Sunday, March 6, 2011

Looking for the Tower of Babel

One of the things I like about homeschooling is that when there is an academic or behavior emergency, we can deal with it immediately, ourselves - without emails, phone calls and meetings with the teacher or principal.  Likewise, when something isn't quite working, we can decide ourselves whether it's an emergency or not.  If it's not an emergency, we can let it simmer until we come up with something new to try.  Right now, foreign language is bubbling on my back burner.

When we first started homeschooling, I had a vague notion that we would include a language in our curriculum - mostly because it was possible and because Rebbeca Rupp listed it as a subject for each grade in Home Learning Year by Year.  I had no clear goals for this subject and figured that whatever we did would probably be more than she had done in her private school and definitely more than she would have done in a public school. (The private school provided weeekly Spanish instruction for K-3, and several of the local public schools have popular Dual Spanish/English Immersion programs, but not at the public school Bean would have attended.)  I took six years of French between 7th grade and college and one, mostly-forgotten year of Mandarin in college.  I have always loved languages and want Bean and Boo to be exposed to other languages and learn at least one apiece, but I have never been fervent enough in this wish to instill a second language at home.

When we told Oma that we were homeschooling, she excitedly offered to buy the Rosetta Stone Home School versions for the first year of one or more languages.  (She was so quick and enthusiastic with this offer I had a sneaking suspicion that she knew this was coming and was just waiting to get news so she could buy the items in her Amazon cart.)  I wanted Bean to do either French or Mandarin, but I was undecided and my vision for foriegn language was ambiguous, so I asked her what she wanted to study and she said Dutch and Chinese.  This wasn't a huge surprise since she and Boo are half Chinese and the only eighth on my side that ever gets mentioned is Dutch.  (In real-life, Boo and Bean have both Dutch and Chinese names.)

At the beginning of the school year, we installed Rosetta Stone on Bean's laptop with anticipation and attempted to do two or three lessons from each language every week.  Bean raced through the first unit in about six weeks for each language, but lost steam around the holidays.  Right now, she's back to doing Dutch two or three times a week, but mostly avoids Chinese.

Despite Bean's flagging interest, we both like Rosetta Stone and I would buy it again - but I would probably skip the Homeschool version and would try not to buy the headset/microphone combo which as near as I can tell is useless.  (Or maybe the headset was just overridden by the computer's microphone, I didn't investigate since the program was understanding her for the spoken portions.)  Rosetta Stone's approach is to immerse the student in the language and to this end, there is not English instruction, but the student uses the pictures and repetition to learn the language.  With the Dutch, I can tell this approach is definitely working with Bean.  It helps that there are some similarities between Dutch and English vocabulary and syntax, since they are both Germanic languages.  Chinese is so different that it's definitely more of a struggle, especially if Bean doesn't keep up with it on a daily basis.

We are at the point in the year when we're starting to think about what's next and it's clear that my non-committal approach to foreign language has yielded predictable results.  I think that true mastery of a language will require both more effort and a broader approach.  I have not researched this, but I think if Bean is really to master a foreign language, we will need to add other elements to the curriculum, such as games, video tapes, hands-on materials, and a regular time to meet with a native speaker.  I have only just begun researching the options and would love suggestions if anyone has good resources.

Bean looked at Livemocha when she first asked about learning Arabic, but didn't like that it was interactive, but different from Rosetta Stone.  This could still be a good option at some point though, since the site also has games and gives you the opportunity to chat with native speakers and other students.  We have a children's language school in our town which offeres several languages for kids to learn in a small-group setting.  This could work well in combination with Rosetta Stone or some other instruction.  We know all about Muzzy, since I purchased the Mandarin version for Boo so he would  have Chinese "lessons" too.  We really regret buying this program because it's low production values just don't match the inflated price.  I am curious about the Little Pim series for Chinese, Arabic and French, but I'm wary about buying another video sight unseen.

Right now, I am wondering if we should just keep puttering along doing what we're doing until it becomes clear that Bean wants to focus on one language or another and then add the extra pieces.  Since foreign language is not required by the state of California for third graders, we can basically do whatever we want.  Besides puttering along, we could change or add languages - I want to add French and Bean wants to add Arabic. I am concerned that Rosetta Stone will be as challenging for Arabic as it is for Chinese.  I have been exploring other resources for Chinese, such as the courses offered by Cheng-Tsui and will probably need to do some research for Arabic.  I am also torn between indulging Bean's clear love of languages and giving her a chance to build confidence in one before adding more.  She really loves Dutch and it's connection to her heritage, but it's not the most useful language to learn - and maybe that doesn't matter.  Just the act of learning a foreign language must have intrinsic value: wiring new pathways in the brain, opening one up to other cultures, and teaching problem solving come to mind immediately.

The big question for me is how much to involve Bean in this decision.  That is always a delicate dance, and even more so when it comes to homeschool.  Bean is intense, sensitive, and strong-willed and one false step can lead to years of refusal to even consider a particular path.  When she is reluctant to do something, giving her choice can help her be engaged in the process and more enthusiastic.  On the other hand, giving her choice when she is already uncertain can be overwhelming.  Sometimes I can tell clearly which way the winds are blowing, but other times she keeps her feelings to herself enough that I don't know something is troubling her until I start trying to mess with the status quo.

Things to ponder...and did I mention that I want to add Latin at some point?

1 comment:

  1. Lee Yin had told me, recently, that her brother's children, now in college, had not found Rosetta Stone Chinese to be helpful, either. They have one parent from Singapore and one from Korea, so English is spoken in their home. She counseled me to find oral classes if Bean really wanted to learn Chinese. And, I suspect that Bean would really enjoy a Dutch immersion with children whose home language is Dutch so she could use what she already knows, in play. Her Opapa would have loved her interest in his native language and your uncle majored in Latin and Greek as a Classics Major.