Saturday, November 7, 2015

Starting a Foreign Language When Overwhelmed

I have spent much the last fourteen years struggling with pregnancy-related issues:  sickness, fatigue, pain, sleep deprivation, postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.  I know what it is like to be overwhelmed, but also to want to offer so much to these wonderful and amazing children God has given me.

Last year as I considered my then Y3 and Y1 boys, I knew I wanted to start them in a foreign language.  I read and re-read Celeste's excellent series on Learning Languages the Charlotte Mason Way.  But as I reflected on myself, I realized that I had very little to give - little mental space, little time to prepare, little ability to learn anything new.  I also knew that the boys would need something very hands-on, because neither was at a point where I could expect them to sit with a packaged curriculum and have any success at all.  They were both also very resistant to the idea of learning a foreign language.

I realized that what I could do would not be a full solution.  It would not lead anywhere near fluency, nor would it be a long term strategy.  But it could be something to ease them into foreign language in a way that required very little from me.

I set the following goals for the year:

  1. We would study a language I already knew a little bit and had a lot of resources available.  A time of overwhelm is not a time to decide that it would really be better to choose a language based on coolness-factor, family history, or personal interest.  
  2. I would incorporate foreign language prayers and poetry into our memory work.  I set a goal of one new prayer and one new poem each term.  I added in our prayers and poetry in Spanish right alongside our regular poetry selections in our daily memory work.
  3. I would have us learn one new children's song in the target language every term.  I chose fun, bouncy music and played it at the end of our Morning Time.  This was a great way for the kids to get up and move around and stretch after our quieter and more sedentary Morning Time.
  4. I would do two sessions of Duolingo each day.  Two sessions takes about 10-12 minutes and I trained myself to do Duolingo before I allowed myself to look at blogs, check email, read or do just about anything on my phone or computer.  I think this ended up being the most important piece of our language learning.  I would periodically tell the children how manhy consecutive days I had on Duolingo and they saw and admired my faithfulness to this practice.  It gave them a sense of how important this was to me, and made it easier for me to occasionally say things in Spanish to my kids.
We did this all year last year.  By the time we left for our trip to Alaska, I had a Duolingo streak of over 320 days.  The boys were no longer resistant to learning a foreign language, and they were proud to be able to pray in multiple languages.  I didn't meet all my goals, namely we ended up memorizing only two poems and one prayer, but we did learn more songs than I had planned.  My now four year old sings "Brilla, Brilla, Estrellita" to himself when he's playing or falling asleep.

Resources I used:
A Bailar! - Fun Spanish music targeted at kids, but not obnoxiously so.  They also have a PDF on their website with the lyrics.
Poems by Douglas Wright - The two we learned are Árboles, Á boles, Árboles and Una Casa con un Sol.  He has a lot of poetry that is great for kids who are learning Spanish.  He uses repeating words, natural themes, and they are generally just a few short stanzas.  And you can use Google translate to get an English version.
Duolingo - Free, works on my phone and computer, easy to use.  What's not to like?
Prayers - We learned the Hail Mary in Spanish and the Our Father in Latin.

And in case you're wondering about my oldest...
Emma, then Y7, was well underway with Greek, Latin and Spanish and largely self-directed in her language studies.  She has long found the study of different languages fascinating, and that coupled with her early reading and writing skills made using well known and widely available programs like the Hey, Andrew series, Latina Christiana, Henle and Rosetta Stone an easy fit.  Were they what Charlotte Mason would have used in her schools?  Well, not necessarily, but when I chose the programs that wasn't a question I held in as much importance as I do now.

And now...
Our work last year, coupled with my healthier emotional and physical state, put us in an excellent position to ramp up our Spanish studies this year and to add Latin for Gregory, now in Y4.  I'm using Cherrydale Press' Speaking Spanish book with Nathan (Y2) and Gregory, and Latin for Children A with Gregory.  I'm very pleased with the Speaking Spanish book, and reasonably happy with Latin for Children.  I've added the Latin chants to our daily memory work, which means my four year old goes around chanting "o, s, t, mus, tis, nt!" and singing "In principio erat verbum" and my almost two year old asks for "aqua, aquae" when she wants water - both of which are incredibly cute.

And if I wasn't in this healthier state, I think I would have continued our Spanish work as I outlined, and added Latin chant, prayer and poetry as well.  (I'm not sure what I would have substituted the Duolingo work for in Latin, however.)  I would have started Gregory on Rosetta Stone and hoped for the best.  And I would have held off on introducing any additional Spanish study with Nathan for at least another year.  Ideal?  Not at all.  But certainly much better than waiting until I had the time, energy, and ability to do something more ideal.


  1. Overwhelmed is an accurate description of how I am feeling right now, Amber. And it's only November! With 5 children in 5 different years of AO, I am barely keeping up with readings, narrations, and the rest. I just blogged about it and got some good suggestions. e And next term, I am cutting back on some of the AO stuff. :)
    Btw, we are doing Spanish and that's it. No Latin or Greek. I simply can't add anything else to my already chaotic schedule.
    Hope you have a lovely day.

  2. I like the look of your plans, Amber. Honestly, with all the various factors that you described, I probably wouldn't have added any foreign langauge at all! LOL So I think your multi-faceted yet simple approach is a great way to make a little progress while not adding too much to your plate. And this reminds me that I really need to get back on Duolingo! I had a long streak but left it behind a year ago--I was actually making really good progress, so I should pick that up again. I have been looking for something to do while I spend hours on the sofa this week and next recovering, and maybe that's exactly what I need! :)

    1. You are going to have so much review to do, if you want to get all those little badges back to gold! :-) It took me about two weeks to catch up on Duolingo after not doing it for three weeks during our Alaska vacation. But I might just be a little obsessive about making sure I have gold badges.

      Thanks for your comment, Celeste, and I hope you are resting comfortably and that Justin is doing well!

    2. Okay, I just logged in and got hooked playing for half an hour. Now I have three gold badges...out of the fifty I used to have. Yikes! :)

    3. LOL! Too funny, Celeste! I remember when I started Duolingo the idea of passing you up on points was very motivating. It took me quite awhile, but I did finally manage to do it. Now I bet you'll be beating me in the weekly list at least!