Beginning Foreign Language in High School

Viewing 13 posts - 1 through 13 (of 13 total)
  • Author
  • Anonymous

    I think this is my second post with a question today! 🙂 I’m in the thick of planning our 9th grade year right now and have made the switch to beginning more of a CM education. So, we’re just now beginning to incorporate more of CM’s methods in our schooling. I’ve looked through the archives here and also searched for info. on how to begin foreign language in high school the CM way. First, my daughter will be doing Spanish as her primary foreign language to study. So here are my questions:

    1. Should I add in some very basic Latin (she’s not done Latin before) and if so, how often would you schedule it and how would you approach the study?

    2. From what I understand, the first focus needs to be hearing and speaking then moving on to grammar and writing. Should I focus this first year just on hearing and speaking, vocabulary and phrases? That’s what I’m thinking. She has learned some very basic Spanish phrases and words in her elementary/junior high years but that’s all she’s done in Spanish.

    3. If we focus on hearing and speaking, vocabulary and phrases, what would that look like on a weekly basis? I think our main foreign language study would need to be daily or 4 days per week. How would you schedule each day?

    4. Also, how would you credit the work for the year…1/2 or 1 credit? The criteria for grading would most likely be mastering vocabulary and conversational speech, correct? I would imagine that working on vocabulary and conversational speech daily would constitute at least 1/2 credit if not a full credit. Your thoughts?


    I wouldn’t introduce two languages at once.  If you are beginning Spanish, then I wouldn’t also try and begin Latin at the same time.

    With younger children, absolutely doing just hearing and speaking can work very well.  For older children, it would depend on your goals.  If you have a goal of assigning a credit to the language work, and the child might go to college, then one credit of work should be comparable to one year’s credit at a school.  If you tell a college upon application that your child has two Spanish credits, then it ought to mean something to them–it ought to be roughly equivalent to two years study at a high school.  And that will require also reading and writing and grammar study. 



    The first goal is learning the language; I want to take the time needed for her to really be able to learn the language well. It is my understanding that for a college bound student, it is recommended to have a minimum of 2 years of study in one language. Even if we take it slow this first year in 9th grade and then step up the pace in the following years, she would easily be able to earn at least 2 credits if not 3 1/2. And that would just be for Spanish.

    I have a book called “5-Minute Spanish” that is comprised of 11 units each with 8 lessons and a unit review. It has an audio CD with all the vocabulary and dialoques spoken so you can hear them speaking it. It also has some writing activities. The lessons are short so that is also a plus. Each unit does have a lesson in grammar along with learning phrases and words, and more. It looks like a great first year introduction to Spanish book because she would be introduced to different aspects of learning the language (vocabulary, phrases, writing, and grammar) but in small increments. We could spend the time we need to learn the vocabulary and phrases in each unit and be able to speak them well.

    As I’ve been thinking about all of this this evening, I’m thinking we would probably spend about 2-3 weeks per unit. That would take it slow, allowing her time to learn the vocabulary and phrases and be able to practice speaking them.

    I would probably add additional writing to it in the form of copywork where she would practice writing vocabulary words and phrases.

    I’d love examples of how you do foreign language vocabulary lessons on a daily basis. My thinking is that learning the vocabulary could be approached using the same system set-up as SCM’s Scripture Memory System. I love that system for memorizing Scripture! I have actually been using that system for a few years now myself. And I already have an index card box set up for my daughter for 9th grade. 🙂 My thinking is that this system is also a perfect way to learn vocabulary/phrases. So I’m thinking about doing that to help her learn the vocabulary and phrases. And like I already said, I will probably use copywork to help her in learning the vocabulary and phrases as well. Any other suggestions?


    OK, but I’d still strongly recommend at least getting a typical high school text book so you can have some idea of what you are calling a credit.  I wouldn’t assign a year’s credit if the student hadn’t learned the typical grammar that is learned in the first year, no matter how long a time period of study.  I’d compare the book you have to a typical text before calling it a credit–or she’s going to be very surprised in college when she shows up for Spanish class.  Also, I strongly recommend finding someone who is a good speaker, native if possible, for conversation practice, unless your Spanish is very good. 


    I was really trying to approach language study the CM way but with beginning in high school, it may not be fully possible. Maybe it would just be better to get a Spanish program that is more indepth and comparable to a school text and just work through it at a slower pace if needed. Something like BJU or ABEKA for example. For her 2 credits, we could choose the materials she would need and then spread it out over a longer period of time (say maybe 3 years or even the full 4 years of high school) if that’s what we would need to do to make sure she is learning the language well. We had considered Power-Glide originally but changed our mind. I don’t think Rosetta Stone would work for what we need to accomplish.

    I don’t know if that is very CM-ish or not. But that might be a better avenue as far as ensuring we are covering a full 2 credits worth yet also spending the time needed to learn the language well. 🙂 The only CM-ish style full program that I’ve seen recommended is Living Language. Are you familiar with it?

    The audio CD that comes with the book I already have has native speakers speaking the language. That’s one of the reasons I chose it.

    I’m open to any suggestions as to a good program to use for the high school level and ways I can adapt it to the CM method. 🙂


    I realize that not every college is the same, but most colleges in GA, strongly recommend, if not require, a placement test in foreign languages within the first week of classes, if not before being able to register.  This is so the many students entering college, with a public school induced, overinflated sense of their mastery of a language, can switch to a lower class level.  I am both a student (and work in the legal profession) and I volunteer/work with the Dean of Students and I can tell you that the percentage of students coming out of the public school system who test into the “college-level” foreign language classes is in the low single digits.  Some students can handle the college-level rigor of foreign language classes, but many cannot and end up dropping.  A lot of times the school will overbook the foreign language classes because on average at least half of the class drops after the first test.  

    I cannot stress enough how important (for college foreign language study) a good solid foundation of English grammar is.  For example, in studying college level Spanish, would your child be able to identify subject, predicate, direct and indirect object pronoun, prepositional phrases, demonstrative adjectives, demonstrative pronouns, reflexive verbs, adverbs etc. in English. This will be imperative to studying foreign language grammar at the college level.   If one does not have a solid foundation in the parts of speech in English, it is almost impossible to keep up with another language’s sentence structure.  Most Spanish texts do not do a review of English grammar.  Or those that do have some kind of review, it is not very helpful to most.

    Balance is very important.  There are students at my college that can flawlessly verbally communicate in Spanish, but cannot pass Spanish, because they can not read and write in Spanish.  Then, there are those who can read and write but cannot communicate effectively.  At least at the public colleges, I would say the student who can read and write has an advantage in getting a good grade but will have difficulty in applying the read and write to being able to speak the language and understand it being spoken.  For my son, being able to communicate is of primary importance to me, though I do not diminsh the ability to read and write.  I think CM had the right idea in teaching foreign language in the way we learn our primary language.

    I would suggest at the high school level to balance the “read and write” with the communicative abilities in “hearing and speaking”.  Many of the students at my college are saved in their ability to pass by using Rosetta Stone.  But I have used other less expensive audio cd’s that go through the hearing and speaking abilities.  I think it depends on your daughter, if she can study the read and write and apply to hear and speak.  The communicative abilities of high school studies is so low – how many high schoolers can speak the language they studied for two to three years?  Most of the college level classes are conducted completely in the foreign language.  You can’t understand the lectures by only studying the public school’s primary plan of reading and writing.

    A book I would suggest using, which is the “remedial” level book for the college level is Adventuras, published by Vista Higher Learning (  You can probably buy the book used (cheap), but I would recommend purchasing the “super site” key so your daughter could access the online activities and mulitmedia components.  There is online audio and video labs, as well as online workbooks and pronounciation help.  The audio and video are not as extensive as I would like, but they are a good start for the beginner.  This is not a college level text, it is used for the many coming out of high school who do not have a solid foundation in Spanish.  If you went slowly over each lesson, adding in hearing and speaking opps, I think this would give your daughter an edge in college.  

    I would also say that it is better to learn pronounciation first, before seeing how a word is spelled.  This is because when we see a word, we automatically try to sound it out using English phonics, which does not always work so well.  =)  If I were using this book for my son (who is 9 now), I would do the online audio, video, and pronounciation activities, possibly on Day 1-2, before getting into the textbook lesson.  I think for reinforcement, we would probably do one lesson a week, including the online activities and pronounciation activities and trying to add some other speaking opportunities with a native speaker or listening to an audio cd.  I also use well known children’s books in Spanish for my son now.  Most libraries have a Spanish children’s book section.  So we would use books like Goodnight Moon, Dr. Seuss, etc.  While this may be a little corny for your daughter, I think the reading of well-known children’s books in the language they are learning, is greatly beneficial.   In college Adventuras would be two semesters of remedial level classes, but you could easily expand the time frame out to ensure mastery.  My son is not there yet but, I this is my first choice for high school level foreign language.  The online features are great.

    There are definitley some students coming out of public school who are college ready, but there are a lot who one wonders what good high school was to any of them.  Many of our professors lament the ineffective teaching of the public school, especially in the areas that the public schools are extensively focused on, Math and Language.  I have math professors who would personally like to fire every Algebra teacher that some students ever had!

    Just my opinions and experiences.  Hope this helps.



    **Also, if you look at Adventuras, the 2nd edition and the 3rd edition are almost exactly the same.  I have reviewed both, and so far I have only noticed the format and graphics look different.  For a reference book, I have the 2nd edition because I like the format.  The 2nd edition would be much less expensive to purchase used.  GA colleges are not using the 2nd edition anymore so if you look at Amazon or Borders Marketplace for books in GA – they will probably sell for a few dollars!  There are also cultural sections in this book.  In remedial college classes, students are expected to make a presentation on an aspect in Spanish culture, completely in Spanish.  So that might be a good end of year “exam”.  =)


    Thank you so much for all the information! It really helps to know more what the college level would be like. I did not take any foreign languages in college.

    I was one who had 4 years of Spanish in school. I had 2 years in junior high and 2 years in high school. And despite the fact that I had 4 years of study, I can’t speak much. I know basic vocabulary (numbers, colors, days, months, etc.) and I remember some aspects of grammar but that’s about it. I’d like to learn the language right along with my daughter. 🙂

    As I mentioned in my previous reply, I really would like to approach our language study the CM way because I really do think it makes sense. Babies/toddlers learn to speak by hearing first and then speaking. Then they learn to recognize letters and numbers and such. Next, they learn the basics of reading the language then they progress to writing. It makes perfect sense to approach a foreign language study in the same way.

    We need to have a minimum of 2 credits. I would just like to find a way to follow the CM method of study because I truly do feel like it would be a beneficial way of learning the language well. As I said before, maybe I could buy 2 standard Spanish textbook programs and then adapt them CM style and progress through them at a slower rate to ensure learning it well.

    Let me add that after I posted my last reply, I sat down again with the Spanish book I already have that contains an audio CD with native speakers. Here’s what I considered could be done if I used that book and tried to follow a more CM way:

    – Spend about 3 weeks per unit (There are 11 units each with 8 lessons. By spending 3 weeks per unit, we would be spreading the material out over most of the year.)

    – First, listen to all the lessons in the unit on the CD first. Each lesson on the CD for each unit is simply a native speaker speaking the vocabulary, phrases, and any dialoque-type sections. Practice saying the words by repeating each word after the speaker says a word.

    – Start by learning 3 vocabulary words/phrases a day until all the vocabulary/phrases have been learned for the unit. It would probably take about a week to get through the vocabulary/phrases. Spend an additional couple of days just working on memorizing them and speaking them.

    – Do the lessons in the book in a modified way (i.e. maybe do some orally) and continue working on memorizing and speaking the vocabulary/phrases. The lessons are short.

    – At the end of the three weeks, have an oral test to check to see if the material is being learned and retained.

    If we just focused totally on hearing and speaking initially, we would probably not do the lessons yet. We would work on listening to the CD and learning the vocabulary/phrases and how to say them. Then once all that has been learned well, we would start at the beginning and work through the lessons and also begin writing the vocabulary and phrases we’ve learned. We could use an index card system for the vocabulary/phrases like SCM’s Scripture Memory system has.The more I think about it, this may be a better way to begin. Also, we would work on conversational speech as we learn the vocabulary/phrases. So part of the evaluations would probably include being able to have a dialogue completely in Spanish. And of course, once we began working on the writing aspect, she would write portions of material completely in Spanish. What do you think? If we followed that pattern: hearing, speaking, reading, then writing (which would involve learning the grammar), and did this over the course of her 4 years of high school, do you think she would be well prepared for college?

    Well, these are just my thoughts at this point anyway. I really appreciate everyone’s input on this. It really helps!


    One thing I think we need to discuss is exactly what the “CM method” entails for learning a language.  Virtually none of us can do what Charlotte’s schools did.  They regularly brought in fluent speakers of the language to work with the children.  True, in the very early years mothers taught beginning French phrases to their children.  This was helped along at the time because virtually all upper-class women spoke at least some French.  CM’s schools did not generally have people who do not speak a language, come in a couple of times a week and practice saying phrases with the children.  They had intensive lessons with native speakers or very fluent speakers.  They were expected to learn to speak. communicate, read, write, take dictation–this is not a “phrase a day” method.  You can learn a phrase a day for ten years and not be able to communicate effectively in a language.  They learned grammar–SERIOUS grammar–they had to.  They progressed fairly quickly–again, they had to if they wanted to begin French in early years, add Latin, and then German and Italian in the upper years. 

    Compared to what CM schools did, most US language learning is dilettantism. 

    There is pretty good research support for learning a second or subsequent language as a teen or an adult in just a couple of ways:

    1) Intensive immersion.  This would involve taking our children and dropping them in Madrid, or Paris, or Guayaquil, or wherever, and leaving them there to sink or swim while hearing only the target language.  This works, and works marvelously well.  This is not the situation available to most American homeschooling moms, however.

    2) A multi-pronged, serious study of the language, ecompassing vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing, speaking, listening to the language AT SPEED and CONVERSATION.  No conversation, unlikely any significant language learning is going to take place.  Conversation does not mean listening to a native speaker read phrases on a CD.  This is another thing you can do for 10 years and yet be unable to carry on even the simplest basic conversation with a native speaker.  I wish I could tell you how many people I know who have used Berlitz or “XXX” in Ten Minutes a Day” or even Rosetta Stone, who then encounter a person who actually SPEAKS the language, only to be unable even to utter a single coherent, relevant sentence. 

    I agree that learning grammar is important before serious language study.  However, in my experience and the experience of many of the students I’ve worked with, there are some things that you just don’t really understand in English grammar UNTIL you encounter them in another language.  I’m not talking about subjects or direct objects, but things like subjunctive mood (without an understanding of which you will be unable to read anything meaningfully in a Romance language, for example) And which are really not things you are ever just going to mysteriously “get” in a foreign language by hearing and speaking only, without grammar instruction.  And which most American students have no clue at all about.  (I have fantasies of doing one of those webcam things where I get to go up to people and ask them what the subjunctive mood is, LOL)  I may not actually have any books Charlotte used in her schools here, but I sure bet they taught the subjunctive.  Even speakers who learned by immersion as an adult, regularly butcher the subjunctive.  Apparently you either learn it naturally when you’re five, or you study it intensely, or mess it up forevermore.  Laughing


    So.  I guess I quit worrying about what “CM” language learning is like, when I looked at The Easy French and The Easy Spanish, was told “This is CM” and then was sooooo disappointed with the poor quality of the instruction.  That is simply NOT possibly what Charlotte’s schools used, or there is no way her kids would have been comfortable, let alone fluent,  in ONE foreign language, let alone FOUR. 

    My kids will tell you I’m too hard on them in languages.  They will be leaving high school with a smattering of Spanish (learned in typical homeschoolish ways) most of which didn’t stick (they will NOT be getting any high school level credits for it!) four years’ credit in Latin, and one will have three years’ credit in French, a language I speak well, so he has an easy conversation partner (although we regularly look up other people for him to converse with) and then a student who wants to have two credits in German.  I do not speak German at all, and I am really working hard to provide him with any kind of practical experiences, since I can’t afford an online class.  He has two online programs, both of which have the ability to write back and forth to a native speaker, which he does, but it’s not the same as speaking.  And then we have instructional grammar materials and dictionaries.  We are trying our best to get somewhere, but it is HARD.  If he wants those two credits from me, he’s going to need to work and find a conversation partner.  🙂 

    I just wanted to pipe in with my own experience in public school learning a foreign language. I took four years of hs German and one year of Spanish. I had a fantastic German teacher. But I really don’t think it was all that rigorous. It sure didn’t make me fluent and I have a German-born and speaking mother, have gone to “the mother-land” (ha!) four or five times since I was six, and though I could follow the gist of what people were saying, it really was not the same thing. Also, my older sister took 2 years German in hs and then I think 2 more years in college (maybe more). Then a while after graduating college decided she wanted to get to know her heritage more. She took yet more German including a specialized training for engineering and has lived in Germany & Switzerland for around 14 years now. Her husband is a native born German. I would say she is fluent and yet she has been told her German is not perfect. More than once. All this to say, I don’t know that I would get too worked up about the two years of hs foreign language. Do your best and it will probably still be better than a ps hs course.

    BTW, I have to completely agree about having a strong foundation in English grammer. That is the hardest part about a foreign language. Very tedious.


    Bookworm,You really make some good points about how CM would have conducted language studies in her time. As you pointed out, it would not be realistic for many to do the same. I totally understand that hearing native speakers on a CD pronouncing words and phrases and conducting dialogue is not the same as actually conversing with someone who speaks a foreign language fluently. Unfortunately, we do not know anyone who fluently speaks Spanish. My husband does speak some but is not fluent.

    So the best I can do is have a CD or computer program that has native speakers speaking on it. 🙂

    You raise another good point when you said:  “Conversation does not mean listening to a native speaker read phrases on a CD.  This is another thing you can do for 10 years and yet be unable to carry on even the simplest basic conversation with a native speaker.”

    As I mentioned in my last reply, I had 4 years of Spanish in school. If I remember correctly, one of the teachers was Spanish-American. So I was able to hear the language spoken well. However, we didn’t have long conversations in which we were required to only speak Spanish. It was standard teach and use textbook approach, with some drills. At least that is what I recall as it’s been many, MANY years ago. 🙂

    So, in what you said above that I quoted, while I would agree that what you said could definitely be the case, we have to start somewhere. And given the fact that it’s not an option to be able to speak with someone who speaks Spanish fluently, I don’t know how else to approach the study other than using an audio CD with native speakers.

    What I would like to know, Bookworm, is if you recommend then investing in a standard textbook curriculum like ABEKA or BJU? They would no doubt teach grammar and probably pretty extensively as far as textbooks go. However, I don’t know that they include any audio CDs with native speakers. In your opinion, what do you think would be the best way to do the language study given the fact of not being able to speak with a native speaker in person? Living Language could also be another option. Here is a link to their site if you’d like to check it out and let me know your thoughts.

    In my previous reply, I lined out some of my thoughts on how I could use the book I already have. And yes, while it is a 5-minute a day type program, we wouldn’t actually use it that way. We would spend more time on it and add additional work as I outlined in my previous reply.

    As I already mentioned, I want her to be able to learn the language well. So I am trying to find the best way of doing that with the resources available. 🙂

    I really appreciate all of you help!

    BTW, I’d love to know your thoughts on my other question(s) regarding using narrations to help teach speaking skills. Here’s the link to my post:


    Well, I use a variety of sources, including texts (I like the very affordable Breaking the Barrier products–they have French and Spanish).  They come with CD’s, but conversation is a must.  For my student speaking French, it is not a problem.  I and several acquaintances speak well enough to afford him practice.

    For my German student, we have to work much harder.  Breaking the Barrier does not have German materials, and the only German speakers I know are Amish, and they  have a dialect rather different than contemporary European German.  My son currently belongs both to Babbel and to the LiveMocha online communities and gets some practice, but it is mostly written (he gets feedback on his audiorecordings on LiveMocha.) We also have a variety of books, and texts, and of course there is recorded content online that we frequently use.  We even use movie subtitles or dubbing.  🙂  You have to get creative sometimes. 

    For Spanish, however, I find it hard to believe you can’t find any Spanish speakers!  I live in the rural Midwest, and we have churches with Spanish outreach programs, volunteering for community services, and just plain being aware as we walk around (we’ve had many good conversations in grocery stores!)  Spanish speakers are trying to learn English everywhere and they are very supportive of the rest of us learning Spanish–we’ve had only positive reactions and conversations in our community.  If that doesnt’ work, a local college or community college will  likely have some Spanish speakers, or at least students farther ahead than your student—you could invite one over for dinner and conversation (I know lots who would love that arrangement!)  I don’t think there are many areas of the US left with no Spanish speakers at all–like I said, we definitely live in the sticks, but have found plenty of opportunities.  Once when I was having a difficult time, I prayed and a family ended up moving into our town and coming to our church!  THEN a man who’d lived in South America and taught Spanish, moved here.  He’s been a great help as well.  Opportunities are out there–they are likely more work, but IMO more than worth it.  We have no money, really, to move things along, but have had to rely on very inexpensive or free options, and it’s been working.   Not perfectly, and it’s often a struggle, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.  (Calculus and physics are struggles, too, lol!  And I thought teaching wiggly little boys was the hard part!!!)




    We, too, have to spend in a thrifty manner. That’s one of the negative aspects of buying something like BJU, ABEKA, or even Rosetta Stone. They are just so pricey. If we can opt for a good education in foreign language with inexpensive and/or free options, that would be much better!

    When I say that speaking with someone who speaks Spanish fluently isn’t an option, I mean that we don’t know anyone personally. I hadn’t thought about looking at local community colleges. Also, we just now recently found a church home; so I could check and see if there’s anyone there that speaks Spanish fluently. So it looks like there could be potential with those two options. Thank you for those suggestions!

    Also, considering what Stephanie and botanicalbecky said about the importance of strong English grammar foundation, I am thinking that maybe we should just take it easy with the foreign language this year. One of my goals this year is to really strengthen my daughter’s grammar skills. While we have covered grammar for several years now, she still could use some more work on strengthening the grammar skills. I think if we just focus on developing the English grammar foundation and just work on vocabulary/phrases, hearing/speaking/reading in Spanish slowly – that would most likely be a better approach…light on the foreign language, heavier on strengthening the grammar foundation. My daughter is more a history, science gal who is also an excellent speller! However, grammar and math are two areas we have to go a little slower at and have lots of practice usually. 🙂

    My mum who was born in Germany taught German in England to businessmen, and the first thing she had to do with 99% of them was teach them English grammar – I always found that funny – my German mum teaching and English person English Grammar, but they nearly all had to do it before they could really learn German to use in their business dealings.  She said it was really frustrating, and odd for her, because her English grammar knowledge as a German woman was far superior to the English speakers.  So English grammar is vital – my daughters are learning German and practise speech and pronunciation with me but I gave them a good grounding in grammar first to make it easier for her.  Linda

Viewing 13 posts - 1 through 13 (of 13 total)
  • The topic ‘Beginning Foreign Language in High School’ is closed to new replies.