Closer Look: Foreign Language

The existing phrasebooks are inadequate. They are well enough as far as they go, but when you fall down and skin your leg they don’t tell you what to say. ~Mark Twain

I studied Spanish when I was in elementary school and French while attending high school. I remember being truly amazed by my classmates who were fluent in both, but I do remember much more Spanish than French. I think that may be because we had a lot more fun learning the language in elementary school compared to the required memorizing phrases and grammar involved in high school French?

There certainly are many different methods one can use to learn a foreign language. Several good friends have learned a great deal about other cultures and their languages via exchange student and language immersion programs. This summer my son’s fiancé traveled to Costa Rica to enjoy their biodiversity and to immerse herself in the language. When my son visited her in Central America this summer, he was thankful for her Spanish proficiency as they toured the country via local taxis.

Another fun way to explore foreign languages is with some of the online language translators. AltaVista’s BabelFish lets you translate a block of text or an entire web page and I love translating Home Education Magazine’s website from English to the many different translations they offer. Since I am not proficient in the translated languages, I don’t know how accurate the program is, but it is interesting.

No matter how you go about learning a foreign language, doing so certainly provides the opportunity to explore other cultures. I hope you enjoy the foreign language articles and resources below.


Homeschooling From Abroad – Leslie Clary

We had always planned to send our homeschooled son, Zak, to public high school, mainly because it’s what he wanted. However, the year he turned 13, I took a job teaching English in a technical college in Haikou, Hainan. Hainan is China’s small island province in the South China Sea. Estimates put native English speakers living in Hainan at just over a hundred. Clearly, public school was out of the question. However, we knew the education he would receive abroad would surpass anything he could learn in school.

Don’t Quake Conjugate! Teaching a Foreign Language – Danielle L. Schultz

Besides finding books, we enjoy exploring websites, ordering tourist brochures and looking at a map with the names printed in the target language. (Many kids are surprised that the Japanese call Japan something different and Germans don’t say Munich.) We eat at restaurants that serve the cuisine, cook recipes, get menus in the target language and “order” from them (many restaurants now post menus on the web). I’d have hung posters if we had any wall space left. I keep an eye on our local paper for international news and try to talk about the governments of countries where our language is spoken–this has led to some interesting discussions about colonialism, for example. I’ve searched for biographies (in English) of important historical figures. For us, much of the value in learning a foreign language is the window it opens to other ways of thinking, believing and organizing life. This kind of cultural study is a bit easier for modern languages, but we’ve also been able to dig up plenty to enhance our study of Latin.

Putting Together An Eclectic Curriculum (From the Older Kids column, by Cafi Cohen, originally published in the September-October 1996 issue of Home Education Magazine.)

Benefits were tremendous. Both kids — anticipating the process — came up with creative additions to their educational menus. Tamara suggested corresponding with two Russian pen pals as part of her foreign language and social studies training. Jeff wrote articles for the CAP newsletter, and we called it Language Arts.

Wonderful Writing: From Runes to Romulan – Rebecca Rupp

Find Out About Series
So far there are four books in this attractive series, originally published in England and now newly available in the United States from Barron’s Educational Series ( Each 64-page book is intended to introduce kids to a different foreign country, and contains a fold-out map, information on the country’s geography, history, daily life, famous people, and noted landmarks, and a detailed introduction to words and phrases in the language. It’s the design, however, that really makes these books stand out: each has a concealed spiral binding (such that the book lies conveniently flat when you open it up); is divided into tabbed sections (for ease of reference); and is heavily illustrated with clever little cartoon-style pictures. Notes in colored stripes at the bottom of the pages add interesting facts, follow-up questions, and Web sites to visit for more information.

An Early Dip into College Life – Joanne Yeck

Each summer Earlham’s “Explore a College” offers a wide range of course work, for which the high school student earns college credit. The pace is rigorous, classes all morning and afternoon, with material every evening to prepare for the next day. They are the type of courses that lend themselves to intensive study: foreign languages, photography, writing for college.

Living with other teens from all over the country and all over the world, including Burma, Japan and Turkey, extended the learning far beyond the classroom. Mostly aged 16 and 17, a wonderful mosaic of young people gathered for two weeks in the flat-land corn fields of Indiana. Additionally, upperclassmen served as resident assistants in the dorms and as teaching assistants in the classroom. Fraternizing with young adults who like their school enough to spend their summer there gives the prospective student personal access to enthusiastic college students.

A Birthday a Day – Rebecca Rupp

Language Now!
The Language Now! series, on CD-ROM or diskettes from Transparent Language, provides an immersion approach to learning a foreign language, in which users plunge directly into a series of stories, articles, and conversations (some with accompanying video clips) in their chosen foreign language: Spanish, French, Italian, German, Russian, Latin, English, or (available in late 1997) Arabic. The intent is to teach language in a natural context through reading, listening, and speaking, rather than through a series of drill-and-test grammar and vocabulary lessons. This does mean that your first experience with a Language Now! program involves a screen intimidatingly full of unfamiliar foreign words – but (“Don’t panic,” urge the instructions), after a surprisingly brief practice period, the text rapidly becomes understandable. As beginners read through each text selection, a translator function gives the meanings of individual words or phrases, and shows how groups of words interact. As they proceed, users can make personalized lists of new vocabulary words by clicking on selected items in the text. Using the “Listen and Speak” function, they can then hear words, phrases, or the entire text selection read aloud – adjusting the word pace as necessary – and can practice their own pronounciation, recording their voices and comparing the waveforms generated to those of native speakers. (Just try to get the same general pattern, the instruction manual counsels; some variation is normal.) “Games” includes four foreign language word games, intended to build vocabulary, comprehension, and grammar skills: these variously involve word meanings, fill-in-the-blanks, scrambled word puzzles, and crosswords. “References” includes foreign language alphabet and grammar basics sections.

Learning to Fish Cafi Cohen

So, it is important to hone those networking skills. Let’s address two areas: How To Look and Where To Look.

How To Look
* Rule One: Ask Everyone

Do you have questions similar to those above? If so, don’t wait for the next homeschool support group meeting. Ask neighbors, family, friends, co-workers, and others. It is impossible to anticipate exactly who will direct you to free foreign language lessons or an opportunity to volunteer at a radio station.


Beline TV — Television from Around the World

How to Learn Any Language
The website about teaching yourself languages

Foreign Language Games
(there is a great deal of advertising here, but I think the games are worth it)

Childrens Books Online in a variety of languages – posted by artist and designer, Asbjørn Lønvig in Denmark

BBC Languages
read and hear World News via 43 different languages

Children’s Books Online: The Rosetta Project

If HEM Takes a Closer Look at Lesson Planning has sparked an interest, you might consider exploring a few of these resources from HEM’s Guide to Homeschooling Resources here.

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