How I introduced a foreign language to our homeschool

by - Monday, July 31, 2017

As my children have some communication and developmental delays, it was hard for me to decide on when to introduce a second language to our homeschool.


On one hand, my son is still working on his speech (although he has improved a lot) and my daughter still won't sit still or follow directions properly. On the other hand, we have relocated to Portugal and they need to learn the language, as they have to take tests when they are in 4th grade (as well as learning to live here) and they say that it's best to start them early.

I am glad I took the plunge to try it out with my 6 year old and 5 year old. As it turns out, the kids loved it so much, that I have the Portuguese language lessons as a "reward" once they are done with the other subjects (English, Math, etc).

Here's what I did that helped to my success.

Learn the language before teaching it.

Even before we moved to Portugal, I started learning the language, little by little. Obviously I am not fluent yet, but I can definitely understand and speak some. Learning the subject before you teach it can help tremendously! The free Memrise app and their website is perfect for this, as it also has audio and videos from locals speaking the language and it's got European Portuguese, as it's what we need (Brazilian Portuguese are a little different). I also try to speak what I learn with real people and try to read and listen to it everywhere I go to get familiar with it.

Make sure your children are ready

My son was completely non-verbal 2 years ago, so starting another language then will only confuse him. You have to make sure they are already familiarized with the routine of homeschool, and that they have enough skills (speech, handwriting, sitting and listening, following instructions) before adding another language to your homeschool. When it comes to language learning, a lot of people will tell you "start them early, they will pick it up better". And they are right... to a point. Only you can determine whether they are ready for another language. Don't start a journey of frustration by introducing the subject too early.

Have the right tools right in front of you during teaching

Like I mentioned above, I'm not fully fluent in the language, so obviously I will need help myself in teaching the language. It's a good practice to keep an electronic device and use tools such as Google Translate (for directions in the books, unfamiliar words etc), and text-to-speech applications or YouTube videos for pronunciation help etc.
Portuguese Dictionary with Images

Teach the right material

This is important. Instead of resorting to language learning apps online, I went to the bookstore and got the actual curriculum books that they use in Portuguese schools. You can even buy them online from jumbo.pt, staples.pt, leyaonline.com/pt and other websites. But I wanted to have a look and feel of how they are teaching them and what my options are before I buy them. Choosing the language curriculum of the local schools will not only help to teach the language properly to my children, but it will help me learn the language as well.

Since my youngest one is still at preschool level and my son is just starting 1st grade this year, I got the Preschool / Kindergarten level books and since they have developmental delays I thought we start small. Even if they learn only 1 Portuguese word a day, I am happy. So I got a fully illustrated dictionary with more than 500 words (do just a few words a day), and I got them a Wipe / Clean activity book in Portuguese, as writing the words with fun colorful markers (over and over again) can help them remember better what they have learned.

Make sure you keep it short and consistent. Repeat a lot, speak the words yourself and ask them to say them as well. Show them how the words are written.

Now I know that doesn't sound much, but when you are adding another subject to your homeschool to small children, especially a foreign language, you want it to be subtle and fun. One word a day with happy kids who look forward to it is a lot better than make them dread the whole subject by overloading it with work. As the kids get older and are used to the new subject and routine, you can add as much as they can handle.

What are your thoughts? Is there anything you would like to add to these tips?

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