Teaching Foreign Language: Subject by Subject, Part 9

Charlotte Mason Homeschool Subjects: Foreign LanguageIf 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 then give their narrations in that language. How did she accomplish that level of expertise? Let’s talk a bit about Charlotte’s approach to foreign language, as we continue this subject-by-subject series.

Foreign Language

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.

  • Hear It and Speak It

    Babies and toddlers spend a lot of time listening to language. Soon they try to imitate what they hear, often producing less than perfect imitations and faltering in the process. But they keep trying, and they continuously reshape and refine their efforts as they get feedback from those around them.

    Usually they can comprehend what they are hearing long before they can speak clearly themselves. And in a little while they can carry on good conversations, though they have not learned their letters or started reading or writing.

    Charlotte built her foreign language studies around the same process. She emphasized only hearing and speaking the foreign language during the early grades, even beginning during the preschool years. Much of it was done through informal activities, such as singing songs and playing games in that language. The important thing was to spend time with a native speaker, hearing the subtleties of that language in everyday situations and taking beginning steps toward speaking it correctly.

    Even if you do not have access to a native speaker, you can use recordings of simple songs or short children’s stories, like “The Three Little Pigs,” to give your children an opportunity to hear your language of choice and start cultivating their listening and speaking skills.

  • Then Read It and Write It

    Once your children have the foundation of verbal familiarity with the language, it is time to begin the reading and writing level. Of course, a native speaker is still the best resource for these skills; but if you do not have access to a native speaker, this is where language curriculum can come into play. The ideal curriculum will continue the listening and speaking aspects while adding in the reading and writing.

  • Teaching Tips

    A Great Spanish Resource—Shirley Solis of Lifetime Books and Gifts, and a native Spanish speaker, has set up LALI Class to connect your students with other native speakers she knows. Through the Internet, your child will be able to schedule one-on-one sessions and carry on conversations in Spanish with a native speaker to gain practical experience and fluency.

    Latin—Teaching Latin is a little different, because Latin is not as much a spoken language 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.

    Teaching Multiple 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 and other hearing and speaking activities. Grades 4–6 expanded on that foundation and added French reading and writing, plus, the students in these 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.

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