Teaching Foreign Languages In Homeschool

Teaching foreign languages is often cited as a problematic aspect of homeschooling, but selecting the right method can help eliminate the headache.

Once the preserve of a small minority, homeschooling in the U.S has almost doubled over the last decade, with nearly 2 million children currently being homeschooled. More parents are choosing to homeschool because of concerns about the education system and school environment, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

"But how are you going to teach foreign languages?" is a question commonly asked of the homeschooling parent. Subjects such as math and science can be tackled with textbooks, but "foreign language is one of those things that can be difficult for homeschoolers to pull altogether," says Lee Binz, homeschooling mom and founder of In any case, using textbooks alone is the very approach that homeschooling parents wish to avoid, but clearly all parents aren't native speakers or polyglots.

This is where an audio-based learning system can help. Listening to a language is a natural way to learn; it's how we first learned our native language as children. Audio-based systems have grown exponentially in popularity as the effectiveness of conventional school methods of language teaching, with their heavy focus on text-based learning, are called into question.

Scientists and linguists are increasingly advocating audio-based learning methods, with a growing body of research showing that the brain processes listening and reading material differently, and neuroscientists proving beyond doubt that endless repetition dulls the brain.

Specifically for the homeschooling mom, an audio-based system promises numerous benefits.

Where to begin?

Choosing a language is the first step for the homeschooling mom. Amelia Harper, homeschooler and founder of, writes in The Old Schoolhouse magazine, "There are several factors you should consider when choosing a foreign language as a homeschooled student: learning options, difficulty level, personal preference and future goals in life."

As far as Binz is concerned, personal preference is most crucial. "If you choose a foreign language that the child actually wants to study, chances are the student is going to be more successful."

Schooled students are limited to the languages that are available at their school but the staggering range of languages available on audio-based systems means that the lingual world is opened up to your child.

When choosing an audio-based program, it is crucial to check that the system uses only native speakers. Listening to native speakers will teach your child to speak naturally, like a native, and language, after all, is about speaking and communication. It also means that you don't have to worry about your Chinese or Russian pronunciation!

Structured progress

Language teaching in schools is far removed from how language is used in the 'real world.' But a good audio-based system begins immediately teaching idiomatic speech, using the phrases necessary for real conversation.

One of the advantages of using an audio-based system over just listening to foreign language radio is that many of these systems are tailored specifically to enhance retention. For example, the Pimsleur method uses a principle called Graduated Interval Recall, which re-introduces the learned phrases just as they're about to slip from the child's mind, while the principle of Anticipation requires the learner to answer questions by reaching back to material previously learned. These principles assure that there is no mindless repetition, while also offering inbuilt revision, so you don't have to worry about whether your child is retaining information.

In addition, some audio-based systems offer simple tests or other markers of progress, such as recommendations for when to move on to the next lesson. While worlds away from the fraught school testing situations which homeschooling parents wish to avoid, these inclusions offer a clear record of progress.


Nonetheless, within the structured progress offered by audio-based systems is the flexibility which homeschooling parents desire. Audio-based systems are fully portable, so children can listen to a lesson anywhere without being confined to a desk or a computer.

The flexibility and portability of audio-based systems makes it easy to stay in daily contact with the language, which is unanimously hailed as the single most important factor in language learning. "Just make sure that you're consistent, every day," says Lee Binz. "You have to practice it every day in order to build on those skills, and so sometimes success is as simple as making sure that you study your foreign language for at least 15 or 30 minutes every single day."This isn't always a simple task if your child doesn't want to sit and study, but they will be happier taking a walk with the dog while listening or simply relaxing outside.

Not to mention the flexibility it offers when going on vacation. Simply load lessons onto an mp3 or CD player to stay in daily contact with the language- no lugging heavy books or laptops involved.

Time Out

As any homeschooling mom will wryly attest, homeschooling is intense and more than a full-time job. "It does involve a big commitment and requires spending a great quantity of time with one’s own offspring," says Amelia Harper. "It (also) requires acceptance of the fact that your house will likely never be totally immaculate again."

When your child is listening to a lesson, you know they are engaged in grammar and vocabulary learning, accent fine tuning and confidence building. So, you can indulge in some much-needed relaxation time or catch up on chores.

Online Support

Many homeschooling moms are fans of using multiple resources to keep learning fun and engaging for their children. Therefore, when choosing an audio-based system, investigating its online presence is an important consideration. Some audio-based systems are augmented by free online resources, such as language learning games, guides, advice and even lesson plans.

Some also offer information on the culture of your chosen language, providing inspiration for the real-life education that is at the core of home-schooling. For example, children could cook some of the recipes available and learn the related vocabulary at the same time. Or read up on the music of their chosen language and have fun learning the lyrics simply by listening. Or use the information to plan and organize a party for their friends!

The emphasis on speaking and listening, the flexibility and portability of audio-based learning methods make them a natural choice for homeschooling moms. As homeschooling grows even more popular, so too will the use of audio-based systems, either as a stand-alone method or in addition to traditional lessons. As the number of systems available on the market consequently grows, it is crucial that homeschooling parents invest time to research the most effective and suitable program for their children.

Purna Virji possesses a talent for learning new languages with six in her present language-speaking repertoire. She is a former producer for an Emmy-nominated television show with a master’s degree in international journalism. She currently works at Pimsleur Approach, the world leader in the audio-based, language-learning program developed by Dr. Paul Pimsleur.

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