How to Learn a Foreign Language at Home

How to Learn a Foreign Language at Home

The idea of homeschooling has its fair share of grand issues to contend with such as socialization, pedagogy, and personal values but it also faces smaller, yet equally important challenges during the process. One of the most common is subject matter.

Most parents feel comfortable with the content taught during the elementary years but as students get older the material becomes more complex in nature and more difficult to teach. Many subjects can become challenging for homeschoolers (and their parents!) but perhaps none more so than foreign languages. Unless the instructor is fluent in the language (and even if they are) teaching a foreign language is complicated. In addition to creating a curriculum to follow, the teacher must also include listening and speaking skills in order to allow the student to master the language.

This key to language-learning is critical yet is sometimes missing in general CD and online-based language programs. Fortunately, there are alternative methods to language instruction that give students the opportunity to not only learn a foreign language but to practice the necessary skills to be able to use their new knowledge.

In this issue we will be interviewing David S. Clark, the creator of Learn Spanish Today, a program that emphasizes conversation, not just grammar so that the student comes away actually being able to speak Spanish.

Dave Clark is the director of the U.S. Institute of Languages, which formed in 1995 with its own method for learning languages. Instead of using isolated word memorization, individuals learn how to form correct, complete sentences. Languages are learned by themes using groups of words to form sentences. The Institute’s courses have been taught at major U.S. corporations, government agencies, and universities.

Mr. Clark’s background includes a degree in Spanish, with two years teaching experience at the university level and extensive living in two Spanish-speaking countries.

We began the interview by looking at the need to teach foreign languages and asked:

Q: “Why is it important for our children to learn other languages?”

A: “It really is a global world out there and the world is shrinking,” Many of our children will grow up to have a job that requires some type of global communication. If they have those essential communication skills, they will be further ahead of the game and could get higher paying jobs. In fact, studies have shown that a person who is bilingual in Spanish, on average earns 5% more nationally.

“Work is an important reason to speak another language, but Spanish is also helpful for those traveling abroad, or wanting to communicate with neighbors and potential Spanish-speaking relatives or friends.”

Learning a foreign language is one key to a successful career and cultural path but deciding which foreign language to study also helps shape the future.

Q: So, why learn Spanish, over some other language?

A: “Spanish is around us daily,” said Clark. “Other languages are nice to learn, but Spanish really gives individuals a huge benefit in the U.S. today. By becoming bilingual in Spanish, many opportunities are opened up. Also, by learning Spanish, one can start to gain more cultural understanding of friends and neighbors that now live close in many cities in the U.S. This helps to bridge communication gaps and understanding.”

While learning another language makes for more worldly and employable adults, many students and parents worry about the difficulty of learning a foreign language, especially on their own. We asked: 

Q: “Is it possible to learn a foreign language at home?”

A: Mr. Clark replied, “It definitely is. The great part about learning at home is that students can work at their own pace. Unlike the public education system, our interactive course has a built in teacher that students can watch over and over. Any lesson can be repeated as much as a student likes until the lesson and concepts are mastered. Lessons are put together in an interesting way that makes repetition enjoyable.”

The course also includes a lot of feedback to help students stay on track and to improve poorer skills and reinforce better ones. The student-controlled pace along with timely and relevant feedback gives the students a learning environment in which to meet their individual needs and make their own personal connections to the material, which leads to a stronger and deeper understanding.

In addition to the individualized nature of the program the Visual Link Spanish Learning System is also effective because it uses high-retention visual images.

“Most courses teach a lot of vocabulary, grammar rules and verb conjugations,” Clark added, “but when the student finishes they can conjugate verbs well but can’t carry on conversations. By including the high-retention images and other techniques such as writing and enjoyable repetition in different contexts, students ask and answer questions during the process and actually communicate in Spanish.”