With children now starting a foreign language in KS2 (aged 7), I have been wondering how to encourage language learning at home. We had tried the Muzzy programme, which the boys were quite taken with for a while, but the clarity of the DVD was disappointing. As I run a group for international women, we know native speakers of many languages. I am convinced that one of the essential prerequisites to learning a foreign language is the realisation that worlds exist beyond one's own in which people use other languages. Of course, our boys know this from living in Turkey but I am also glad that, in a less multicultural region of the UK, they are in regular contact with people for whom English is not their first language.
A French friend brought her little boy round to play with the boys a while ago. She speaks French to her son so, as he and my eldest boy played with the Lego, she asked him in French to find a block of 4. I noticed my son then said 'or cinq' completely unprompted. There is also a German lady at the group whose little boy my second son likes. I encouraged him to speak a few words of German (which he had picked up from Muzzy) to the little German boy's delight.
When considering which new language to introduce, I thought about the world economy, also the boys' ability (being young and having already learnt Turkish (a non-European language) - though they don't really remember it now - and I decided we would try Chinese. One of the Chinese ladies in my group teaches Chinese Mandarin in one of the local secondary schools part-time so I asked her if she would be prepared to come and spend some time each week teaching our boys. She was very happy to do this, and is wonderful at engaging them and getting alongside them. I was quite surprised how open the boys were to this new opportunity. The two eldest literally lap it up. And the skills they applied whilst learning Turkish as very young children (aged 3 and 2) have clearly stood them in good stead. I notice they are very good at reading context. When the Chinese teacher was teaching them to count in Chinese, they picked it up very quickly. To her surprise, my eldest son figured out the pattern and counted very swiftly all the way to 100! Chinese numbers are quite logical, and his knowledge of Turkish numbers helped him to figure out how they worked. He also wanted to learn to write the Chinese characters 1-10, and mastered this very swiftly. We have also learnt a Chinese song which has helped us to learn some basic phrases. All three boys sing this song over and over on car journeys (It is very catchy!)
After last week's Chinese lesson, we went to a home education group where one of the parents was leading a session on codes. She talked about many different codes - the Highway code, morse code, pictograms, sign language .... My eldest son said he knew a code he could show everyone, and proceeded to write down the Chinese numbers 1-12, then counting aloud to teach everyone else. His ability to apply knowledge gained in one area to another area of learning is impressive, and something which the segregated modern curriculum in schools is less likely to encourage.