Updated: Oct 6, 2020
LANGUAGES START AT HOME
I have a bone to pick with all of the foreign language materials available. Really – with all of them. Textbooks, APPs, immersion programs, you name it. Why do they all begin with words like ¨climb mountains¨ and sentences such as ¨The cat is in the tree.¨? Do you know how many times I have climbed a mountain or pointed out a cat in a tree since I started learning Spanish 13 years ago? Zero.
Everyday Actions Are Ignored Until Semester 2
Doesn't it make more sense to teach the words for activities that people do, and do often? If you think about it for a second, what are the things that you do multiple times a day? Eat, drink, go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, wash your hands, go out, come home, check your phone/e-mail/social media, wash dishes, prepare food… I am sure it varies depending on your age and lifestyle – but some things are certain.
What Items Do You Use or Touch Daily?
Most people touch the refrigerator, their phones and/or computers several times a day, if not hourly (at least in our house!). Most people bathe, brush and wash parts of themselves daily as well. Everyone reading this right now has logged onto a device and engaged online in some way.
Teaching words that students have the opportunity to use, and can make a meaningful connection with, exponentially increases engagement and retention. It is that simple.
So, why aren´t we teaching foreign languages based on what we actually do? I don´t have the answer to that to be honest.
HOW USE THE TARGET LANGUAGE ALL DAY LONG
But I can share with you my favorite strategy on how to practice the words/phrases that you need to know, without setting aside ANY additional time, studying, attending classes or paying for materials. I suggest this to all of my Spanish students when we go through the house unit.
But as you can see in the video, it works for English or any other foreign language as well. The key is to be consistent about it – no matter how hard it is!
WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM THIS STRATEGY?
This activity works especially well with students who need to practice speaking, those who need to learn as quickly as possible (immigrants / expats, people traveling or studying abroad, etc.), bilingual families who are learning together, non-native parents raising bilingual children, parents looking to learn/study alongside their children, and especially siblings.
Brothers and sisters are great at pointing out when the other one misses a vocabulary word. They also come up with more things to label (such as video games, make-up, toys, musical instruments, etc.). All in all – it´s a lot of fun when there is more than one person involved.
LET'S GET STARTED!
To get set up, you just need Post-Its, stickers, or masking tape, a pen and a dictionary or translator. Label everything that you can in the house, even food and drink! You can start small if you want, by just saying the vocabulary word each time you use/touch something. Then say the word and a color or other descriptive adjective. Then, finally a simple sentence.
Personally, I like to jump right to a simple sentence because I think it's much more interesting and useful, and my students are mostly 11-16 years old, so they can handle a simple grammatical structure off the bat.
But with younger kids, around 6-9, I would start slower and build it up over a few weeks. For toddlers and preschool-aged children, you will most likely have to do the speaking, but they will still be listening and absorbing the information, so it´s just as important that you build up and increase the language as you go.
Do you have another idea for using the target language at home? Comment below!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sara Tyler has 2 M.A. degrees, in Educational Technology and Curriculum and Instruction. Her B.A. degree is in ESL. She has worked online since 2014, and has taught languages since 2010.
Her company, Viva Online, L.L.C. provides Spanish language courses, immersion classes, and professional development teachers. She lives in Playa del Carmen, Mexico with her husband and 2 daughters.
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