Discovery Studies: Foreign Language

Educating the WholeHearted Child: Chapter 13 (part 2)

WholeHeartedI think most of us have heard about the benefits of learning a foreign language when you’re young, and the Clarksons addressed that a bit in this chapter on “Discovery Studies.”

“Scientists believe that the first ten years of a child’s life are the peak time for learning language.  A child’s brain in those years is wired by the sounds of language–neural pathways are constructed from what is heard and used, and other factors contribute to make learning a foreign language easier and more natural than at any other time in life” (page 253).

I was fascinated by the German language as a child.  One of the teachers at my elementary school spoke German, and even though I was in the other fifth grade class, I was allowed to go over to his room when he did German lessons because he knew of my interest.  He also gave me a set of audio cassettes with a lesson book and dictionary.  I used to listen to them over and over again, repeating the phrases after the speaker.

I ended up taking four years of German in high school as well, but you know what?  The sound of those simple phrases on the cassettes stand out more in my memory.  There really is something about hearing and learning to speak a language when you are young that sticks in the brain differently than when you are older.

I’ve never fully learned a second language.  In spite of those four years of German class, my abilities were always more in reading the language than being able to participate in a conversation.  I lived in Kenya for a while and learned quite a bit of Swahili and a little Maasai, but while I could understand fairly well, I would never have considered myself fluent.  I also have a fair amount of Spanish floating around in my head, mostly just as a result of living in Southern California.  One time I even had a dream in Spanish, but I’ve never really spent time learning it intentionally.

Until this last year, that is.  I am determined to help my children have more success when it comes to learning languages.  I’ve read controversial articles among homeschoolers about why Spanish isn’t the best language to study, but I think where we live it is an essential skill.  By the time my children grow up, it may be a real hindrance in getting a job if they don’t know Spanish.  I’ve driven through neighborhoods where there are more signs in Spanish than English, and there have been multiple occasions when I’ve been unable to help someone because I don’t speak the language.

“If you want your children to learn a foreign language, you should create a reason for them to want to learn it” (page 253).

While I do hope to inspire my children with mission trips to Spanish-speaking countries, I think just living in Southern California might be reason enough for them to want to learn it.  Our neighbors speak Spanish (though the children are bi-lingual) and while Ian is shy about using what he’s learned with them, he’s also quite proud to tell them, “My mom is teaching me Spanish.”  (If only they knew how incompetent I am!)

I may not know enough to help them become fluent, but I try to make it as fun and appealing as I can, and I hope than by exposing them to the language they will naturally be drawn to learning more on their own.  Actually, I hope that I am just lighting a spark that will ignite a love for foreign language in general, and that all my children will choose to go beyond learning Spanish and dive into German, French and/or other languages as well.  And I think that’s what Discovery Studies are all about!

Each Mentoring Monday I share my reflections on what I’ve been learning from my “paper mentors.”  I am currently joining in a book discussion of Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay Clarkson (with Sally Clarkson), so my Monday posts are all being sparked by things I’m reading in this fabulous book!