Right now, we use Rosetta Stone as our French curriculum (we once had Rosetta Stone for Greek, but that, along with my computer, got destroyed in a Rosetta Stone, both from a user’s perspective and as a parent. Its immersion-style of learning mimics the way we naturally learn languages, so you quickly gain a certain level of fluency. And for the kids, it’s nice to have a program that they can do entirely on their own. However, it is not cheap (although you can often find it up to 40% off, so make sure you price check before you buy), and if you want practice to grammar or writing, Rosetta Stone isn’t really structured to provide that kind of instruction.
For our other foreign languages (Spanish and Greek), we don’t have any “official” program. My intention was to wait and slowly add more languages to my Rosetta Stone collection, but I keep finding a lot of other uses for that money. I’m also just not convinced, given how many free resources are out there, that I have to pay for anything (at least not at this early level of instruction).
All you need is a library card and a dream!
I don’t go the the library as often as I should, given how much I love the library (and how often I am buying books that I should just go check out of the library). But I have a very bad habit of racking up late fees, and until recently, my 3 year old thought of the library as his own personal playground, with books instead of balls to throw. We didn’t make a lot of friends among the staff or other patrons.
We are, more or less, past all of that now, so I have begun to re-discover the library. Although I knew you could get more than books at the library, I had never investigated all of the free e-resources available through most public libraries. At libraries across the country, with nothing more than the account number on your library card, you can access, at home or anywhere else, a treasure trove of educational tools, from audiobooks, ebooks for kids and adults, test prep, magazines, (even Us Weekly, yay!), and online membership to language learning programs.
Muzzy and Mango
Through my library, there are two different language programs available: Mango Languages and Muzzy (both of which you would normally need to pay for.) By logging on to my library’s website using my library card and a pin # they gave me, I can use these two programs on my home computer (or any computer), as though I was a paying customer.
Mango is not designed specifically for kids, but as long as they can read at a mid-Elementary level (a strong first grade reader, or average 2nd grader), they will be fine. The program is offered in 63 languages, although some languages have a lot more lessons than others. Unlike many programs, Mango doesn’t focus on teaching you the foundations of the language, but rather getting you to a point where you could function if you were dropped off in the middle of the country on your own.
Each lesson starts with a list of conversation and grammar goals, which l like; there are also cultural notes interspersed throughout the lesson. As a starting point for language learning, I like Mango (especially if you get it for free). I could definitely see us using it as a replacement for Rosetta Stone, at least for the first level or so. On the negative side, it’s not very interactive, which could cause some kids to lose interest, but luckily the lessons are short and sweet.
Muzzy, produced by the BBC, is one of the oldest, and best-known language learning programs for children. I was very excited to find this program offered through my library, because I have wanted to try it out for years, but didn’t want to buy it. It offers 8 languages, including Spanish, French and Mandarin (but not Greek, sadly!). It uses cute animation, videos and games, implementing a “see and say, listen and learn” method which mimics native language learning. And they have recently redone their animation and music, so it doesn’t look as horribly dated anymore, although its still far from glamorous (you can see a clip of their updated look here). Given that we can access it for free, I am happy to have my kids use it to complement their work on Mango.
So that’s what I’ve found at my library. How about you? I’m curious if other libraries offer different, or more, selections. In a future post, I’ll share some other great, free, language learning resources from the interest and YouTube that we’ve enjoyed. Stay tuned!
This may come as a shock, but my 7-year-old son’s attitude to learning a foreign language has been a bit less than absolutely enthusiastic. On a good day, we could, perhaps, describe his mindset as indifferent. I see now that he thought the bulk of the work was him choosing which language he wanted to learn, and now would I please let him get back to watching that super interesting youtube video featuring a 35-year-old man playing Minecraft in his mother’s basement.
I’m going to have to be sneaky, because few things are sustainable in a house with young kids if it causes lots of drama. Kids are drama enough. So, while my son isn’t exactly passionate about Spanish (the language he picked), he is passionate about soccer. And there are LOTS of ways to link Spanish and soccer.
El Mundial (aka The World Cup)
For those of you who don’t already know, World Cup soccer is upon us! Coming to us from host country Brazil, the World Cup will be broadcasted in the US in English on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 and in Spanish on Univision (side note: Univision has the most extensive coverage of the World Cup, broadcasting 56 of all 64 games, compared to ESPN’s 43 matches). The first game is Thursday, June 12 at 4:00pm EST between Brazil and Croatia; the final is July 13th. That’s a whole month of soccer, for better or for worse.
My plan: have my family watch the games on Univision, where all of the commentary will be in Spanish. You would be surprised how little the kids care that they don’t understand the language…my husband, son and even neighborhood kids have gathered in our house to watch past soccer championships on Univision…many tournaments are only broadcast on Spanish-language channels in this country. And everyone loves hearing the commentators yell “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!”.
Get Ready with Some Simple Vocabulary Prep
The main goal of my “Spanish through soccer” plan is to just get my son familiar with the sound of the language, and maybe pique his interest when he hears the passion of the fans, players and commentators in Spanish. Plus, he’ll get to watch TV commercials in Spanish, which is actually a great way to get learn commonly-used phrases and vocabulary. (I don’t know if World Cup commercials are anything like Superbowl commercials, but I’m guessing we’ll find out). But, to maximize what he takes away from the experience, I am going to prep him with a bit of soccer vocabulary, so he’ll be able to keep an ear out for words he knows, and maybe pick up a few new ones.
If you type “soccer words in Spanish” into google, you will find many lists to choose from. I picked 20 of the most common terms, and made a Quizlet flashcard set. If you are not familiar with Quizlet, it is pretty awesome. You just make an account (free) and then you can turn any list into online flashcards. Here is the list I put together for my son: Soccer Vocabulary in Spanish
Shakira and Soccer
Music is another great way to introduce language to children, and, through the magic of youtube, we have access to a lot of songs and videos that combine both Spanish and soccer. This year, the official theme song of the World Cup is sung by Colombian singer Shakira; there are several versions- this is the one in Spanish that features more soccer (rather than just a typical music video). Shakira also sang the theme to the 2010 World Cup… her Waka Waka song was immensely popular: it features a lot of famous soccer players, and is really hard not to dance to.
There are also many compilations of soccer footage put together by fans (you can find this in any language you are looking for), and set to music. If you type el fútbol musica into youtube, you will get lots of options. And if your kids have a favorite player, there is a good chance someone has set up a tribute to that player (type players name and “espanol”). Here are a few I’ve found, but there are SO many out there:
Yes! I let my kids talk to strangers… in Chinese. Of course, I am there watching from a safe distance, but I want my children to feel comfortable talking to folks who speak Mandarin outside of the little cozy circle that I have created for them.
They currently speak to their tutor, babysitter and swim teacher in Mandarin but I want them to be able to understand different accents and faster/slower voices. I want to see how they would do “in the real world” with their Mandarin. Granted, speaking in Mandarin to random strangers in IKEA does not exactly mimic the “real world”, but it at least opens their ears to accents that they may not have heard before or a pace that they may never have encountered.
What can you do?
So the next time you hear someone speaking in your target second language, nudge your little ones to “speak to strangers”!
Struggling to find time to teach your kids a foreign language? Try something radical.
In my family, we believe that foreign language instruction and music training are extremely important, as artistic and practical pursuits, as well as for brain development. My children take violin and piano lessons, we use Rosetta stone for French, my husband speaks Greek to them, and we are planning on starting Spanish soon. My kids also watch a lot of TV, lest you think we are some sort of uber parents…it all balances out.
The difficulty with languages and music is that they are not disciplines you can easily fake- you get out what you put in. My 8 year old practices violin an hour a day, piano 15 minutes a day, and French 20 minutes a day. My 7 year old practices violin 30 minutes a day, piano 10 minutes a day and (inconsistently) French 20 minutes a day. The challenge, of course, is fitting this in either before or after school, in addition to their extracurricular interests (dance for my daughter and soccer for my son), homework, chores, time together as a family, hanging out with friends, and the ever-elusive “unstructured free play”. Exhausting- and we already set limits on how many activities our kids can do (they are actually less busy than a lot of their friends).
Not Enough Time!
When we added up all of the time requirements on our young kids (and on me, enforcing these schedules), we realized that mathematically, it just didn’t work. There truly aren’t enough hours in the day for the things we think are important. So, we are considering something many people would consider radical: homeschooling.
Create Your Own Schedule through Homeschooling
Our goal is not to make UN translators or professional musicians out of our children, but to instill in them the disciplines of hard work, determination and mastery, qualities often hard to develop in a traditional school environment, where much of the focus is on acquiring superficial knowledge, with the primary goal of succeeding on standardized tests.
Having time for music and languages is only a part of our rationale for considering homeschooling. Taking my children’s individual learning styles into account, as well as our wish for them to discover early on what they are passionate about, what they are good at, and what gives them fulfillment, educating them at home, as well as with the help of mentors we find along the way, is an extremely intriguing option.
Without the requirements of a traditional school day, and all of the externalities that go along with it (getting to and from school, the never-ending after-school snack, and homework) here is a sample schedule of what my rising 4th grader’s day could look like next year :
8:00am-9:45am music practice
9:45am-10:00am mini-recess break (yoga, go for a quick run, look at the birds out the window, whatever)
11:15am-12:30pm Language Arts (reading, writing, grammar, spelling)
12:30pm-1:30pm Lunch and play break (my daughter can make her own lunch and even have time to go for a swim at the YMCA across the street)
1:30pm-2:15pm Foreign language instruction
2:30pm-3:30pm SPECIALS (rotating through Art, History, Geography and Science, with one free day)
From what I hear, this is a really packed schedule (apparently, kids only spend about 3 and a half hours learning on any given day at traditional school, so I may be aiming way too high here). But built into this sample schedule is time for a weekly field trip to a museum, musical, play, different town, you name it. Wherever my kids interests take us. And then we can build on those interests in following weeks, or veer in a different direction entirely.
Given that so many programs have been reduced or eliminated in traditional schools to make room for testing and teaching to the test, such as recess, PE, music, arts, even class birthday celebrations, I love the idea of adding fun and creativity back into my kids schedules. And after 3:30, they are free to play, help around the house (because I’m sure they can’t wait to do more of that), and further pursue the activities they are interested in.
Think we’re crazy? Curious about how it will go? I’ll be updating you all on a weekly basis about how we are incorporating foreign language into our homeschooling adventure on The Language Playground, so make sure to come back and check us out!
One of the best ways to explore the second language that you study with your children is by experiencing cultural events in your target language. It may take some time to hunt down those events, but once you do, they can become a part of your annual traditions that help boost your child’s interest and ability in your second language choice!
Enhance your child’s excitement about learning a second language by immersing him/her in fun cultural events!
How do we find out about events in our target second language?
I am a participant in many free yahoo groups, Facebook groups and mommy meetup groups that focus on Chinese learning with children. People in those groups are always posting wonderful events in Chinese for my family to check out! Often times, the events that get shared are for adventures that I would never have found otherwise. For example, one of my Mandarin-speaking mommy yahoo groups posts about Chinese book-fairs at local bilingual schools. The money helps out the school, but I can also buy and check out new Mandarin products for my kids! Win win!
10 Ways to Find Out About Cultural Events in Your Area:
1. Join yahoo groups in your area focusing on your target second language (or start your own!)
2. Join meetup groups in your area focusing on your target second language (or start your own!)
3. Join Facebook groups in your area focusing on your target second language (or start your own!)
4. Sign up for a class in your target second language to make friends who speak that language.
5. Call libraries in the area where there is a large population of folks who speak your target second language. See if they offer a reading hour in your target second language. See if they have a bulletin board where folks might post events that might focus on your target second language.
6. Check out book stores where they have a large collection of books in your target second language. Post up a sign or look for events posted on bulletin boards there.
7. Post an ad on craigslist looking for friends who speak that second language choice or search for events there.
8. Go to grocery stores that focus on foods culturally from your target second language and see if anyone has posted events up on the bulletin boards there.
9. Check out your local newspaper that focuses on your target language choice and see if they list some fun events.
10. Look online at local museums that have collections of art that focus on your target language to get on their lists to see when events might come up that might focus on the language of your choice.
How can you get the most from your event?
Encourage your child to jump right into the event and start speaking your target second language! If there is an activity – get your kid to join! If there are restaurants nearby with staff that can speak your target second language, have your kids order the meal! If there is a special activity, make sure that you get there on time to enjoy it!
For us, my children were delighted to find out that people actually speak Chinese outside of our house! When we first started exploring Chinese, my kids must have thought that it was this language that only existed in our home and with our babysitter! Now they know that there is a large community right in our neighborhood that speaks Mandarin just like they do!
How often should I go to these kind of events?
It is really up to you and how much free time you have with your family. We try to attend something in Chinese once a month. We have explored all of Chinatown, purchased books at fairs, listened to library book readings in Mandarin, gone to museum gallery events that focus on Chinese culture or history and attended many playdates hosted in Mandarin.
Where are we in these pictures?
The pictures of my family in this post are of us enjoying Chinese New Year in San Francisco. My kids loved munching on Chinese snacks at the stands, “dancing” in a Chinese Ribbon Dance, watching Chinese drummers perform and testing out their Mandarin with everyone they met!
If you’re looking for a fun and easy way to teach your kid French, Usborne has some of the best books and products. All of their books are filled with colorful ways to teach your kid the French Language. The best part about their French language books for kids is that they are themed — instead of just showing you a word and its definition, these books associate the French words with interesting activities kids can relate to in everyday life. Many of the French books also include pronunciation links online spoken by a native speaker. What a wonderful French learning resource to make sure that you are saying all of the words correctly!
We just love these books to explore vocabulary in Spanish! The clear illustrations and creative scenes of these books make learning Spanish vocabulary with your children fun and educational. Many parents may be familiar with the Usborne Book Company but perhaps you did not know that they offer a wonderful selection of Spanish learning material for kids!
How can you make flashcards more fun? We use games in our house and add a “flashcard component”! Everyone is happy!
The whole family has recently fallen in love with this creative strategy game called Blokus. The goal of this game is for players to fit all of their pieces (each player gets 21) onto the board. When placing a piece it may not lie adjacent to the player’s other pieces, but must be placed touching at least one corner of the player’s pieces already on the board. The player who gets rid of all of his tiles first is the winner. You have to think ahead in order to find the best path for your pieces and to block your opponent. It is an fantastic game to build your child’s spatial thinking!
Each player in Blokus is given 21 pieces and so for each piece a child puts down, he needs to answer one flashcard. Each person in the family needs to answer his flashcard before he can play so by the end we have gone through a ton of cards! There are 84 pieces in the game but not all of them will be used. Usually, there is a winner by the time 60 pieces have been put down — that’s a lot of flashcards!
What I love about Blokus:
Blokus is a challenging game, but a ton of fun! My daughter at 9 years old can play it, but my husband loves it too!
There are just enough pieces for us to get through a lot of flashcards without it feeling like the game gets interrupted too much.
The game also does not drag on forever as I have found with some other board games. Eventually, there are no more spaces left to put down your pieces and you need to figure out who has more area covering the board.
It is a great game for children to understand the concept of area.
If you play the game with only two people, you need to either make the board smaller by blocking off a few rows or you need to have both players play with two colors which can be confusing.
Buy it here on Amazon:
What a wonderful game! We are just thrilled! I hope you are too!
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Ahhh… the perennial question! How do I make flashcards fun for my kids? Most people simply hold up a card and see if the child knows the answer and move onto the next one in the stack. From experience, this type of “game” does not last very long. The “fun factor” is pretty much non-existent. However, it does not take much planning on your part to make flashcards more exciting. Trust me. It is easy.
Here is how to make flashcards more fun:
All you need is a toy/game/tool that has multiple pieces and have your child “earn” a piece by answering one correct flashcard. The more cards he/she answers the more pieces he/she gets! It actually makes the game more exciting because the child does not just immediately get all of the pieces to it! This earning method slows the game down and makes the child really focus on the goal of the game.
What are we playing right now?
My kids’ favorite is this Family stacking Chairs Game. The children get one chair for each correct flashcard. The object of the Chairs Game is to stack all of the chairs without them falling. If the chairs fall down, the children have to start over again. My children find this game incredibly compelling and love answering the flashcards to get chairs.
Factors for Success:
1. Don’t let your child play this game outside of the flashcard time. It should be played ONLY with flashcards and put away all other times.
2. Make sure that the game is something fun. It does not have to be the most expensive toy out there — but it needs to be compelling.
3. The toy needs to have enough pieces for your child to be able to build/create/finish it within 10-40 flashcards. Don’t pick a game or toy with hundreds of pieces because then your child will lose interest in having to answer so many flashcards to get the pieces.
4. Have a few of these games ready to go so that in case your children show the slightest sign of being bored with it, you can tuck that one away and bring out a new one. You can then break out that old game at a later point and it will keep its “game life” a bit longer. Never let your kids get bored with a game because then it will always be labeled as “boring” in their heads.
Our beat-up red minivan was on its last legs (or wheels) and it was time to get a new car. I found the minivan of my dreams (I think I am official middle-aged with that phrase) and my husband, the master negotiator, was sent in to close the deal. The minivan was perfect — sliding doors, keyless entry system, eight seats – but it lacked a DVD player.
As a final point of negotiation, I sent my husband in with a mission. Get a region-free DVD player installed. In order to play most DVDs from China in Mandarin, one needs a region free DVD player. Regular DVD players that you find in the United States are not able to play most DVDs from China. Toyota is a Japanese car maker, right? They should have those! Sure enough – -region-free DVD systems for cars exist! You just need to ask!
Region Free Built In DVD Players for the Car!
We installed a built-in unit that came with two headsets (you can buy more if you need them) and the unit plays all of our DVDs from China. I buy a ton of newly-released DVDs from Amazon in Mandarin, but before our swanky updated system, we could not play any of them. As a family we do not watch much TV, however I certainly use this kind of entertainment for long car rides.
So let’s say you already have a DVD player installed in your car. You do not have to put in a whole new one in order to play DVDs from other regions. There are lots of other options for playing region free DVDs in a car. You can get these handy DVD players that fit right in your headrest! Or you can get a portable unit that you can then take with you into hotel rooms. There are lots of options for watching region free DVDs in the car (see the carousel from Amazon below)!
My kiddos are just thrilled to have all sorts of fun DVDs at their fingertips and I love hearing the giggles coming from the back of the car!
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