Unless you are fluent in a foreign language, you have to rely on some form of foreign language program to teach your kids another language. We’ve tried several methods with different levels of success and I’ll give you my assessments.
Grammar based foreign language programs
This is the type of program we use for Latin. It has the student learn vocabulary and begins almost immediately with grammar: verb conjugations, noun declensions, tenses, and so on. This works well for “dead languages” like Latin that are not meant to be spoken, but only read. It doesn’t work well at all for modern languages that you want to actually become a fluent speaker in. Remember high school foreign language? It was taught this way. Do you know anyone who actually learned to speak German or Spanish or French in those classes? Neither do I.
This is the Latin book I use with my kids starting in 3rd to 5th grade, depending on how well they are doing with reading and writing in English.
(This is an affiliate link, so you can click on it to buy the book from Amazon and Amazon pays us a small referral commission.)
“Learn to speak in ten minutes a day” type CD programs
These are great for adults on their commutes and do teach actual language speaking, at least enough to get by on a visit to a foreign land, but are very boring. They are not suitable for children learning a foreign language and there is no way to learn written language skills at all, since the courses are completely verbal. They may be helpful as a supplement, especially if you are learning as a family and can listen in the car together.
Rosetta Stone and other computer-based learning programs
These are excellent programs, with the major disadvantage of being very, very expensive. But, you will learn to speak and read in the language with comparative ease. Grammar skills are not taught explicitly, but the written word is utilized, including complete sentences, and so many grammar skills are picked up naturally. You will likely learn enough to read and write at a basic level in the foreign language. We used this program for awhile, but my kids ages 10 and 9 at the time, were bored by it. It’s probably more suitable for teens and adults.
Update: Since writing this post many years ago a new language learning tool has come out called Duolingo. It is structured exactly like Rosetta Stone, but it’s free. I highly recommend it. Children do have to be able to read and write in English to use the program.
Power Glide Courses
These courses teach using student books and audio CD’s. It’s expensive too, but not as expensive as Rosetta Stone and you can find used materials online. The signature feature of these courses is that they use stories where the foreign language vocabulary is interwoven with English so that the student picks up words without having to have the meaning explained. This course is designed to teach the student to actually learn to speak fluently. Grammar is not taught at all, at least in the first year materials. This gives the student a chance to learn to speak the language, and then later when grammar is taught, it will make sense. We really liked using these language learning materials. The kids are interested, learning, and the cost is do-able.
But still, with the high quality and unbeatable price of Duolingo, I’ll send you there every day.
Here’s how I recommend you do foreign language instruction
- Wait until your child can read and write with relative ease. That should happen somewhere between third and fifth grade. Then have him or her start to use Duolingo or another program. Take it slow, doing just fifteen or twenty minutes a day.
- Once they hit seventh grade pick up the pace a bit and find a native speaker to practice with or a group of people who are all learning the same foreign language.
- In eighth grade find some simple books written in the foreign language to attempt to read. There are several that are dual language books. They have the English written on one side and the target language on the facing page.
- In ninth grade you can switch to a new language if you like or keep practicing with Duolingo and a group of language learning buddies.
Intersperse your studies with some fun games, language learning apps, and cool flashcards and you’ll have a fun, involved way to learn a language. You can check out the Layers of Learning Foreign Language Pinterest Board for lots of fun ideas for learning a foreign language.