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Make Foreign Language Learning a Full Part of Family Life--f rom early on!
Christine Pritt is a busy homeschooling mother of six children, living in Maryland. Several of the family students have already graduated from homeschooling (one moving on to Harvard!), and many of her older children have taken part in our AP Online classes over the years. I was always amazed to learn of the high level of foreign language ability all the Pritt kids had-- they were often taking multiple AP foreign language exams, doing extremely well on all of them. I wondered what the Pritt family 'secret' was-- and I was delighted to find out how Christine learned right along with her children, by starting early and immersing them in a world of active language listening and learning. I hope this article inspires many of you to think 'outside the box' about language learning-- and to gain confidence that you too can help your children really develop enjoyment in gaining this window on the world. And if you might be wondering what 'French comics' her kids might be addicted to-- you might want to take a look at this linke to a TIME Magazine article on the creator of the very popular Asterix cartoons http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1931169,00.html . My kids loved these when growing up learning French, and we had them in both book form and in video cartoons. I had to laugh, too, when Christine mentions that all of their 'kids' films were in foreign languages, as I remembered how my own daughter Hannah's first introduction to The Lion King cartoon film was via the FRENCH dubbed version she received as a prize for her fine showing one year in the National French exam for the early elementary level! (see www.frenchteachers.org/concours for info on this great program)
Many aspects of homeschooling have brought us pleasure and joy, but none so much, I think, as learning foreign languages with our children.
Some people think our success in teaching our children languages is due to our own backgrounds, but this is not true. I spoke a little German before I homeschooled, but I never really learned the grammar until I taught my children. Anyone can do this with consistency, patience, and most importantly, interest. Learning with our kids is one of the best fringe benefits of this job!
Start young. Preschoolers can listen to songs and stories in the foreign language. Don’t worry that they don’t understand everything; they are getting a feel for the sound of the language. Videos are another great resource. Recently some friends came over to work on science fair projects, and when I looked for a movie to keep their younger children occupied, I realized that all of our “kiddie” videos are in French and German. When our children were little and they got to watch a movie, they got a language lesson as well. I ended up putting in a German DVD for my little guests and they loved it!
We exposed our children to lots and lots of oral language when they were young. We listened to German children’s songs in the car, and I put French cartoons on at naptime. In first grade, we began using simple books with audio. A few years later, we started writing and grammar exercises, and I had the children read out loud to me and translate.
In middle school, more systematic language learning began. By this point, the kids had a good grasp of how the language should sound, basic vocabulary, and quite a few pattern sentences they’d picked up from movies, stories and songs. We worked through an introductory college textbook, because the high school texts I looked at moved too slowly in the early chapters for students with background in the language. We also read out loud together and did conversational exercises. They wrote several short essays each week. When possible, we hired native speakers as tutors so our children could practice conversation.
In high school, they studied advanced grammar with my husband in preparation for the Advanced Placement test. They read authentic materials (novels, plays, newspaper articles), practiced listening and speaking, and wrote many, many essays.
Make language learning a family activity. Languages should be part of your lifestyle, not just a school subject. Many of our family’s favorite movies are in French and German, we listen to German pop songs on road trips, and my boys are seriously addicted to French comics. Learning to speak foreign languages and appreciate other cultures has strengthened the bond between us and added color and spice to our lives.
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