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Foreign Languages for Homeschoolers

Take this quiz to see what you know about studying a foreign language:

A good age to begin learning a second language is:
    a. Infancy.
    b. Five to seven years old.
    c. Eight to 11 years old.

The best way to learn a foreign language is:
    a. Listening to and speaking with native speakers.
    b. Taking a language class.
    c. Interactive software program(s) and games.

Studying a foreign language will:
    a. Expand your vocabulary.
    b. Improve your grammar.
    c. Increase your awareness of other cultures.

The correct answers? All of the above! Surprised? Read on....

When to begin
When young children are exposed to a new language, they have the capacity to learn that language quickly, and with little effort. But how early should parents begin this exposure? With 15 years' experience teaching kids how to speak French, Renee Antoniou, M.A.T., gives this advice: "The optimum age to learn a second language is at the same time you're learning your first language. Beyond that, it's best to begin learning or being exposed to a foreign language before the age of 12. Linguists have determined that it is very difficult to produce a native accent after that age." While teens and adults can and do learn second (or third) languages, current research suggests that the earlier your children begin to study a new language, the more advantageous it will be for them.

How to learn
According to Antoniou, "Total immersion -- being surrounded by that language on a daily basis -- is by far the best method. If that's not possible, the next best way to learn a foreign language is by studying it regularly and actively using it." A good language program, either with a class or studied independently, must maintain your child's interest, be an enjoyable process, and produce the desired results. If fluency is the goal, your child should be motivated and willing to do some serious studying. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible for one program or method to be successful on its own. However, with a little research and an adventurous spirit, your kids can experience the joy of learning a new language.

Which language to choose
Spanish is the number-one choice of homeschool families due to its frequency of use. On the opposite end, one older homeschooler told me she chose Swedish because it's an uncommon language. Although she speaks several languages, her Swedish work has been financially lucrative because she is one of only a handful of Swedish translators!

Latin is the second most popular language among homeschoolers. Learning Latin gives students an edge in standardized tests -- 60 percent of English words (90 percent of words over 2 syllables) and 80 percent of Spanish words come from Latin. This translates into a larger vocabulary, better pronunciation, and higher SAT scores. German and French follow close behind Latin in popularity. Hebrew is often learned for religious reasons. Greek, Arabic, Japanese, Italian, Chinese, Russian, Polish, Gaelic, and more are all studied by homeschoolers today.

American Sign Language
Recognized as a foreign language and accepted by most universities, ASL is increasing in popularity among homeschooled students. Classes are offered by homeschool groups, community colleges, and other educational venues. Katie Smith, a homeschooled teen and ASL student, recommends Signing - How to Speak With Your Hands by Elaine Costello.

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