How To Teach A Second Language When You’re Not Fluent

Last Updated on May 29, 2019

Not long ago I began a mini series about adding a second language into your homeschool studies. I briefly mentioned this a couple of months ago and realized more information should be shared on the topic.

I have received numerous messages from many of you asking me where and how to start. Out of these questions and concerns was born a new three-part series that hopefully will help you learn how to teach a second language when you’re not fluent. So let’s get started!

How do you teach your child a language you don’t know?

Confession: I am not fluent in another language. I was required to take a few foreign language courses in high school, but I never came close to mastering any of them.

Until I married my husband and traveled the country, I was never presented with opportunities to showcase my the language I had learned in school.

As I traveled with my husband to his new duty assignments where second languages were present, I just didn’t utilize the opportunities to practice speaking the second language. I guess the saying is true – if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Being completely honest, I wondered how I could possibly teach my children a second language to the point where they are fluent. I don’t want my story to be their story. I want them to learn another language and retain it as adults. I went off on a research binge to figure it out.

Of course, the main recommendation made by language learning experts is to use the immersion method. The immersion method is basically putting your children in an environment where they are hearing the other language (and only the other language) constantly.

For example, you could spend your summer vacation in an area where the native tongue is something different from your language. Another option is to have them spend a lot of time with a friend or family member who speaks that language fluently and request that the person speak ONLY that language to your child.

The idea is that by being surrounded by the language, your child will be forced to learn to understand and speak it.

Now that Clay is no longer active duty in the Army, we can’t just move the family to another country for a few years and leave everything behind. We most certainly don’t have that option and I’m sure you don’t have that option either.

We also don’t have a family member nearby who is fluent in our chosen language or who would be willing to move in with us and teach our children the language.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t create an immersive language learning experience for your family. Here are a few tips on how you can teach your homeschoolers a second language – even if you don’t speak it yourself.

Invest in a solid language learning program

Rather than trying to piece together a curriculum on your own, I highly recommend that you find a language learning program that fits the needs of your family (more info on that to come). Find one that is easy to use, comprehensive, effective and enjoyable.

I also think it is important that the curriculum include some type of audio or video component that helps you to get the pronunciation of words correct. There are a lot of options out there, so even a basic Google search of “Best programs to learn [language] for kids” will help you to get started.

Once you find a program that sounds like it might be a good fit, do a search for that language learning program review and see what people say about it.

Practice natural conversations daily

You know what they say – practice makes perfect. You can’t master any skill by randomly practicing it here and there. The same goes for learning a language. Think about it.

When you were teaching your child how to speak their native tongue, they received tons of practice. All day, every day. You didn’t speak complete sentences using three and four syllable words for 30 minutes and expected them to catch on immediately.

Learning a second language requires that you spend time each day learning and practicing. In addition to practicing vocabulary, use every available opportunity to practice natural conversations in the second language.

It will be stilted and awkward at first, but the more you practice, the easier it becomes.

Join a homeschool co-op

If you live in an area with an active homeschool community, homeschool co-ops are a great option. A homeschool co-op is a group of homeschool families who gather together for cooperative learning.

Although the schedules and gatherings vary, the general idea is that homeschool families get together on specific days to engage in classes or activities. The parents serve as teachers and teaching assistants.

Parents usually offer to teach subjects that they have interest in or experience with. For example, a parent who is fluent in French may decide to teach Elementary French. For us, we have joined Classical Conversations and my kids are exposed to another language each week!

Take a Local Class

If your community doesn’t have a co-op, check your local schools or local organizations that offer language courses to the public. Check with your library and community center for information as well. You might be surprised with what your town has to offer.

Read books

Make weekly trips to your local library to grab a few books written in the language of your choice. I find it helpful to read books that your child has already read before. Their familiarity with the story may help them understand the language better.

There are plenty of bilingual books that have the story presented in two different languages. You can read the book once in your native language and then read it again in a different language. You could also try listening to books on CD while flipping through the actual book.

La oruga muy hambrienta/The Very Hungry Caterpillar: bilingual board book (Spanish Edition)La oruga muy hambrienta/The Very Hungry Caterpillar: bilingual board book (Spanish Edition)First 100 Words Bilingual (Spanish Edition)First 100 Words Bilingual (Spanish Edition)Bilingual Tales: El patito feo / The Ugly Duckling (Spanish Edition)Bilingual Tales: El patito feo / The Ugly Duckling (Spanish Edition)Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States (Spanish Edition) Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States My First Bilingual Book–Opposites (English–Korean)My First Bilingual Book–Opposites (English–Korean)My First Bilingual Book–Vegetables (English–Chinese)My First Bilingual Book–Vegetables (English–Chinese)The Toddler's Handbook: Bilingual (English / Mandarin) (Ying yu - 英语 / Pu tong hua- 普通話) Numbers, Colors, Shapes, Sizes, ABC Animals, Opposites, and ... that every Kid should Know (Mandar Edition) (English / Mandarin) (Ying yu – 英语 / Pu tong hua- 普通話) Numbers, Colors, Shapes, Sizes, ABC Animals, OppositesMy First Bilingual Book–Feelings (English–Arabic)My First Bilingual Book–Feelings (English–Arabic)Bilingual Classic Story Book SetBilingual Classic Story Book SetMy First Bilingual Book–A Day (English–Italian) (Italian and English Edition)My First Bilingual Book–A Day (English–Italian) (Italian and English Edition)Bajki na dobranoc. Bedtime Fairy Tales. Bilingual Book in Polish and English: Dual Language Stories (Polish and English Edition) (Polish Edition)Bajki na dobranoc. Bedtime Fairy Tales. Bilingual Book in Polish and English: Dual Language Stories (Polish and English Edition) (Polish Edition)Am I small? Watashi, chisai?: Children's Picture Book English-Japanese (Bilingual Edition)Am I small? Watashi, chisai?: Children’s Picture Book English-Japanese (Bilingual Edition)

Watch movies

Just as you can read books in different languages, you can also watch movies and tv shows in different languages. Here are just a few simple things you can do when you are watching something on television:

    1. When you are watching a movie in English, turn on the subtitles for another language.
    2. Change the language for the movie/tv show to another language and then turn on English subtitles.
    3. Watch a movie that was filmed in a different language and turn on English subtitles.
    4. Turn to a channel that shows tv shows, movies, and commercials that are featured in another language. My kids watched Korean shows when Clay was stationed in Korea for example and Spanish shows when in Fort Bliss.

Brainy Baby Spanish DVD Simple Words and Phrases Deluxe Edition Spanish DVD Simple Words and Phrases Deluxe EditionThe Jungle Book – Das Dschungelbuch: Bilingual parallel text - Zweisprachige Ausgabe: English-German / Englisch-Deutsch (Dual Language Easy Reader 47) (German Edition)The Jungle Book – h (Dual Language Easy Reader 47) (German Edition)Bilingual Baby Hebrew Language DVD for Babies and Toddlers by Small Fry BeginningsHebrew Language DVD for Babies and Toddlers Italian for Kids: Language Box Set (Vol. I)Italian for Kids: Language Box Set (Vol. I)

Immerse yourself in the culture

Make learning a second language part of an entire immersive experience. For example, if you are teaching Spanish, in addition to learning the language, listen to Spanish music, tune in to Spanish radio stations, watch Spanish movies/tv shows, eat Spanish cuisine, and learn about Spanish history and traditions. We were truly blessed to be able to do this while stationed in Fort Bliss, TX and in Korea.

Learn through play

I am a big fan of learning through play. Keep an eye out for fun toys and games that teach another language or give your kids the opportunity to practice. In addition to purchasing toys and games designed specifically to teach or reinforce language, you can also adapt something you already have.

For example, if you are teaching Spanish, you can substitute Spanish vocabulary (such as alphabet, numbers, colors, and actions) in games like BINGO, Twister, I Spy, and Simon Says. Get creative and have fun!

Hire a tutor

Another popular option for teaching your children a second language is to hire a tutor. This will give your kids the opportunity to learn from an expert. If you have a tight budget, ask the tutor how many children they can work with at one time and whether he/she offers group discounts.

Then see if any of your friends or fellow homeschoolers would like to pool your funds to hire the tutor for a set number of hours each week. I did not hire a tutor when we lived in Fort Bliss, but my house cleaner was fluent and she spent a great deal of time with my kids and myself.

We became friends and she even taught me how to cook authentic meals while teaching my kids Spanish.

Hang Out with Native Speakers

If you have friends, family members, or neighbors who speak the language you are trying to teach, ask them if they would be able to spend some time with your family so that you all can practice speaking the language.

Also keep an eye out for ways to get involved in activities or situations with people who speak that language. For example, eat at ethnic restaurants and attend cultural events.

There are tons of ideas! I would love to hear yours in the comments! Also, come back soon when we complete this series! I will be sharing with you on what we use in our home!

In Awe,

Halfway Homesteaders