Teaching A Foreign Language

Foreign language is a notoriously challenging subject for many Americans due to our relative isolation from the rest of the world. Even those who take a foreign language in high school or college rarely end up using it. In fact, only 26% of American’s speak a second language well enough to hold a conversation while more than 50% of Europeans are fluent in at least one additional language. So if you are one of the 74% of Americans that continue to struggle with a foreign language here are a few ideas that might make the process a little more enjoyable.

Experts agree that “immersion” substantially increase a student’s ability to retain foreign languages. Although trips to Mexico or Europe may be out of the question, there are other ways to create immersion opportunities for the whole family. Immersion is not just about traveling to other countries. It is about changing your lifestyle to include constant exposure to the foreign language you are learning. Every week many of us listen to music, watch a movie or TV, order food, and talk with friends and family. By finding alternatives to our everyday activities, we can immerse ourselves in foreign languages without changing our overall routine.

In my own home, I have instituted French Fridays to provide some immersive experiences for the kids. We begin our French Friday during our lunch break. I prepare a special menu for the kids and allow them to “order” their meal in French. We then move to the Living room to spend some time working on activities that will promote fluency. We have a collection of French Christian rock music that we can sing along with. Our current favorite is a band called The Kry. You can purchase their CD, Peut-Etre, from iTunes. We also play “vocabulary bingo” while watching our favorite movie in French (most DVD’s include foreign language audio tracks as an option). Though the kids are not fluent enough to follow the movie word for word, having them call out words they understand while the movie is playing gives them the opportunity to make associations in context and increase their interpretive speed. After some music or a movie we may pull out a storybook to read together and discuss how many words we can find that have similar roots in English (i.e. “ciel” and “celestial”, “lumiere” and “illuminate”, etc.).

Remembering to include immersion opportunities on a regular basis will provide both the practice and the diversity of interest that helps keep lessons interesting. Not only will your students perform better, each lesson will become more enjoyable for everyone involved.

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