Learning a second language is like learning to play a musical instrument. It’s hard work at first, but it will be loved and cherished later.

One of my favorite aspects of homeschooling is the freedom parents have to choose how to educate their children. For example, public schools usually start teaching a foreign language in middle school, but homeschoolers don’t have to follow this pattern. This is why I decided to teach my two young boys Spanish. I studied Spanish in college, but I was not completely fluent. In the past, while my children were preschool age and younger, my lack of fluency was what kept me from speaking to them in Spanish. I was waiting until I had more time to practice and study, but more time didn’t seem to come. In fact, the more children I had, the more daunting it became to hone my Spanish. How would I ever find the time?

When my oldest son was almost 6 years old, I realized that I was essentially going to let those early years, when language learning is most ideal, slip past him, all because I wasn’t fluent. I worked hard to learn Spanish. It seemed selfish to not share this gift of a second language with my children. Ultimately, it was my pride that had kept me from teaching them a foreign language.

Despite my lack of fluency, I decided to add foreign language to our daily schedule. I resolved that my Spanish could improve over the years if I were diligent to practice each day. My first step was to purchase an early education Spanish curriculum. I also began to incorporate Spanish into various parts of the day—using vocabulary words in everyday conversation, singing songs, reading simple picture books, and memorizing Bible verses. About two months later, my children were able to say small sentences in Spanish on their own.

Sometimes I forget to speak in Spanish throughout the day with my children. It’s hard to do it automatically, but I know that diligence and small habits can make a big difference over time. I know that if I keep doing Spanish lessons every day, there will be fruit years later.

Can anybody teach a foreign language to their young children? I think so. Doing Spanish lessons with my children is fun for all of us. The best part is that I’m doing two things at once: I’m teaching my children a second language, and I’m finally getting that desired time to practice. I make mistakes when I speak. My children ask me what words mean, and they see me looking them up in my dictionary. However, despite my insufficiency, it’s good for them to see that learning means we sometimes forget, or we make mistakes. Learning a second language is not all about total perfection, but it’s about working hard and taking time to enjoy learning another language.

Learning a second language is like learning to play a musical instrument. It’s hard work at first, but it will be loved and cherished later. The commitment can seem long, but the reward is great. Why not do this with your children while they are young? Here are some ideas to get started.

  • Find picture books and/or audiobooks in the desired foreign language. A great place to start is with simple, repetitive books. If necessary, read it in English first, and then read it in the second language. Reread and relisten to books.
  • Sing simple songs. Singing is a great way to improve pronunciation.
  • Invest in an age-appropriate curriculum. Buying a curriculum can help you get started.
  • Use foreign language in other subject areas. Math is a great place to begin because numbers are learned early on with a second language.
  • Speak the words you know, even if your sentences still use some English words. There are so many grammatical concepts that you or your children won’t know in the beginning. Try to build up vocabulary as much as possible without feeling overwhelmed.

Sometimes it seems odd to me that I’m trying to raise bilingual children when I have no ethnic tie to a Spanish-speaking country. I have an accent, and as I stated earlier, I’m not fluent. However, I know how rewarding learning a second language can be. It’s wonderful to be willing to learn with my children and see where we end up five or ten years down the road.

Copyright 2023, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Carly McGinty is a homeschool graduate and a former public and private elementary school teacher. She studied Spanish, ESL, and elementary education at Gordon College. She wrote for Phenix Publishing Limited where she contributed realistic fiction for an ESL reading comprehension resource for students in China. Currently, she is homeschooling her young children.