By Suzanne Gose, creator of Flip Flop Spanish

When it comes to foreign languages, many parents (homeschooling or not) feel stuck. They may feel fearful or even antagonistic toward learning a language other than English. A major contributor for these feelings is personal experience. Foreign Language lessons often contain dull drills, unclear grammatical explanations, and topics that are simply uninteresting. Therefore, the goal is to make sure our own children’s experience is different.

How? Read on.

Even if you are not fluent in a second language, you CAN learn and teach WITH your student. By leading the charge, you will be motivating your child in a way that has an immeasurable impact.  So rather than getting bogged down with an endless list of what to DO, let’s look at five common pitfalls that you will want to avoid. The goal is to NOT repeat the way we learned (or didn’t, as the case may be). How many of us can say, “I took two years of a foreign language in high school, but I can’t remember a thing!” when referencing our own experience of learning a second language? So instead of focusing on what to DO (which may not be clear in your mind), let’s make sure we avoid what NOT TO DO…. from our own experience!

Obstacle 1: “Can I even do this?” (FEAR)
Fear is a huge de-motivator. The fear of the unknown can prompt questions like these:

• “How do I pronounce that word?”
• “How do I make best use of the textbook?”
• “Will I sound weird?”
• “How long will this take until I can actually SAY something?”

Choose your first few words carefully. A great start to learning a new language, (after “thank you” and “please”, of course) would be to memorize some funny adjectives — words that crack you or your child up in English. You might choose words like “slimy”, “funny”, “stinky”, or even “ugly”. These words can be applied to SO many more situations than the nouns we routinely and traditionally learn. Humor dispels fear… Use it!

Obstacle 2: “Am I excited to learn this language?” (PRECONCEIVED IDEAS)
Are you interested in the culture of the people who speak the language you have chosen? Previous experiences heavily influence our ability to readily learn a language. Make sure you choose a language that will get you and your child excited!

Do you enjoy learning?  Has your child ever heard you say, “I’m just no good at learning a language!”  If so, you will need to prove yourself wrong. Start by learning ten words. SHOW that playing with flash cards, labeling a picture, and sticking notes all over the house are great ways to learn. By making the effort to learn and demonstrate the process to your child, you will show them that ANYONE can do it, and that includes your child!

Obstacle 3: “Do I HAVE to?” (BOREDOM)
Let’s face it. Languages are made up of words. Words must be learned. There aren’t any cool dissections, or neat battles to re-enact, no physics laws to be broken. That’s the bad news. The good news is all of THOSE things are made up of WORDS. If you find yourself or your child getting bored of learning just MORE words, you need a change. Change what you’re learning, how you’re learning it, and even when you’re learning the language. Find out the words they say the most (or YOU say the most) and say them in your new language…. Things like “pick up your jacket,” and “great job” go a long way toward encouraging your child to learn a foreign language.

Obstacle 4: “Do I have the right tools to teach this language?” (CURRICULUM)
When thinking back to our own schooling experience, most of us would agree that textbooks weren’t overly successful at holding our attention or getting us motivated. If you or your child feels overwhelmed by a book, set it aside. TONS of resources exist today that can make learning more exciting:

• the Internet: Google Translate – just type in one word at a time.
• “homework helper” workbooks are available at many bookstores for minimal cost
• iPhone, iPod, Android apps
• online games
• readers – bilingual, even!
• foreign language section at the library
• etc., etc., etc! (more ideas are on flipfloplearning.com)

At the same time, if a child is EXCITED about a particular curriculum, GO FOR IT! As long as we’re not creating a roadblock to the language, we’ll be moving forward in some way. THAT is the goal here.

Obstacle 5: “What was that again?” (CONFUSION)
Sometimes we get lost. What do we do? We go back a few steps until we recognize our surroundings. Languages are the same; when confusion sets in, it is best to go back to the point where we knew what in the world was going on.

Another great way to get back on track is to use flash cards.  Just change it up. Put down the text book for a few days, and grab some flash cards. Have fun with memory, charades, and laying out funny sentences. Make your own flashcards… there are plenty of ways to learn new words! Choosing a second textbook or reference book is also a wonderful way to dispel any confusion. You may not need to change your curriculum; simply referencing another text may be exactly what you need to clarify the lesson for your child (and you!).

Finally, keep it fun and light. If you have read my book, The Key to Learning Anything, you know that motivation is the main goal – find what motivates your student or yourself, and you will have found success! Learning languages is hard enough… no need to add to the pain! Give them the tools that they need: a happy attitude and an excited outlook on your new journey to bilingualism!

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Suzanne Gose is a homeschooling mother of five children, as well as a former public school teacher. She is the author of the Flip Flop Spanish Series and The Key to Learning Anything.