5 Ways to Homeschool Foreign Languages

homeschool foreign languages - Spanish

Some homeschooling parents are a little overwhelmed at the idea of teaching foreign languages. But in many ways in this internet age it’s easier to homeschool foreign languages than it is to learn them at school.

Foreign language – Goals

My goal is to expose my children to as much foreign language as possible, in a natural and enjoyable way, while they are young.

I want to ignite their curiosity and show them that languages are fun. I would love for them to choose to study a language or two more deeply when they are older, but that choice will be theirs.

How we homeschool foreign languages

Here are some of the ways we bring foreign languages into our homeschool.  Some we learn more formally, others we playfully dabble in.

1. Sessions with a native speaker

The language C(9) and J(8) learn most formally is French.  We chose French because C(9) had been learning it at school and because France is the country we visit most often.

The children have weekly classes at the home of a local French teacher. Madame Celine follows a syllabus and uses workbooks, but she also plays games and cooks French food with the children. I was delighted one day when J(8) – who at the time claimed cheerfully to know “not a single word of French” spontaneously broke into fluent French song as we prepared to bake at home!

C(9) is much more interested in languages than her brother, but I don’t think J(8) could manage a class on his own, so the joint session works well. Our solution was for C(9) to start going to class fifteen minutes early for one-to-one French conversation practice, while J(8) at the very least gets to spend an hour listening to spoken French!

If teaching costs are an issue and you live near a town with overseas students,  you could find someone willing to do a conversation-exchange for free or a reduced fee. When I lived in Spain, I did this sort of “intercambio” with several families.

2. Apps and Software

I’ve always wanted to learn German, and I found the perfect way to do so when Julie of Highhill Education posted about Duolingo. This is a fantastic free app for learning French, German, Spanish or Portuguese.

When I told C(9) about Duolingo – thinking she might use it to practise her French – she got very excited and decided to learn German too, because her best friend is half German and speaks German at home (great!).

One of the reasons we love Duolingo is because, being an app, it’s so easy to grab the iPad and do a daily lesson without having to gather together a bunch of books or log onto the computer.

Memrise is a useful app for learning vocabulary in a huge number of different languages. Do be sure to preview courses for younger children though – my Norwegian course contained a few rather colourful phrases I couldn’t imagine needing!

For more free resources, check out the free BBC languages website or search for a YouTube course.

For fast exposure to a wide variety of languages, check out the Earworms apps. An “earworm” is one of those catchy tunes that gets stuck in your head. The app utilises the science behind that phenomenon to help languages stick. I’ve used it to brush up my French before a trip to France and we all learned a little basic Italian before visiting Florence.

homeschool foreign languages - Italian

3. Classical languages

I was lucky enough to learn Latin at school. Latin was a huge help with French, Spanish and Italian, and has also enriched my appreciation of English.

homeschool foreign languages - Latin

Some homeschoolers worry about teaching Latin pronunciation, but unless your child is going to be singing or reciting in public, it really doesn’t matter how you pronounce it – that’s one of the many benefits of learning classical languages!

C(9) is learning Latin with Minimus: Starting Out in Latin. When she’s ready for something a bit more sophisticated, I’ll suggest the Cambridge Latin Course.  Ecce Romani is another possibility – I enjoyed using this series all through school.

homeschool foreign languages - Ecce Romani

Last winter I decided to try my hand at a bit of Ancient Greek. I used Learn Ancient Greek, a deceptively slim paperback which is densely packed with Greek grammar and wonderfully dry humour in equal measure. I’d recommend it for teens up.

4. History and geography unit studies

Ever since I saw how much the children enjoyed reading and writing hieroglyphics when we studied Ancient Egypt, we’ve brought language into our history and geography studies whenever possible.

I find this a particularly useful way of introducing C(9) and J(8) to unfamiliar alphabets. They love deciphering codes, writing their names and making up secret messages for eachother.

Homeschool Foreign Languages
Secret messages using the Cyrillic script

So far we’ve taken this approach with Ancient Greek, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Russian. (I’m not sure how we missed out Arabic. Must come back to that one.)

Homeschool foreign languages

5. Travel opportunities

Living in Europe, we are lucky enough to be a short plane ride away from many different non-English-speaking countries. Wherever we go, we learn at least a smidgeon of the language.

I’m writing this on the plane home from Turkey.  Before we left England, we used a course I found on YouTube –  Turkish 101 – to learn how to say “hello”, “goodbye”, and three ways of saying “thank you”.

It’s amazing how far just those basics can go! Even though we were staying in a tourist city where most people we met spoke at least some English, everyone appreciated our Turkish greetings and thanks.

Before we visited Norway last July, we used Norwegian in 10 Minutes a Day and flashcard website Memrise to learn a few Norwegian basics. The book came with a fun CD Rom we all enjoyed, and as well as some useful ones, the Memrise course contained some hilariously random phrases. Our favourite was, “Harald died. He was skinny, and broke in two.” (Funnily enough we didn’t use that one on our cruise.)

homeschool foreign languages - Norwegian in 10 Minutes a Day
Norwegian in 10 Minutes a Day CD Rom

The children listened to the Italian Earworms app with me before we visited Italy last year and the year before.

And C(9) enjoyed practising her French with a French girl in her ski class one year, though this year was slightly more of a challenge when she found herself the only English girl in the class!

Looking ahead

I’d love for my kids to become as passionate about languages as I am. Whatever path they choose, though, I hope what we’re doing now will give them the confidence to learn any language they might need in the future.

And I like to think our approach helps them understand and appreciate a little of other cultures, as well as enriching their experience of travelling abroad.

The best way to learn a language well is to be immersed in it – I found that out when I had two Spanish flatmates during my year working in Spain.

When C(9) and J(8) are older I’d love for us to spend a few months having language lessons in another country. And I’d certainly encourage them to spend a year working in a foreign country at some point.

Finally – in case I’ve mistakenly given the impression that I’m some kind of super-polyglot, I should make it clear that I’ve only ever come close to being fluent in one other language (now very rusty!). But I do enjoy – and highly recommend – my hobby of dabbling in languages alongside the kids!

homeschool foreign languages

To see how the other Homeschool Help ladies teach foreign languages, visit:

Highhill Education – Our Foreign Language Philosophy

Every Bed of Roses – Seeking to Learn a New Language

One Magnificent Obsession – Fun With Foreign Language

Hammock Tracks – In Regard to Teaching a Foreign Language

Barefoot Hippie Girl – Parlez-Vous Francais



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23 thoughts on “5 Ways to Homeschool Foreign Languages

    1. LOL Savannah! I like to think we all moderate our own natural extremes when we read how other people do it – I know I get so much from reading the blogs of very organised people like you!

  1. Duolingo works great for me and so does Rosetta Stone, but the kids aren’t really into it yet. I think it feels more like work to them, so I use a variety of sources for them and am always looking for something new. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the BBC site, so I look forward to checking out that link and Earworms too. Thanks for the links.

    1. I absolutely LOVE Duolingo, I so appreciate that tip, Julie. Amazing that it’s free. C(9) seems to be getting on well with it too. It’s great to have a variety of resources, isn’t it?

  2. I like the way that you’re exposing your children to the joys of learning different languages. The nuance of each language reveals quite a lot about each culture, don’t you think? The French lessons also sound really interesting in the way that culture and cooking are incorporated in them. Your children are very lucky to have such good exposure! 🙂

    1. “The nuance of each language reveals a lot about each culture” – absolutely! It’s fascinating, isn’t it?
      Thanks for your encouragement, Hwee – it’s always very much appreciated!

  3. Great post! We just ordered some Dora The Explorer DVDs from the library… in Spanish. I’m hoping those go over well. We also have Muzzy – Spanish on hold. We did that to “learn” Chinese, and while we’re nowhere near fluent AT ALL, it was fun, and my 4-year-old did actually pick up some of it. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Lisa 🙂
      Using DVDs like Dora and Muzzy are such a great way to introduce younger ones to languages, aren’t they? My kids loved French Muzzy. We should get it out again – they might be pleased to realise they understand a little more.
      I’d love to know ANY Chinese – definitely on my list!

  4. Yes, I love this way of learning languages! Being exposed to languages is so broadening for children! You are very fortunate to be able to travel a lot.

    We’re ‘learning’ 3 languages: French (quite formally from grade 7 and on, informally before that), Dutch (mostly through stories, although we add in some grammar in the later years if the vocab is good enough), and Greek (just knowing the alphabet is a huge step).

    1. I’m completely with you on your definition and style of language learning, Annie Kate. It sounds like you have a wonderful balance in your home.
      I’ve heard that native Dutch speakers are the best linguists because Dutch contains more sounds than any other language. So I guess Dutch must be a very useful language to learn.

  5. Hi hon,
    been away a little while and SO happy there’s more than one of your inspiring posts to mull over, absorb, aspire to, etc etc etc!
    Australia is so far away from the rest of the world 🙁
    Downloaded duo lingo so am sure they will start getting into it. Also aiming to start Mandarin (bought Rosetta stone on Sonlight sale recently) hopefully it captures imaginations…
    Enough waffling! Need to get the washing in – sure to have a smokey aroma from all the bush fires about – the sk is beautiful eerie yellow!!!

    1. Oh how I love your visits, Claire! Your comments are always so uplifting 🙂
      I’ve never looked at Rosetta Stone. J(8) asked about Mandarin today… perhaps I should look into it.
      I hope your washing’s back to its normal aroma! x

      1. We got the Spanish rosetta stone. It wasn’t a huge success. My very mild tempered twins regularly were caught yelling at the screen, because the computer wasn’t picking up what they were saying! I only had them do 10 minutes a day. I’m thinking maybe there’s not a linguist between us as I tried it and sure enough ended up calling the computer all sorts of nasty names. Very frustrating because you can’t move on until you’ve nailed the level. I’m not sure we got past part one of level one, let alone anywhere near level two.
        Maybe we’ll return to it after we’ve visited the doctor’s for tranquilisers!!

        1. That sounds very frustrating, Claire! I’ve often wondered about Rosetta Stone but it looks so expensive considering the number of other free or cheaper products on the market. I do know that all this kind of software still has a way to go to being completely user-friendly though – I wouldn’t label yourselves non-linguists yet!
          Having said that, one thing I like about Duolingo is that it doesn’t hold you back for not being able to repeat things properly. So you get speaking practice but without a penalty if you have microphone issues. C(9) and I were speaking silly German phrases to each other over dinner yesterday 🙂

  6. Lucinda,

    I was excited when I saw your post knowing it would be interesting. It was! We’ve also used the Cambridge Latin course and love it. We have learnt Church pronunciation by singing and praying in this language.

    Have you seen Bill Handley’s book about learning languages? He is the author of the speed maths books.

    I shall search for the apps you mentioned. Thanks!

    1. Hi Sue, thank you for your kind words! I think I might have been inspired to get Cambridge Latin after reading your blog, actually. And yes, I also have Bill Handley’s book thanks to your Skye Penderwick post 😀 He’s an interesting man, isn’t he? Thank you for reminding me to look up some of the resources he mentions!

  7. This is just awesome. The fact that you are able to visit a country that speaks a different language is wonderful. I am going to check out some of these apps. The thing about ‘taking’ a foreign language like through our Co-op is that it really doesn’t give you the skill to converse in that language. We do some Latin but Keilee has always wanted to learn French. You have inspired me!!

    1. Thank you, Karen! Yes we are very lucky to have so many different languages on our doorstep. I hope Keilee likes Duolingo as much as we do. It’s not quite conversing but it’s a fun way to learn 🙂

  8. This is great information! We just launched a new website where people can have 1-on-1 classes with excellent instructors all over the world!
    You can learn and practice English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Chinese (Mandarin) and Portuguese. Check it out at http://www.linguaplex.com

  9. So I’m currently in Year 7 at Secondary School and one of my teachers has said about a trip in year 9. This trip is to China. I have no knowledge in Mandarin, and I’ve got to be somewhat fluent if I should be allowed to go. The only thing is the Mandarin club is on a Monday after school and I’ve got a guitar lesson then so I was gutted but I’m trying to teach myself it with no help I’ve already spent £50 of my own money on a language course. Your methods however for children like me really have helped. I’m going to try and make my learning of Mandarin as fun as possible whilst constantly learning and taking in as much as possible. Thank you

    1. That’s so good to hear, Ruby. Thank you so much for taking the time to write to me 🙂 I wish you the best of luck in your Mandarin and a fabulous trip (I’m sure we’ll be allowed to travel again by the time you’re in Year 9!). Good luck with guitar, too. Languages and music are two of my favourite things to do.

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