by Laura Creasey
Hola! Bonjour! Shalom!
Foreign languages are increasingly showing up on the homeschool curriculum of many families, for a variety of reasons. Some parents want to enhance their children's ability to communicate with those around them as a method of gaining cultural understanding. Others would like to prepare them for careers in our increasingly globalized and interdependent world. College-bound homeschoolers may be studying a language in order to enhance their applications, as many colleges and universities value, or in come cases even require, foreign language proficiency.
Some parents believe that language study will be useful for future study or research, whether it be for advanced academic work or religious study. Some parents want their children to get in touch with their roots. "My grandparents came from Germany in the 1920's and I love the idea of my children speaking German," says Emma Franklin of California. Foreign language proficiency also enables more effective mission work, an interest of many homeschool families. Speaking a local language will make it easier to deliver a message and to help others. "Our family went on a mission trip to Guatemala last year and the fact that our children could speak Spanish to the villagers we were working with made all the difference. It showed that we respected them and were truly interested in their lives," says Mike Davidson a homeschool parent from New Hampshire.
As homeschooling enters the mainstream, there are an abundance of resources for parents and students in the areas of social studies, English, math and science. The study of foreign languages, however, presents a special problem for many homeschool parents. Often parents are uncomfortable trying to teach a foreign language if they themselves do not speak it proficiently.
We all know that it is best to start children on second languages at a young age. Young minds absorb language patterns and vocabulary with an ease that cannot be replicated as we age. Many homeschool parents use books or DVDs and products such as Powerglide or Rosetta Stone to get their children started with a second language. In many cases parents begin learning a language alongside their children.
All of these strategies are good but they leave a one piece missing, the importance of actually speaking. "It's almost impossible to truly learn a language without speaking and interacting in that language," says Rocio Gonzalez, a Spanish teacher in California. "In my classes I emphasize spoken Spanish. The more people speak, the more comfortable they are with a language."
Some homeschool parents are fortunate enough to live in areas with available foreign language tutors who can help children practice. For many others, however, a "geography" problem exists, whereby they cannot find native speakers in their local area who are available to tutor.
FluencyNow has launched the first of its kind internet solution that offers one-on-one, live conversation-based tutoring by native speakers. Using streaming video technology, students can see, hear, and speak with their foreign language tutor from the place and time of their convenience. Students working to improve their spoken command of another language are no longer constrained by the pool of native speakers in their local area. Languages currently offered include Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, English, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi, Nepali, Russian and Ukrainian, with new languages being added regularly.
"Several of my friends who homeschool knew that they wanted their children to study foreign languages but were concerned about effectively teaching a language that they didn't speak," says Rachel Ballard, a co-founder of FluencyNow. "We developed FluencyNow with this problem in mind. Books and CDs will only take them so far but with FluencyNow their children can practice speaking and build confidence."
Each one-on-one tutoring session with a native language speaker allows the student to practice speaking and comprehending their target language. Since FluencyNow's mission is to create conversational fluency, this service is a valuable supplement to all other language training tools and methodologies. According to Karri Simmons, a co-founder of FluencyNow, "Studying grammar and vocabulary is a very important component of learning a foreign language. But to truly speak another language with confidence, nothing can replace practicing one's skills with native speakers."
Parents can schedule sessions and specify conversation topics that they would like to cover, such as past tense, food related vocabulary or general greetings. Or they can leave it up to the conversational tutor. They will practice spontaneous conversation of the sort that they might face when actually visiting a foreign country or speaking with native speakers, in a comfortable supportive atmosphere. FluencyNow offers special discounts for homeschoolers and free weekly group conversation in some languages.
FluencyNow is internet browser based and uses Macromedia's Flash plug-in. This means no application downloads to the family computer, eliminating any security risks. All that is needed is a high-speed internet connection and a headset with microphone. Each tutor uses a high quality webcam so the student can see, hear and converse with their tutor. The system has been designed for ease of use and good audio/video quality, without the need for specialized software and hardware.
In the future, more language learning resources will undoubtedly become available to homeschool families. This, in turn, will likely create more interest in foreign language study and its many rich rewards.
Laura Creasey has lived and worked in Europe and South America and has traveled extensively throughout the world. She speaks Spanish and is studying Portuguese and French. She is a co-founder of FluencyNow, based in Santa Barbara, California.