When I first started to learn French, I was irrationally angry with my mother. “I’m going to fail,” I boldly proclaimed. “All the other moms took French in high school. Everyone is going to be way ahead of me. You didn’t take French. You can’t help me.” Merci?
Contrary to my predictions, I did not fail. And contrary to my proclamation about my mother’s lack of ability, she actually was an extraordinary helper and advocate as I learned a foreign language. While my mother still doesn’t speak French, I now know that I wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without her.
In my years of teaching, I have encountered many parents who feel powerless when it comes to their child’s foreign language education. It is one subject where parents seem to feel like their child has to “go it alone.” This, however, is not the case. Here are some simple things that you can do to help your child have a richer language learning experience, even if you don’t speak a foreign language.
- Lend your brain: Ask your student to teach you what they are learning. This technique employs an age-old adage — if you can teach it, then you know it. We all have busy lives, but if you really want your child to thrive in foreign language, ask them to teach you what they are learning. Start by listening. Ask them to teach you in detail and with visual examples. And don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand!
- Lend your voice: Quiz your student on vocabulary. You might feel silly trying to say foreign words or deciphering what your student is saying, but this technique gets everyone talking! Left to study alone, your student may never say a vocabulary word out loud at home — hardly a recipe for success! By quizzing your student, you force them to speak in the target language. Also, when you attempt to speak, your student gets the opportunity to correct your pronunciation. The benefits of quizzing each other are endless.
- Lend your time: Students always learn best when what they are learning is relevant. You, as a parent, are in the unique position of being able to facilitate this kind of relevance. Scope out authentic restaurants with menus in the target language and go as a family. Cook a traditional meal at home and have your student help. Research a movie in the target language that you can watch together. Films usually have subtitles, so they are enjoyable for everyone. Find a festival that celebrates the culture of your student’s target language. Get your hands on a magazine in the target language (check out this listing from Scholastic with age-appropriate magazines for Spanish, French, and German). When foreign language is a personal experience, your student will flourish! Parents are a vital part of this experience.
Do you have any tips that have helped you support your child as he/she learns a new language? Share below — we would love to hear more!
About the Author
Sarah Lehtinen has always been a teacher at heart! In her French classes, she wants her pupils not just to be students of language, but also of the world. She feels that global citizenship is one of the best lessons she can teach through language. Sarah enjoys trying new restaurants, yoga, ballet, coffee shops, and hiking. She is married to Simon, a fellow French speaker. They reside in Charlottesville, VA. Sarah teaches French III for Excelsior Classes.