Thursday, September 18, 2014

It's a Small World After All - Studying Foreign Language and Cultures in Our Home Education

This is the final post in my series on How I Organize Our Homeschool.
(Woot! Woot!  We made it!)
If you want to read the rest of the posts, you can find them here.

When I first started home education, we had pulled our oldest son out of the local public school.  The focus of the early grades (K and 1st) was "Me and My Neighborhood."  I decided right off the bat to shift from a "Me-centered" approach to a World-Centered approach.  The driving principle that underpins why we study languages and cultures different from our own is that we are part of a greater picture.  We are citizens of the world.
God so loved THE WORLD.

In our country, and in this generation, even though it is easier to reach the world at the touch of a keyboard, it seems we are often very prone to ethnocentrism.  I am very glad and proud to be an American, but I never want my children to grow up learning only about America or thinking the history of America dominates the history of mankind.  I want my children to have as much of a God's-eye view of this world as possible and to see themselves as members of the world and ambassadors of Jesus into this world - light into darkness.  I also want them to be able to celebrate and share His love for all people and nations by understanding cultures everywhere.

Much of our cultural study happens by default as we move through the study of History.  We study Ancient Civilizations in 1st Grade and then revisit that era in 7th Grade and we are exposed to Egypt, China, Rome and Greece.  We study the Middle Ages in Europe and the Explorers in the 16th Century which gives us exposure to the lands they discovered.  We come into contact with the more modern history of many cultures as we study WWI and WWII and even more so as we delve into Modern History and learn of the conflicts in the Middle East and read stories of people who live in those regions of the world.  Even in our study of Geography, we use living books, so we are engaging not only in learning that Egypt is in North Africa, but we are learning about the life of Egyptians through the years of human history.

Another key way we explore cultures is to read missionary stories about men and women who gave their lives or at least a good portion of their lives to ensure that a given tribe or people group had the opportunity to hear about the love of Jesus.  In studying these stories (through the Christian Heroes Then and Now series or biographies like Missionary Stories with the Millers) my children not only learn about other cultures, but a fire is started in their heart to share God's love with people all around the world.

I want my boys to experience immersion in other cultures, and since we aren't independently wealthy, we aren't going to go to most of these places in person in the years we home educate together.  I decided what we would do is to pick one country a year to explore.  As a part of that exploration we learn a bit of the language for fun.  We use online resources like and YouTube for video instruction in the language.  I don't expect my boys to actually master the language in that short of a time, but they do become familiar, can count, say some greetings, identify some common objects and have a bit of an ear for the overall feel of the language.

Studies show that the early years are the years that God made the brain open to facility with language acquisition.  If a child learns a second language - enough to even converse a bit - before age 10, they keep the neural pathways for language open for the rest of their life.  If a second language isn't learned until after that age (which is often the case in traditional American schools) the brain shuts down those pathways and the process of learning a second language is cumbersome because it has to go around "back roads," so to speak.  So, I just want to keep the pathways open in younger years.  That's my goal - not mastery - but a bit of fluency to whet the way.

"There isn’t an abrupt moment in time when the window of opportunity for learning another language slams shut but rather there seems to be this gradual decline that happens throughout childhood."
Barbara Conboy
Professor, University of Redlands

In addition to studying the language of the culture we select for a year, we try out some recipes from that culture and throughout the year we celebrate some of their primary holidays.  If I can find a living history (like the ones by H.E. Marshall) about that country or culture, we will read that as well.

Besides our mini-immersion in a different culture each year, we study languages a little more intensely over time.  Starting in 1st Grade my children begin the study of Latin.  It is so foundational to English and most European languages as well as being a great help when studying science and law and other disciplines where the primary terms have Latin roots.  We use Rosetta Stone - which can be a bit pricey, but we decided to splurge on this area of study (and then a friend gifted us with that DVD series!!).  We don't study Latin grammar at our home as we study the grammar of our native tongue - a language with which we have proficiency (English!).  Sidenote: we begin the study of grammar in English at 5th grade due to the complexity of grammar study and the need for the brain to be able to comprehend abstract concepts well in order to perform tasks like diagramming sentences.

We are fortunate to have a local home education support resource center where a variety of classes are taught by qualified instructors (many of them home educating moms as well).  This year my older son is taking Spanish there.  He will study Spanish for three years and then he will pick one more language to learn in High School.  He can always go further.  Three years will give him enough fluency to get along when he travels to Mexico and then adding another language will just expand his horizons and ability to connect with more people in more settings.

Learning a language at home doesn't have to be daunting.  It can be incorporated into your week and life.  Your children will say, "Gracias," "Danka" or "Merci" in the years to come!

How do you include the learning about other cultures and languages in your home education?  I love hearing what you are doing with your dear ones. 


Elizabeth Haber-Lopez said...

Yet another excellent post! As I embark on this journey,,,, i have been playing Pinsleur's Italian cd's,,,,,,,,,,,,, morning, noon, and night and praying something sticks in one or all of our heads (preferably before Saturday!) :) I do love their repetition (as well as Pinsleur's Amazon price!). I am looking forward to learning some Latin and taking my kids to Latin mass (and learning about the Latin mass my parents grew up with along with my kids) if such a thing remains in this town :)
I have loved this series! Thank you for sharing!

HeartsHomeward said...

I am so eager to hear all you get to experience! What a life-long blessing you are giving your children! I'll have to check out Pinsleur sometime. Latin is such goodness. My parents went to Latin mass too. :)

Hayley said...

Hi Patty, I just am getting around to reading this blog post. I decided this week to not introduce a foreign language this year as it just feels too much. But after reading your post, it's made me undecided. My children are all young {6, 5, 3 1/2, 2} and I really would like to wait until summer of next year to start. But from your post it seems like I should push through my procrastination and just start, for the sake of the children. Thank you for encouraging me and changing my mind. Ha, you didn't even know it!

HeartsHomeward said...

I am so glad this blessed you, in particular. I think you can wait til summer of next year to start formally, but in the meantime if you throw in a bit of the videos and even use the free app, Duolingo for your older two you will be giving them a leap. Just this week I was going to serve the boys the last of an apple strudel we had baked and they asked if they could please have vanilla ice cream with it. I said, "Oh, that's the German way," to which my 5yo replied, "Danka! I'm Deutch!" He doesn't speak it fluently, but enough to be cute ... and to have a fun feel for the language and for language learning in general and he has a hunger for more (not just more strudel!). I'm always glad when you come read a post, Hayley. Thanks for letting me know you were here :)

Hayley said...

Hi Patty,
I finally was able to spend some time looking at the link you mentioned {}. My girls are going to enjoy watching the lessons. This really is a perfect way for me to just introduce it easily. Patty, I can't thank you enough. This really will be a fun, easy way to just introduce foreign language casually without any time spent for me in preparing {read: added pressure}. Thanks again, Patty, so very much!

HeartsHomeward said...

I am so glad you found the KnowItAll link helpful. I forget if I mentioned the app "DuoLingo" and another online resource called "Quizlet". We are using both of these to review and increase Spanish learning this year. I love free and low-cost options like these!

Hayley said...

Yes Patty, you did mention DuoLingo but I merely thought "app" meant for the cell phone, which I do not have except for in the car when I am driving {and as I use it so infrequently, it consequently died and I do not even know where it is} but I did look briefly at DuoLingo and Quizlet- I think these might be great when we get further into the journey. The thing I love about KnowItAll is that I downloaded these to a DVD and will watch these on the television. Anyway, really, I am excited to see how this week will go- this is a great addition to change up our weeks but an easy addition. Thanks again Patty.