Category: Language Resources

Best Way to Learn a New Language

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. While purchasing from any of these links will not increase the price you pay, I do receive a small commission.

Have you ever wanted to learn a new language? Do you think that it is something that you need special training to do? Or a special teacher to teach you? If you are reading this, I can guess that you speak at least one language already. And I’m guessing that your children speak at least one language already as well.

You see, it is not as difficult as it seems to learn a new language. It just takes strategy. And lots and lots of practice. Plus, the strategy is pretty easy. Simply follow the natural rhythm of learning a language. There are four steps:

  1. Listen,
  2. Speak,
  3. Read, and
  4. Write the language.

That’s it. All it takes is following those four steps (and in that order) to begin to master any language. If you think about it, this is the exact process you went through to learn your first language. As a baby, you listened to your parents and other family members speaking to you. As you grew older, you began to use what you had heard. You began to speak. A few years later, you started the process of learning to read. Often learning to write was taught alongside because by then, it was a bit easier to learn two skills at once. Of course, this took a few years. But by the time you were 7 or 8 years old, you could be considered fluent, in both speaking and writing. Everything after that was just honing your skill.

So how do you put this into practice now for a new language?

Listening

I didn’t start learning French until I was nearly 30 years old. In school, I had studied a little bit of German, a little bit of Spanish and a little bit of Chinese. But no French. It wasn’t until I met my future husband in my mid-twenties that I even considered learning French. Since he spoke fluent English and we were living in the United States, I didn’t really try that hard either. But when we decided to move to France in 2006, I knew I’d better get cracking.

I had been around my husband’s family a few times and was beginning to understand a bit. But speaking was another matter. So I took an accelerated French course at the Northwestern University School of Professional Studies (then called the School of Continuing Studies) in Chicago, Illinois. This helped a bit with basic grammar. But I was nowhere near ready to be let loose on my own in France. Especially in a town where few people spoke English.

So when we arrived, I went back to the basics.

I listened. I listened to G talk to his family and their responses. Then I listened to the radio and the tv. I just listened. My favorites were kids’ shows, especially cartoons because the language was pretty basic, the story line was easy, and the images made following along a piece of cake. I developed an ear for not only how the language was used but also how to pronounce it.

head phones for listening

And this is what you must do. Listen to songs. Watch your favorite tv shows but in the other language. We are lucky to be living in an age where that is so easy. Netflix and Amazon Prime both offer movies and tv shows in which you can change the audio. Stream a radio station in your chosen language. You might even be able to find audio books at your local library (depending on where you live and what your chosen language is).

Speaking

Once I felt comfortable that I knew enough vocabulary to make simple conversation, I began talking. This was the hardest step for me. As a perfectionist, I didn’t want to speak until I was fluent. A totally unrealistic goal.

Now, this is not to say that I never said a word until then. Obviously, that would be weird for so many reasons. But up until that point, I basically just answered questions. I never really offered anything up on my own.

But as my vocabulary grew, so did my conversation. And really, isn’t that exactly how a child does it? They listen for at least a year of their life before even saying a word. And when they do start talking, it is in monosyllables. It is only after their vocabulary grows that their ability to speak in sentences can start. As they get comfortable speaking with their loved ones, they move on to speaking with others.

two people talking in nature

This can be a little trickier to do if you are not living in the country of your chosen language. Try to find a group of like-minded individuals who also want to learn. You can practice with each other and hold each other accountable at the same time. Use apps like Duolingo to practice your pronunciation. Or, if you are lucky, try to find a native who is willing to meet up with you for a cup of coffee. Then try to spend the whole time speaking in their language.

If you are teaching kids, play games with them that force them to use some of the words they have learned. Point to objects and see how many they can name. Do role-playing exercises. Or just learn the lyrics to a simple children’s song and sing it together. There are numerous ways you can practice saying words without having to live among the natives, as it were.

Reading

Depending on the age, this can be done alongside the listening stage. When I was learning French, I often checked books out at the local médiatheque (library). Usually I would get a few English novels (for pleasure), some kids books (for ease), and some comic books (for a bit tougher vocabulary). The adult comics were great because the vocab was more suitable for my age while at the same time easier to grasp because of the images.

When I felt comfortable enough to challenge myself, I started reading novels. I’m a little insane because I started with Les misérables by Victor Hugo. This was a calculated risk. Even though the novel itself was a difficult read, I was already familiar with, and loved, the book. I had read it in English and knew the basic story by heart. (Thanks Andrew Lloyd Weber!) Because I am a visual learner, this helped me make better sense of the words I was hearing daily.

novel with french title

Obviously, I would not recommend young kids read books while in the beginning listening stage. Unless, of course, they are already fluent readers in their first language and you feel they might benefit from seeing the words as well. Again, I’m not saying they shouldn’t look at books written in that language. Just don’t expect them to learn how to read it until they are able to speak it. Older kids may want to read simple books earlier on, especially if they are visual learners like me.

Writing

The last thing anyone should attempt is writing. Admittedly, this is the one area where I still struggle in French. Because I basically learned on my own in a social context, I never really spent any time on this area. After all, how often do we write to the people we see everyday?

I’m trying to change that as I begin teaching my own kids to write in French. But it is a tough one for me. I would venture to guess that this is the toughest part of learning a language for just about anyone. And often, it is the part we don’t even bother with. After all, unless you are learning another language for a job, usually you just need to be able to communicate verbally in order to navigate in that country. At the most, you need to be able to read to get information from menus or websites (or even street signs).

desk with notebook, clock, pencils

My suggestion (and what I do personally) to learn how to write comes straight from Charlotte Mason. Do copywork. Copy passages from books. Copy Bible verses. Or copy song lyrics. Anything to get used to the use of accents, spelling, and grammar. If it works to improve your English, why wouldn’t it do the same for your foreign language?

And when you are at ease with the copywork and are speaking fluently, why not try writing a short story. My kids even create their own comic books. They draw the pictures then label them in French and make the characters speak to each other in French. This is a great, fun way to practice writing. For any age.

Practice

After you’ve started all four steps, all you need to do at this point is practice. Depending on how quickly you want to learn this new language, you should do it at least weekly. The quicker you want to learn, the more often you need to exercise your skills. The most important thing is to practice all four steps as often as you can. By all means, you can get by just knowing how to speak and understand. But wouldn’t it great to be fluent?

If you want to learn about some of the resources I use to teach and learn French, check out my post 10 Favorite French (and Other Language) Resources.

What are some things you do to practice in a foreign language? Comment below or email me at masonalamaison@gmail.com. I would love to hear your ideas!

10 Favorite French (and Other Language) Resources

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. While purchasing from any of these links will not increase the price you pay, I do receive a small commission.

Even though we are currently living in France, we homeschool mainly in English and follow the Ambleside Online curriculum schedule. However, being in France, we are beholden to their laws and must pass a yearly inspection. This requires me to include French lessons that fall in line with the French program. My children need to be able to pass an oral or written test at each inspection. I wrote more about the laws and inspections in earlier posts.

Nevertheless, I still want my children to enjoy their education and try to follow the Charlotte Mason method as much as possible. Below are a list of my favorite resources for learning and teaching French that I have found online. Most of them are free though a few are paid. Here are my top ten in no particular order.

top language resource

1. Linguee

Linguee is a free online language dictionary which translates from English to French and French to English. What I like most about this tool is that they give real life examples of the words and their translations. This way I can check that the word I want to use has the proper meaning. Every language has words that can be used to mean two different things. With Linguee, it is easier to see that I am picking the right one.

Now this is a resource that is not just for French but for many other languages as well. Here is a list of the other languages that can be translated from or to English.

  • German
  • Spanish
  • Portuguese
  • Italian
  • Russian
  • Japanese
  • Chinese
  • Polish
  • Dutch
  • Swedish
  • Danish
  • Finnish
  • Greek
  • Czech
  • Romanian
  • Hungarian
  • Slovak
  • Bulgarian
  • Slovene
  • Lithuanian
  • Latvian
  • Estonian and
  • Maltese

Not a bad list for language learning lovers (say that three times fast).

There is even a free app for phones. I’ve used it on both my phone and my laptop with the same great results.

2. Duolingo

In order to first learn those languages you want to translate on Linguee, I’d highly recommend Duolingo. This is a free online language learning resource. It is easy to navigate, fun to use and great for beginning learners as well as those just trying to brush up on that language they took for four years in high school but haven’t used since. (German, anyone?) The lessons are short, 5-10 minutes at most. They are offered as mini games or exercises in various formats: multiple choice, listening, speaking, or matching for starters.

I’ve been using it to brush up on my French. Though I’ve been living here for over 12 years, I still make some common mistakes and I use this tool to keep training myself to be better.

At the same time, my 7 year old daughter has been using it to learn Italian. No one in our family speaks Italian so this tool is great for her to do some independent learning. All my kids will be starting their third language around 7 or 8 years old or in third grade. With Duolingo, they each choose whichever language interests them the most without it breaking the bank.

This is another resource that is great not just for French but for a host of other languages as well. Here is the list from English.

  • Spanish
  • German
  • Japanese
  • Italian
  • Korean
  • Chinese
  • Russian
  • Portuguese
  • Turkish
  • Dutch
  • Swedish
  • Irish
  • Greek
  • Hebrew
  • Polish
  • Norwegian
  • Vietnamese
  • High Valyrian
  • Danish
  • Romanians
  • Swahili
  • Klingon
  • Esperanto
  • Hindi
  • Hungarian
  • Welsh
  • Ukrainian
  • Czech
  • Hawaiian
  • Indonesian
  • Navajo and
  • Arabic

If you noticed, you can learn two languages that aren’t even real. Hahaha.

A mobile app is also available and is fantastic. It is what we use the most because the listening and speaking skills are so much simpler to use.

There is also a paid version that eliminates all the ads, repairs streaks and allows lesson downloads on mobile. But to be honest, the ads aren’t really intrusive so I don’t see a great advantage in paying for that. Of course, you may want it to repair any streaks. Streaks are basically how many days in a row you have managed to do your daily lesson. Losing a streak can be pretty devastating (psychologically) when you’ve managed to work for over a 100 days straight and then life happens and you miss one day and have to start over. Ugh. And the downloaded lessons might come in handy if you have limited data usage on your phone.

3. Spotify

I’ve heard a lot of people in the United States like Pandora as a music streaming site. However, for those of us in the rest of the world, this site is not available to us. I’ve found an equivalent that works well, is free and is available nearly everywhere. This is Spotify.

I use Spotify for our music courses. I create three playlists for each year. One for our Composer Study, one for Folk Music Study, and one for Hymn Study. What is great is that I can find most of the songs I am looking for from the Ambleside schedule and from my own created schedule of French folk songs and hymns (or Christian music in French). We’ve even added Italian folk songs on our list this year for my daughter’s Italian classes.

There is a free version that has numerous ads that pop up and interrupt listening, much like a radio station. The paid version eliminates those ads. Since we use Spotify frequently and often listen to our composer study in the background while doing other lessons like copywork or art, I’ve chosen to pay for the paid version. The ads were too frequent and I couldn’t control their content. I don’t like exposing my children to the twaddle that is promoted today, if I can help it. The price is reasonable and saves us from untimely interruptions during some of the longer pieces by composers.

top language resource4. YouTube

I would be remiss in excluding YouTube. For all of the flack given to YouTube recently, though merited, it has remained an extremely useful tool for learning. We use it a bit less than some of the other resources since I try to limit screen time. But it still has a lot to offer.

Whenever I have trouble finding a song on Spotify, the first place I’ll look after that will be YouTube. There are even playlists created by other Ambleside families for the Composer, Folk Music and Hymn studies.

But what is especially great about YouTube for languages, and in particular French, are the channels for kids. My favorite channels on YouTube with French songs and nursery rhymes (comptines) are Boutchoo, also known as Baby Songs TubeMonde des Titounis and Les Patapons. All three channels have cute little animations of some of the most well-known kids’ songs and will often print the lyrics karaoke style so you can follow along.

You can also find episodes of popular kids’ cartoons in French. To search, simply put the title of the cartoon you are looking for followed by français. Often you will find what you are looking for and your kids can watch an episode they have memorized already in another language, turning screen time into learning time too.

5. Amazon Prime Video or Netflix

Video streaming is the new dvd rental. And with such great services as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, it is easy to see why. We can have access to hundreds of movies and tv shows without ever leaving the home. And the price is right. For less than $10 a month, you could virtually watch hundreds of dollars worth of movies on the old video rental plans, aka Blockbuster. And Amazon Prime is even cheaper on a yearly payment.

But what I like most about these streaming services are the subtitle and audio possibilities. We can watch original language films with subtitles or even switch the audio to English or French on nearly all videos. This is a great tool to have when learning languages. Often, when my children want to watch their favorite movie for the umpteenth time, I will have them switch it to French. This way, they are practicing their ear. Since they know the story so well, the language does not impede on their enjoyment. Rather, they are working the language center in their brains while having a little screen time. Win-win in my book.

I’m sure you could add Hulu in this group but since I’ve never used it, I cannot speak to its abilities or possibilities.

If you were to ask me my personal preference between Amazon and Netflix, I would have to choose Amazon. (Disclaimer again: I am an affiliate of Amazon. I receive a small commission if you purchase anything through my site though it does not cost you more. However, this does not change my opinion.)

Not only is it cheaper in the long-term, but I get more than just movies for my money. We have a monthly subscription for bulk items such as diapers and toilet paper through Prime already. This saves us money and frustration since we do not drive. Carrying large boxes of diapers is too difficult to transport without a car. And buying smaller batches more frequently can become expensive. But with Prime we have the perfect amount shipped to us monthly at a slight discount. Add to this free movies, TV shows and free shipping on other products, and I can’t think of better value.

As a sidenote, we did have Netflix for a few months to test it out. Though there were more choices available for us, I could not justify spending the money when we already had a streaming service available through our Amazon subscription. When Netflix announced its coming release of a new cartoon for kids titled Super Drags (about drag queen super heroes), I cancelled immediately. As Christians, I feel it is important to choose products that do not blatantly oppose Biblical values. A case can be made, of course, that all streaming services will have things that are not Christian. But, to me, Netflix was just too blatant and was beginning to target the kids more openly than the others.

6. Amazon

This may seem redundant but Amazon has been such as huge resource, I feel it deserves another mention. This time for its products.

I already said that we use Amazon Prime for its subscription service and its video streaming. However, before these were made available, I still used it quite a lot.

Now, to be clear, I mostly use the French site for my commands, Amazon.fr. Obviously, this is because we live here and shipping is cheaper if we buy local.

But regardless of which version you use, the list of products is astounding. You can buy just about anything and have it shipped for a decent price.

We like to have access to English books, not just for school but for pleasure. Sometimes, we can find the book we are looking for in English at the local library. Even more rare, we will find it at a local bookstore. But more often than not, if we wanted a book in English, we could only find it on Amazon. And usually for a very good price, considering it is not always local shipping.

My favorite product is the Kindle. With limited space and a strict budget, buying books for school can be difficult. We can’t always find what we need at the library or médiathèque as it is called here. I am a real bibliophile and love the smell of books. But I love my sanity more so my solution has been to get as many books as I can for my Kindle.

As an incentive for our kids to learn to read in both English and French, we offer them their own Kindle as soon as they have shown to be comfortable reading basic books in both languages. That they can follow along when I do read-alouds is an added bonus. I’ve found that my daughter’s reading skills improve exponentially when she does her own reading but can follow along with me as well. And we only have to buy the book once for everyone to enjoy it at the same time.

I’ve looked at the Amazon site for the US and can find just as many French books that I like available over there so if we were ever to move, I would be sure to be covered. When in doubt for a product, I will always check Amazon. Usually they have what I’m looking for at a reasonable price.

I like to support small businesses when I can, but being a family with ties in two countries, having a large company like Amazon available is a blessing.

7. Gutenberg

For those unaware, Project Gutenberg, is a website that digitizes old literature, specifically those books who have entered the public domain. They offer free access to over 57,000 books in epub or Kindle format.

Most of the books available are in English. However, there are a few books offered in three other languages: Portuguese, German, and French.

I am always looking for ways to save money and this is one option. Before buying any classic book, I will always check Gutenberg first. The quality of the digital copy is good. In fact, the Kindle version is so good that I can even change the font size and will sometimes have images. Only if they do not have it, will I consider spending money.

You can access the French books directly through this link.

8. Mama Lisa’s World

One of my favorite sites from this list is definitely Mama Lisa’s World. This website has an impressive list of songs and rhymes originating in over 200 countries and/or cultures.

When I was in Year 1 with Ambleside Online, I wanted to follow their suggestions for Folksong Study. However, I also wanted to add in French folk songs along with it. The problem was that, not being a native Frenchie, I wasn’t familiar with what would be considered the classics. Not to mention, teaching my kids the nursery rhymes and children’s songs every French child should know.

Sure, I found a couple of books at the médiathèque with lists of classic French children’s songs. But I could only keep those for a month, two at most. I wanted something I could refer to again and again without buying it, if I could help it.

And this is where Mama Lisa’s World saved the day. When I landed on her page after doing a few different searches, I was blown away. The sheer amount of songs and nursery rhymes she had listed for France was fabulous. Plus, she had the lyrics with their English translation and sometimes even an audio clip of the song.

Now, when preparing my monthly selection of Folk music in French, I immediately go to Mama Lisa‘s for inspiration and to print out the lyrics.

With the addition of my oldest daughter’s lessons in Italian, we have even begun using the Italian section to add children’s songs in that language as well.

I cannot recommend strongly enough this resource for music and cultural learning.

9. Collection Boscher

Now we are getting into the French resources in only French.

Because we must show an awareness of the national program in France (even if we don’t follow it completely), I needed to find a resource that would placate the inspectors while at the same time fit in with the Charlotte Mason method as much as possible. This is where the Collection Boscher comes in.

These are a series of workbooks for grade school that give exercises and training in reading, writing, French grammar, and math. What drew me to these modern books over any others is that they have the closest resemblance to the old way of teaching. All the newer educational programs are much like the common core.  I don’t trust the methods and want to stay as old-school as possible, since I can’t easily go all Charlotte Mason here.

The Boscher collection is the best compromise. They have fun little workbooks for preschool and kindergarten with lots of activities and stickers that my littles enjoy doing. This is their “school” when the bigs have lessons to complete and they want to join in.

After that, each class from CP to CM2 (think 1st to 5th grade) has a book for French grammar and vocabulary, dictation (and French grammar), math, and Tout le programme (the entire program including science and geography). My kids don’t mind the lessons since we only do one page a day and we skip anything that is not compatible with their abilities at the moment. There is even a section for learning English which my kids laugh at while completing because it is so easy for them.

These workbooks conform with the official program so just by having my kids complete occasional lessons, we can keep up-to-date with what is expected of them.

And then there is a series of general books for no particular age that teach French history, the geography of France, an overview of science, technology, and regles de vie. This is basically lessons to teach kids how to be respectful and follow the rules, or common courtesy, which is included in the national program. As Christians, we learn this just by following God’s commandments. But since France has removed religion from education, and Christianity specifically, they were forced to create their own secular program to address the problems not being addressed by a religious education.

By completing these workbooks, we can show respect for national requirements without deterring too much from the real education that is taking place under Mason’s method.

And the kids enjoy them, which is the main reason I like them.

top french resource10. Manuels Anciens

My last favorite resource is also entirely in French. It is a website that offers all the old schoolbooks that are no longer used or even in print. Many of them can be downloaded as pdfs or images that can be transformed into a pdf.

I love this site mostly because I found the greatest method for teaching a child to read. It is called Mico, mon petit ours. It is basically a story about a little bear called Mico but written for the child to read by himself from the beginning. Each lesson introduces a new sound which is then used to create a word that in turn advances the story.

For example, the first five lessons introduce the sounds m, i, c, o, d, n, e, l which in turn create the words, Mico, Mimi, Coco, dodo, dîne, Milène, and comme. These are used in story form to introduce Mico the bear, Mimi the cat, Coco the donkey who then go to bed (dodo) eat (dîne) with the little girl who loves them, Milène. The story grows as the child’s knowledge of sounds and words grow. A wonderfully Charlotte Masoney concept.

And this is only one resource of many that are available. The only inconveniences are that it is entirely in French. And not all the the books are in pdf format for immediate download. Many of them need to be saved as images and then require a program to turn those series of images into a pdf.

But the entire site is worth it just for the download of the first two books of Mico for learning to read in French.

Conclusion

With the internet, we have easy access to a multitude of resources that we could never have dreamed of forty years ago. And more are being added daily. Learning a new language has never been so simple or cheap. The biggest problem now is knowing how to sort out the most useful of these thousands of possibilities. This list should narrow it a bit for you to keep you from being as overwhelmed as I was when trying to give my children an education in a language that is not my own.

Top 10 Reasons to Homeschool – Holiday Edition

While cleaning up the schoolroom for the 100th time since yesterday, I kept asking myself, “Why did I decide to homeschool, anyway? Wouldn’t it be great to just drop the kids off at the school down the street?” I even have the choice of two schools within walking distance, one private and one public.

This being the holiday season, these are the reasons I came up with:

10. Every day can be a snow day – even in Arizona.

I mean, who said there needed to be snow to have a snow day? Doesn’t feeling too cold to get out of bed count?

9. Daily Christmas movies can be part of the curriculum.

And there are so many good ones that we could even watch two a day. If we add a narration afterwards, it could still be considered Charlotte Mason, right?

8. Christmas music! Every day!

Not only could this be part of Hymn Study and Folk Music Study and Composer Study and Foreign Language Study, but we could listen to it while doing our Artist Study and Copywork and Handicrafts and so forth and so on.

7. You can start and end the vacation any time.

Yep. My Christmas vacation starts in September. It ends in May. Just in time for summer vacation.

6. Cruising the neighborhood looking at all the Christmas light displays can be a field trip.

And what a great field trip, too! So what if it provokes feelings of envy. The twinkling lights are so pretty.

5. Children fighting to the sound of Christmas music doesn’t sound nearly so serious.

The toddler’s screams almost match pitch with “Ave Maria.” What could be more lovely than that?

4. You can have a Christmas party every day … for a month.

Weren’t those days the best? Not only could you eat cookies and other Christmas goodies but there was usually a movie and gift exchange. Good things are always better the more you do them. Eating junk food full of processed sugar while getting more stuff can definitely be done more than once a week, right?

3. Pinterest!

I mean, honestly. Have you seen the number of fun activities that you can do during the Christmas season? You could do a new one every day for 50 years and still not even scratch the surface!

2. Decorating the house can be counted as an Art Credit.

Why stress about coming up with lesson plans for drawing or painting. Just have the kids decorate the house with the 100s of boxes of Christmas decorations you’ve accumulated over the years. If they can do it in a tasteful manner, they’ve succeeded at something even design majors can struggle with … using every decoration ever made by your kids so that no one ever feels left out. Wins all around!

1. Did I say Christmas music?

You can never have enough of Christmas music! During morning basket, quiet time, while doing chores. The possibilities are endless!

Bonus: Keep Christ in Christmas

But seriously, the best reason to homeschool, especially during the holidays, is this:

We can keep the focus of the Christmas season where it belongs … on the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 9:6 King James Version (KJV)

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. 

Reasons to Homeschool - Holiday

God bless! Let’s keep Christ in Christmas!