Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Learning Dangerously Newsletter #2

When Alice was 12, she decided one item on her bucket list was to be multilingual before she turned 13. I was 51% delighted and 49% “Oh, crap.” “Well,” I said, stalling, “You’ve got English, some French and you’re working on Chinese. You’re already there!” No, she wasn’t already there. She decided English didn’t count towards the total and even if we counted being able to read music as a language, that only made her trilingual. Trilingual is not multilingual. Mercifully, she granted me that she didn’t have to be fluent in the next language; a working comprehension would suffice. I bargained it down to a few words achieved in the new language before her birthday. This, while good news, didn’t make my job much easier because: a) We homeschooled and on a good day I’m monolingual. On a good day. b) While we live in a city filled with the Spanish language (The name of the very city being Spanish), she refuses to study it, declaring it too obvious. c) I knew I couldn’t afford language tutors, on top of everything else. d) She wanted to learn Arabic. Yes, it’s not an obscure language but it’s not ubiquitous, either. I fretted. I researched. I came to discover that while there are certain subjects which aren’t a natural fit for homeschooling, language classes are out there, easy to find and frequently cheap, if not free, to learn. As it happened, four months before her birthday, we met the Sabra family who are keeping up their Arabic through a school based in Egypt. The mother gave the school glowing praise. A private one hour tutoring session a week cost me $39.00 a month. Before her birthday my daughter could say “Insh’Allah” with enough confidence to check “Multilingual” off her list and we had the secondary educational benefit of a teacher who was living through the political turmoil in Egypt this summer. At one point during a tutoring session, their Skype kept clicking out. Alice rolled her eyes in disgust. “Honey,” I counseled, “Cut them some slack; they’re in the middle of a civil war.” Middle East politics rarely comes to our house with such immediacy. If you’re thinking about languages, here are some options. I’ll skip the more obvious options such as Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur in favor of some lesser-known, highly useful and cost-effective programs. In fact, I have found such a ridiculous excess of fun and creative language options online that I’m going to split them up: Studio Arabiya: Their primary educational goal is to help younger students with the reading of the Qur’an but the teachers were incredibly productive and helpful with Alice. I cannot recommend them highly enough. The back office is quick, efficient and you’ll never have more polite emails with a company. Once a week hour-long tutoring comes to $39.00 a month and the hourly price goes down if you take more classes. Learn10.com is a program whereby you will be sent 10 new vocabulary words every day from the language of your choice. There are about twenty languages available now, ranging from Chinese to Swedish. For an additional fee, they’ll even add a language for you. The basic fee is $9.95 a month. For an extra $9.95 you can get an annual subscription to a screensaver which will show you your words. I haven’t used this but it looks interesting enough to mention. Duo Lingo teaches French, Portuguese, German, Italian and Spanish. You can play games, read articles, practice with friends, build up points and win prizes. It’s incredibly user-friendly. I had the kid try it out a year ago and within two hours she wanted to use her new Portuguese sentences on her Brazilian-born godfather. Yes, it’s fewer languages than some of the other websites but it’s among the easiest to leap into. If you want your child to get college credit for his or her language, you should certainly look into BYU. When an important part of your school’s mission is preparing nineteen year-olds to travel around the world preaching the gospel, it means you’ll have a strong language program. Next week, I’ll give you some more really terrific ways to learn languages at home but first, I did promise my readers something for the Klingon speakers in the audience, so...here. You’re welcome. For teens looking to augment their homeschooling or just make their lives a little more interesting, I offer you: Top 10 Tools for a Free Online Education and 100 Incredibly Useful YouTube Channels. These are glorious time-sucks but unlike most online time-sucks there are things here to learn and, unfortunately, very few cats. Finally, in the news this week: “Ohio’s homeschooled and private-school students can now participate in sports and extracurricular activities at public schools in their local districts without restriction.” Also, in PEOPLE magazine there’s a story about a family of twelve, all ten kids have been homeschooled and, so far, six have gone to college by the age of twelve. So I’m off to don my “Laziest mother on Earth” t-shirt and eat bon-bons. See you next week.

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