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How to Teach Foreign Language

Charlotte Mason used a wonderfully unique and effective method for teaching conversational foreign languages. It’s called a Series Approach, and I’m going to walk you through how to do it.

What You Will Need

You will need a series. A series is a set of related statements that describe an everyday action. So for example,

I take the book.
I open the book.
I close the book.

That would be a simple series. You would need two copies of all your series: one in your mother tongue and one in your target language. If you don’t know how to pronounce the words in your target language, you’ll need an audio guide to help you.

I’m taking this series from the book, Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Francois, from Cherrydale Press, and they have corresponding audio guides available.

How To

Here’s how to use a series to learn a new language—just five simple steps.

Step 1: Learn the series in your mother tongue.

I’ll play the part of the teacher. Listen carefully. 

I take the book.
I open the book.
I close the book.

Now you say it with me and be sure to do the actions. The actions are an important part of this process all the way through. So say it with me and do the actions.

(If you are reading this as a blog post, I encourage you to go watch the video so you can see how this works with the actions.)

I take the book.
I open the book.
I close the book.

Good. One more time.

I take the book.
I open the book.
I close the book.

Can you do it by yourself now?

Now you’re ready for step two.

Step 2: Focus on the verbs in your mother tongue.

Let’s narrow down those statements to just the three key words, the verbs: take, open, close. Be sure to do the actions as you say those verbs.

Let’s do it again: take, open, close.

Good.

Step 3: Learn those verbs in your target language.

Listen carefully and repeat after me.

Tomo. Be sure to use that same action that you did for the English “take.”

Tomo.

Try it by yourself.

Abro. Use the same action you did for the English “open.”

Abro. Try to roll that R

Abro.

Good.

Let’s try those two: tomo, abro.

Can you do those two by yourself?

You’ve got it.

Now for the last one: cierro.

Cierro. Use the same action you did for the English “close.”

Tomo.

Abro.

Cierro.

Try doing all three by yourself now.

Good. Let’s go to step four.

Step 4: Learn the rest of the series in your target language.

All we need to learn is “the book” and we’ll have the whole series: el libro.

El libro.

Listen carefully.

Tomo el libro.

Now you do it.

Abro el libro.

Your turn.

Cierro el libro.

Let’s try the whole series together.

Tomo el libro.
Abro el libro.
Cierro el libro.

Can you do it by yourself now?

Step 5: Expand on the series by using what you know.

What other kinds of things can we abro?

Perhaps the door. La puerta. 

La puerta.

Let’s try that with what we know, and be sure to do the actions: abro la puerta.

We can keep going: cierro la puerta.

Good!

How about la bocca? (mouth)

Let’s try it.

Abro la bocca.
Cierro la bocca.

So you can see how the series approach really helps the student begin to think in that foreign language. It’s not just memorizing words; it’s making the language come alive and using it in various situations, being creative as you try to use what you know.

Level Up and Down

Let’s talk about ways to level up and down in a series foreign language lesson. It’s pretty simple as is, but you can naturally level down by using even shorter and simpler series.

And you can naturally level up by continuing to build on the series that you’ve learned, inserting some new verbs and nouns. For example, the next series in the Cherrydale Press book is

I open my backpack.
I take my pencil sharpener.
I take my pencil.
I sharpen my pencil.
I close my backpack.

So you can see we’re still using “take, open, and close,” but we’re adding “sharpen” plus we’re learning “backpack, pencil”, and “pencil sharpener.”

So you can naturally level up or down just by the statements you use in your series.

Another way to level up is by requiring the older students to transcribe the series in writing. Younger students should not be required to deal with the reading and writing of a second language while they’re still trying to figure out how to read and write in their mother tongue. But they can definitely learn that language by hearing it and speaking it. And later, when they are fluent in their reading and writing of their first language, you can add reading and writing in the target language too. Older students who are already fluent in reading and writing their mother tongue can add that component to their foreign language lessons.

Then to level up again, you can add a grammar focus with your high schoolers. You want to spend no more than 20 minutes on a typical series lesson with all your students together. Then with your high schoolers, you can add another 20 minutes of work on grammar details—guiding the students to discover those details based on what they are learning and reviewing verb tenses and such. Do that extra 20-minute session every other week, not every single week—just five or six times per term. A great resource for these lessons is the 501 Verbs series of books. They come in several languages and will help you with studying the different verb forms and tenses in your target language.

The Cherrydale Press volumes also come in several different languages and contain questions and responses that you can use throughout the lessons, as well as short recitation pieces and some grammar studies. They are a fabulous resource for using this Series Approach to teach foreign language.

2 Responses to “How to Teach Foreign Language”

  1. KarissaJaloway November 24, 2020 at 11:59 am #

    Could I use this with my 3 year old?

    • Tamara Bell November 24, 2020 at 4:50 pm #

      Hi Karissa! We do not recommend this resource until a child is at least 6 years old.

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