Teaching Foreign Language: Subject by Subject, Part 8

Charlotte Mason Homeschool Subjects: Foreign Language

If you had graduated from one of Charlotte Mason’s schools, you would have studied several different foreign languages: French, German, Italian, and Latin. And not just studied, but used and understood those languages quite well.

In fact, her students were so fluent in French that they could read or listen to a reading in that language and give their narrations in it. How did she accomplish that level of expertise? Let’s talk a bit about Charlotte’s brilliant approach to foreign language.

The Series Approach

Charlotte believed that we should approach learning a foreign language in the same way we approach learning our mother tongue: hear it and speak it before you ever read and write it. So she used the Gouin series method, which agrees with that approach.

Francois Gouin developed the idea of using a series of statements that describe what you are doing. The statements are taught in the known language first, then incrementally introduced in the new language, and always accompanied with the actions.

For example, the students might learn a series like this:
I take the box.
I open the box.
I close the box.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Students say the series of statements aloud a few times as they do the actions: take a box, open it, close it.
  2. Once they know the series, it is simplified to just the verbs: take, open, close.
  3. They learn each of those verbs in the new language and practice saying it aloud as they continue to do the corresponding actions.
  4. They learn the one phrase needed to finish the sentences (the box) and practice the entire series in the new language with actions.

The beauty of this method is that by coupling everyday activities and actions, they begin to think in the new language. What other things do I open and close? A book, maybe. By learning one more new word (book), they can then narrate a new activity and are beginning to feel at home with using the language for themselves.

Younger students can do the series completely by hearing and speaking; older or more experienced students can add the reading and writing component by copying the series into a notebook.

As with so many of the methods that Charlotte Mason used, the Gouin series is a simple yet wonderfully effective approach! Cherrydale Press has created resources for this approach, and we highly recommend them.

Layering the Languages

In case you’re curious how Charlotte accomplished several languages with her students, here’s an explanation. Charlotte started with French, most likely because that was the most prominent foreign language in her students’ surroundings. France was right across the Channel. Grades 1–3 incorporated French songs and games along with the hearing and speaking activities of the Gouin series. Grades 4–6 expanded on that foundation and added French reading and writing, plus, the students in those grades were introduced to verbal German. In Grades 7–9 the students expanded on both French and German, and added Italian. So the acquisition of several languages was a gradual sequential process over many years, all meant to equip the students to be courteous and kind global neighbors.

Learning Latin

Teaching Latin is a little different, because Latin is not as much a spoken language today as the others we have discussed; it’s mostly written. So Charlotte didn’t start this language study until the children were older (4th grade and up) and were studying English grammar. Two resources that I have liked for teaching Latin are Getting Started with Latin followed by the Cambridge Latin Course.


  1. Hi Sonya,

    We are using Getting Started with Latin and the Cambridge Latin Course. It’s our second year homeschooling (first year using SCM) and our boys are 14, 11 and 9. We also have girls who are 6, 4 and 2 running around. I have been switching back and forth between the two books because I like the blend of culture, stories and photographs in the Cambridge and Getting Started is taking us through at such a nice, slow pace. My question is, would it be better to just do Getting Started and then switch over to the Cambridge next year? I am liking Latin so much that I would really like to keep going and do it next year, too. My oldest son will be a 9th grader but is that ok? There’s no reason to switch to Spanish or French just because he is in high school, right? I did buy the Cambridge teacher guide and the student workbooks (we don’t do every workbook page–just now and then to change things up and to get them familiar with the way the words look). We are only on lesson 20something in Getting Started and about to start Stage 3 in the Cambridge. Your thoughts would be appreciated. Thank you!

    • I don’t see a problem with working through both together, Melissa. As you say, it adds a nice variety to your studies.

      Feel free to continue Latin into high school if you want to. The only reason to switch your son to Spanish or French would be if (1) he needs that type of credit to graduate, and/or (2) if he has an interest in learning another spoken language.

      Sounds like you’re doing a great job!

  2. Thank you, Sonya! I think we will just keep going. I can already see so many connections being made between Latin words and English words and the way that the books lay things out, it is not too intimidating for me, having no Latin in my background.

    • I believe Cherrydale Press is working on an Italian course, though I don’t know a release schedule for it. That would be my first recommendation. If you already know Italian and simply want a guide to teaching it in a Charlotte Mason way, the Teaching Guide at Cherrydale Press will give details for that.

      There are other Italian language courses, but I don’t know of any others that approach it in a CM way.

  3. Hi Sonya, I am going to start teaching my kids the CM way but I don’t know where to start. My kids are 11, 4 and 7 mths. Any guidance will be appreciated.

    • If you mean teaching them specifically a foreign language, I would recommend grabbing one of Cherrydale Press‘ books. You can do them all together as a family.

      If you mean teaching them the CM way for all the subjects, take a look at our SCM Curriculum Guide. You will find preschool recommendations for your 4yo and our recommendations for all the school subjects for your 11yo.

  4. Hi Sonya,
    Love this series! Have you heard of Pimsleur? It’s been said to be very close to CM’s method and I’d love your thoughts.
    Also curious, since Charlotte started with French because of proximity, do you have advice on where we should start now? Would it be Spanish? Thank you!

    • Hi, Cindy –
      I have heard of Pimsleur but have not looked at it closely, so I can’t give you an informed opinion on it. I know the author of the Cherrydale Press books personally, so I can say with confidence that she understands CM and has done extensive research into Charlotte’s way of teaching.
      As to which language to start with, that’s your choice. Proximity can be a factor. A couple of other considerations might also help you decide:

      1. Do you already know one yourself? If so, it will be easier to teach it. (If not, no worries; use an audio mp3 to help you learn right along with your children.)
      2. Do you know people who speak the language and would be willing to engage your child in conversation as he/she learns it? The goal is to be able to speak the language conversationally, so that type of resource person could be very helpful and might also make one language look more attractive than the other.

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