Explore Bilingual Homeschooling!
Did you know that some of history’s most influential figures were proficient in more than one language? For example:
- U.S. President Martin Van Buren learned English as his second language.
- Physicist Albert Einstein spoke German, Italian, and English.
- Theologian Martin Luther was multilingual and multiliterate.
- The biblical Daniel, who became a Babylonian official, was biliterate and bicultural.
YOU CAN TAILOR
FOR YOUR CHILD.
Bilingual education is not a novel idea, and in a world with increasing opportunities and demands for worldwide communication, even parents who speak only one language are opting to have their children learn a second.
The reasons are many. For some it’s a need: overseas missionary families, families working abroad, immigrant families, families trying to maintain communication with non-English-speaking relatives, or parents of adopted children who want to provide a link to their child’s past.
Others see a second language as an educational benefit. Studies have shown that proficiency in more than one language enhances creativity, problem solving, analytical thinking, phonological awareness, and cultural awareness. Such skills boost general academic performance and, consequently, future academic and job opportunities.
Though a smaller group, there are those who want their children to learn a second language “just because.” Just because it’s interesting. Just because it’s helpful.
The Three Bs
There are different levels of second-language acquisition. While opinions vary on specifically what each level involves, most linguists agree with the broad definition of each term: a bilingual person is fluent in two languages, a biliterate person can read and write in two languages, and a bicultural person can take part in two cultures.
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Each level requires a different degree of commitment and approach to learning. That’s why homeschooling is a plus for bilingual studies! You can tailor your home education to meet the bilingual goals for your child, conduct individualized progress assessments, and handle specific problems—all without the glitches caused by institutionalized second—language learning. With planning, careful thought, and dedication, you can homeschool your child bilingually!
Where Do I Start?
Why do you want to homeschool bilingually? What are you aiming for? Defining your goals will help you determine the intensity of your language studies. Perhaps you’re not interested in your child being bilingual yet. You’d just like her to be aware of language and cultural differences, in preparation for encountering a foreign language in the future. For this goal, your current curriculum’s geography lessons, supplemented by children’s foreign language CDs, DVDs, and picture books, will probably be enough.
Raising a bilingual child will require a greater investment of time with lots of practice and a person with whom to converse. Aracely Cruz, mother of four, homeschools her children in Manassas, Virginia.
“I enjoy working with my children in English and Spanish,” she says. “They take their classes in English on DVD, but I also speak to them in Spanish so they can know the importance of talking in different languages.”
A biliteracy goal may require certain subjects to be taught in either or both languages. Brett, living in Tokyo, Japan, spoke and taught her children some subjects in English, but also required her children to learn certain subjects in Japanese.1
A bicultural goal will require interaction with people of the second culture, and maybe eventual reading and writing of current-event essays in both languages, critiquing the literature of both cultures, or even analyzing literature translations.
The Critical Period
Defining your goals will also help you decide when to start. There is a common belief that the earlier a child begins to learn a second language, the better he will learn it. This “critical period” hypothesis is ground for much debate, especially as studies have yielded different results. While the evidence does tend to agree that a critical period exists for learning to speak without an accent, even that timeframe varies from person to person. And besides, one can still be fluent without being able to trill one’s r’s! (See sidebar lists “Books for Parents” and “Research” for more information.) Deciding when to begin is a matter of following your goals.
First of all, consider the available timeframe. A goal of familiarizing your child with a language before he selects one for high school credit gives you a wider range of grades and years in which to begin, as well as greater flexibility for the regularity with which you will practice the language. This will differ from wanting to reach a biliteracy or bicultural goal by the beginning of high school, where the child would have to speak and write both languages fluently a little earlier, in order to write current-event essays in either language.
I Can Teach It Myself!
Now that you’ve set your goals, think about the approach you will take. Language teaching strategies are varied and many. Homeschooling gives you the advantage of choosing what works best for you.
Language teaching methods are
usually based on setting “boundaries” which determine the use of a particular language. The one person-one language method
limits language use by person: Mom speaks German to the child; Dad speaks English. Entire books have been written on this method alone. Another boundary option is location: the Smiths will speak French at home, and English elsewhere. A third
boundary is time period: since the Yoons
live in a state that requires that academic instruction be done in English, they speak English during the day and switch to
Korean when Dad gets home. The Jones,
on the other hand, speak English and
Portuguese on alternate days. The more intense the goal, the more often a language should be practiced.
But I Don’t Speak a Second Language!
Alice Lapuerta, in Austria, realized
that with her Spanish-speaking husband often away on business trips, her children were not getting the Spanish practice she wanted for them, and she wasn’t fluent in Spanish.
“I know that some say if a language isn’t your native one you probably shouldn’t speak it. Because, oh horror, what if the kids end up with your accent? Or your bad grammar? What if they end up as semi-linguals as a result?” she writes.2
But she tackled Spanish practice in
her husband’s absence, trying to avoid
grammar mistakes by learning and teaching songs and rhymes, reading picture books, and playing DVDs.
Though the job may take more planning, you can direct your child’s bilingual education even if you don’t speak a second language. Memorizing poetry, nursery rhymes, and Bible verses can help your child become familiar with the language’s natural rhythm and syntax. Playing games like hangman for letters and phonics, Pictionary for vocabulary, or even Candy Land for colors and counting is both fun and educational. You can also search for curricula in other languages and buy books. Reading picture books is not only entertaining, but with a follow-up reinforcement activity, you can have an excellent culture and literature lesson in addition to language practice.
And while you’re working on those preliminary activities, start searching for someone who does speak the language—an older sibling, a relative on Skype, someone from your homeschool group, or even a mother’s helper. If you regularly schedule conversation time with them, based on an everyday activity, your child will be able to pick up the words most commonly used in the language, and practice conjugations and pronunciation. Think about how much can be covered by simply following a recipe—numbers: two cups; verbs: look, taste, mix; and adjectives: salty, smooth, and hot.
As your child gets older, look for more opportunities. Local libraries sometimes hold language activities for children. Does your church minister to a particular group of non-English speakers? If you’re studying German, can you take a field trip to a location near your home or in a bordering state that has a particularly high concentration of German-speaking people and culture? And when your child reaches high school, consider mission trips or work-abroad opportunities.
Now that you have some ideas on how to get started, there are hundreds of great books out there that can help guide your steps on such issues as language mixing, refusal to speak a language, accents, and myths about bilingual education. Scan the shelves at your local library for information and inspiration. With planning and dedication your child can learn Français, Español, Deutsch, and even русский язык!
Looking for Resources?
Books for parents
- 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child by Naomi Steiner with Susan L. Hayes
- Raising a Bilingual Child by Barbara Zurer Pearson
- The Bilingual Edge by Kendall King and Alison Mackey
- Bilingual: Life and Reality by Francois Grosjean
- Bilingualism in Development by Ellen Bialystok
1 “Following Our Children’s Lead,” Homeschooling in Japan, www.asahi-net.or.jp/~ja8i-brtl/hs_stories.htm.
2 Alice Lapuerta, “What to Do about Spanish. Otra Vez!” July 1, 2010, Multilingual Living,
|About the author
Sindy Quiñónez, a bilingual homeschool
graduate, holds a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, with an emphasis in education. After teaching at a private school for a couple of years, she is now an assistant editor at HSLDA.