Every now and then I see a thread on a homeschool forum about choosing which foreign language to study. It seems to be a difficult choice for many moms. I don’t think the decision is as hard as many make it. Here are some ways to choose.
1. Choose a language that is spoken where you live.
I admit that the foreign language choice was made for us by our circumstances. Sprite grew up in China where she was surrounded by a second language and had a perfect opportunity to learn Mandarin naturally.
Why choose a language that is spoken where you live?
- You have more exposure and chance to practice.
- It’s practical, and you’ll use it.
- It will be easier to find a native language tutor.
2. Choose a language that is profitable for business.
Although English is still the international language of business, other languages are growing in business use: Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish, Korean, and Arabic. Laying a foundation for a business language may be helpful for future careers. (But see my bottom line below.)
3. Choose a language that you have curriculum for.
This is a purely utilitarian choice, but money is a factor in real life. If you have an excellent French curriculum sitting on the shelf, I think your children should study French. That decision is made easily by the resources you have.
4. Choose a language that your child shows interest in.
If your child has been enamored by Spanish from preschool days of watching Dora the Explorer, let him study Spanish. If she has been dreaming of the Great Wall and pandas for years, let her study Mandarin.
Learning a foreign language is not easy. Capitalize on natural interests to motivate when it gets tough.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what language you choose. Just choose one and give your child the richest possible experience with it.
You don’t know what the future will hold. Will your child go into business or the arts? Will your child live abroad or in small town USA? There is no way to know, so you can’t base your choice of foreign language solely on those types of considerations.
Stop agonizing over the decision. Don’t think that you are going to make the “wrong” foreign language decision. You really can’t because learning any foreign language teaches skills that carry over into the learning of any other foreign language. This has been proven by educational research. Have you ever been wowed by someone who knows three, four, or maybe even five different languages? Those people have a great capacity for language because each new language adds to their ability to quickly analyze and appropriate new language forms.
I studied French in high school and college. It seemingly was no help to me in “real life,” especially as I struggled to learn Mandarin in China. But wait. Learning French did help me. It taught me grammatical concepts that I could transfer to Chinese. It taught me to accept the answer “that’s just the way it is in this language” when rules seemed strange. (It also taught me to appreciate the “easy” parts of Chinese grammar — Chinese verbs don’t conjugate and the nouns have no gender.)
No learning is ever wasted. It merely adds to your repertoire of knowledge and makes future learning a bit easier. So don’t stress about the choice of foreign language for your child. Whatever you choose will be the right choice.