to the news in your native language, listen to the news in your native language, start listening to music in your target language.
This change is simple, but small, consistent, changes move entire mountains. The same goes for everything, not just listening and auditory stimuli. Slowly replacing your native language with your target language is the goal of localized immersion. That is the best way to integrate language learning into your homeschool journey.
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As far as stimulus goes, speaking is the most difficult for the most people. However, if there is no option then it becomes slightly easier to facilitate. When fully immersed, there is no way out. That is what the goal is for this idea of localized immersion.
During the hour or two hours or however long per day that you are doing language work, there should be absolutely zero interaction with your native language. This goes double for anyone you are teaching as it is vital to the child's education. Public schools fail at this and it is one of the reason so few people have been able to pick up a second language in public or private schools.
If the stressor is that words and pronunciation don't make complete sense, I encourage you to work with audiobooks and just repeat after the orator. Mimicking voices is a phenomenal way to hone an accent and work towards being mistaken for a native speaker.
Translation is a hugely underrated tool in learning a second language. The more you translate things, the better you understand how your target language relates to and interacts with your native language. If you can understand the patterns then learning will be smooth and quick. That said, it is a significantly tolling endeavor. There is a reason that many people make a good living as translators or interpreters.
Focusing on translating even a single page per day will make the next study session even more effective. I did this and I understand how painstaking it can be and how tedious it can feel. That's what it's like drilling down the basics. But without the basics as a sound foundation it is impossible to build anything worthwhile. I still use a physical dictionary when I am doing translations simply because looking up the words makes it more likely that I will remember the words.
The Importance of Resources for Homeschooling Parents
One of the things even public schools struggle with are ample materials. However, it is not necessary to have every possible material available all the time. Even if you don't keep a library or want to access the one I linked above, you only really need to keep track of the materials in which your child or children are interested. The average public school student is limited by what the teachers and district can provide and what is and is not approved by the school district that given school year. Homeschool students, on the other hand, can focus on the things they find interesting and use those study materials to learn a second language. One of the things I am always suggesting to people is replacing one thing they do every day in their native language with something in their target language.
One thing that homeschooling families tend to struggle with is trying to adhere to the traditional school. Once the realization that anything can be done in any language is made, things can be a lot more fun. I wrote about it more in this article:
It is no secret that in order to learn a language it takes reading, writing, speaking, and listening. As with all things, though, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to approach each of these subjects. This can be overwhelming and induce a paralysis in people who spend so much time analyzing they never quite get to start working. I would be lying if I said I hadn't also fallen victim to this trap from time to time. What matters is that you do your best to get away from thinking and focus on doing. I hope the above strategies will provide you with a way out of your own mind so that you can accelerate and enhance your language learning journey.
Becoming bilingual is difficult, but you can do difficult things and be great. So go do difficult things and become great. Here I’ve given you some of the tools, but in the end, there is no comprehensive guide, no tips or tricks to carry anyone across the finish line. Language acquisition requires time, effort, and consistency. That said, it is something that anyone of any age is more than capable of accomplishing. I’ll be here rooting for you and watching your progress.