Category Archives: Foreign Language

A Homeschooling month in Spain – Part 2

A homeschooling month in Spain

I sit on the floor, surrounded by half-packed suitcases. It’s 4pm on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and outside the sky is darkening as the sun sets. In three days I will be climbing into our Ford Galaxy with my 11-year-old and my 10-year-old, and driving to the other side of Europe.

The next five weeks stretch ahead of me like a blank diary waiting to be written in. I feel giddy with a mixture of excitement and vertigo. By the time I’m back here in early March, unpacking these same suitcases, my head will be full of new memories.

What adventures do the next five weeks have in store for us?

Language school and knobbly cucumbers

Eight days and a road trip through Spain later, we sit in the bright, airy atrium of Spark Spanish, a family-run language school in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Andalucía.

A handsome young chico smiles and tells us he will be teaching Spanish to C(11) and J(10) every day for the next four weeks.  He introduces himself as Mario, which immediately endears him to my video-game-loving son.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
At the language school

Meanwhile I join four young women, all in their 20’s, in another room. One introduces herself as Marta, our Spanish teacher. An online test has placed me in Marta’s upper-intermediate class. She asks me – in Spanish – where I learned Spanish, and I tell her about my year living in Granada. I spoke the language fluently, but that was 22 years – half my lifetime – ago!

For the next two hours my brain whirs  and hums as long-neglected pathways start to wake up. My head aches a little by the time I peek, nervously, into the children’s classroom. Have they enjoyed their class? Has J(10), who hasn’t been in a formal classroom since he left school five years ago, managed to last the morning? Will C(11), who is eager to speak Spanish, be able to learn at the pace she wants, alongside her less enthusiastic brother?

Hurray – they’re both smiling! C(11) proudly recites a list of Spanish numbers. J(10) excitedly tells me how they taught Mario to play Sudoku and  created a huge puzzle together. I don’t think he even noticed the numbers were in Spanish.

Opposite Spark we see a tiny shop. We buy fragrant olives scooped from an enormous glass jar, a short, knobbly cucumber, and a golden brown barra still warm to the touch. Our tummies rumble as the scent of bread and garlic fills the car as we drive home.

After lunch we stroll for five minutes through the terracotta and sunshine yellow houses of our new neighbourhood to the beach.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
Off to the beach…
A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
‘Our’ beach

And so our days begin to acquire a new rhythm, and our us-schooling month in Spain unfolds …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
J(10) enjoying the space

Us-schooling in Spain

In the absence of her usual busy schedule of extra-curricular activities, C(11) finds time to paint …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

… take photos …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

… and record a song, for which she films a video with her brother. The canine members of our family happily join in {video below} …


C(11) makes new friends by helping out with the English classes Spark run after school, and she and J(10) make a film at the language school {video below}.  Look out for J(10)’s creepy carnival mask, and for my cameo at around 3 minutes 50 seconds …

J(10), meanwhile, is more of a homebody than his wanderlust mother and sister. So I’m very appreciative of the way he makes the best of our month away.

He attends four weeks of Spanish classes without complaint. When he’s not in class or playing on the beach, he’s happily absorbed at his computer, ascending the levels of World of Warcraft.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain 6  Navigating By Joy

He listens to so many audiobooks that I almost forget what he looks like without headphones …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain  audiobooks  Navigating By Joy
Audiobook heaven

A taste of Spanish culture

My mum joins us for a week and we visit Cádiz, the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain and one of the oldest in Western Europe …

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Visiting Cádiz with my mum

… and we drive through red mountains to the delightful resort of Estepona, where we bask in the mild Mediterranean air …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
C(11) and her Grandma in Estepona

… and C(11) and J(10) choreograph some play fighting on the beach {10 second video below} …


Ten-year-old bullfighters

C(11) and I go on a guided tour of El Puerto’s bullring – the third largest in Spain.

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The bullring at El Puerto de Santa María

We realise how deeply embedded bullfighting is in Spanish culture when we see children brandishing capes in the ring – learning to be a torero is apparently an after-school activity in Spain!


My husband James joins us for our final weekend in Spain, and we join the locals celebrating spring Carnivale.

Carnival time
Carnival time

Adios, España

On 28 February the sun blazes down on our Spanish friends flocking to the beach to celebrate Andalucía Day, but it’s time for us to  pack up cram into the car and say goodbye – for now – to El Puerto de Santa María.

A homeschooling month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
¡Hasta Luego, España!

There are still a few more treats to come, though. I knew nothing about the city of Mérida – I chose it because was convenient for our route. So I am thrilled when we turn a corner to see this enormous Roman aqueduct, through whose arches we watch the sun set on our penultimate day in Spain.

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Roman aquaduct at Mérida, Extremadura at sunset (top) and the next morning

Looking back

I sit on the floor, surrounded by half-unpacked suitcases. I think back to that January afternoon when I wondered, tingling with excitement and adrenaline, what the next five weeks held in store.

I look at the sun-kissed faces of my children and the hundreds of photos I’ve taken, and think of my journal, whose pages record the many tiny joys that together made up our Spanish life. I hear J(10) absent-mindedly say gracias to his sister, and I smile.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

See also A Homeschooling Month in Spain – part 1.


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

History & Geography Meme 162 at All Things Beautiful

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #27

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

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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I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Hip Homeschool Hop

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