Time is one of our worst enemies in language learning. Foreign language teachers typically have very short periods of instruction, sometimes as short as 15 minutes.
Parents wanting to introduce a language at home don’t have it easy either, with millions of things competing for their parenting attention.
The constant bombardment of information doesn’t facilitate things either. So many things we could be doing to help our children or students learn languages, but are they truly effective? Where is the truth in all this fog?
It is easy to give up after trying many things that seem to not lead anywhere. But what if we could isolate the practices that bring the best results for young children?
What if instead of loosing steam with things that don’t lead anywhere we could apply laser-like focus on efforts or practices that bring the most proficiency for the least amount of time?
Beware of False Promises that Will Curtail Your Kid’s Fluency
Sadly, teachers and parents alike spend tons of time in the least effective ways. Since most people out there do not know what practices are or are not effective in language learning they are easily tricked into doing more of the least effective ones.
This is not surprising – the market is saturated with products that offer very little value but are presented as if they could do magical things for you –
“Learn a language in 10 days” or “The only way to learn a foreign language,” claim two of the most famous language learning companies (Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone), and there are TONS of other misleading nonsense like that out there.
In the case of young children, not a day passes by that you don’t hear about a new application, toy or other product aimed at teaching young children the colors, numbers and animals in Spanish or other languages.
But seriously, do your kids need so many products to teach them the same words? And what are they supposed to do with those words? Will they ever use them to talk about something? Will they even recognize those words when a native speaker talks to them at a normal fluent speed?
Songs are fun and definitely much better than learning isolated words, but they will not have a significant impact in your children’s fluency either.
Having been in the field for many years and knowing what is behind the linguistic brain engines of young children, I can tell you the sad truth: if all that you do with your 15 minutes is this (memorizing words or expressions), you are absolutely wasting your time.
15 Minutes of Spanish (French, Chinese…) Requires a Focused Strategy
When you only have 15 minutes, you have to be highly selective and learn to sift the gold from the gravel. Learning words or isolated sentences will not do.
But the question is: Can a child learn a language 15 minutes at a time?
The answer: It depends.
Having all the time in the world is not always the best thing…
Neither is having many other great advantages such as being a native mom or teacher…
It all comes down to TACTICS.
Are you familiar with the fable of the turtle and the hare? The turtle wins the race because she keeps the finish line in mind and keeps walking slowly but surely towards it.
In contrast, the hare, that could have won the race in a snap, is too unfocused and self-confident of his abilities in the matter and wastes tons of time doing the wrong things along the way.
15 minutes several times a week will add up and take you through the finish line – as long as you are selective with what you do and don’t goof around like the hare.
Just as the turtle, you can outrun the hare if you keep your focus on the finish line and stay on course.
In Fact Having Only 15 Minutes to Do Spanish May Be an Advantage
Many people think, “I only have 15 minutes, so why bother. I’ll just do a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and I’ll be done. The kids can’t truly learn much language in 15 minutes anyway.”
Now, what a losing train of thoughts! Unfortunately, a lot of people fall for this.
Well, let me tell you a secret…
15 minutes can indeed COUNT A LOT in language learning, depending on what you do with them. Again, it all comes down to TACTICS.
So, I invite you to think differently and treat those 15 minutes as a golden opportunity to introduce your kids to a new language.
Here is the new you speaking again:
- “Since I only have 15 minutes, I am going to learn to think strategically about language learning and get the most out of it.”
- “I do not speak Spanish (or French, German, etc), but I can manage 15 minutes of Spanish with my kids. I am sure it will get easier with practice and, who knows! soon I may be able to do 60 minutes or the whole morning.”
See how having only 15 minutes can be seen as an advantage? 15 minutes can turn you into a tactical thinker. Also, if you are a non-native parent or an inexperienced teacher, 15 minutes of Spanish will probably sound much feasible than 60 minutes.
So What Would You, Ana Lomba, Do if You Only Had 15 Minutes?
In my opinion, there is ONE practice that tops all others to help young children learn languages gain higher fluency in less time.
If I only had 15 minutes of class instruction or if I was too tired or busy to do more than 15 minutes of Spanish with my children at home, this is the one practice I would use the most.
Is the 15-Minute Practice that You Are Talking About Backed by Research?
There is ample research to back up the fundamental premise. In fact, the practice that I am talking about is one of the most researched practices in education and it is considered a crucial threshold in the path to getting a good education.
That being said, the angle in which I will present it to you is not the traditional way of using this practice. This new angle is based on my two-decade experience as a language educator and entrepreneur specialized in young children learning languages.
If you are familiar with my work then you know that I am on a mission to change the stagnant condition of the early language-learning field and I am always trying new things that I think are promising.
My goals with re-purposing the practice are two-fold:
- To target the specific needs of young children learning languages, which are not a priority or even a consideration of this practice in the current monolingual state of affairs.
- To make great strides in language proficiency in situations that are otherwise not ideal for mastering a new language, such as when time is at a prime (e.g. when you only have 15 minutes) or when the adults do not speak the target language.
Why Should You Try a New Way of Learning Language?
Many of the greatest advances in education have come from shaking and turning things around.
Remember Maria Montessori? She was not a teacher, but a medical doctor on a mission to discover how to educate children with special needs. In the process, she developed a very innovative sensorial and child-centered approach that has revolutionized the world of education and helped millions of children around the world (and not only children with disabilities).
Dr. Montessori had a hunch that there was a full universe inside each child waiting to be unraveled. Up until that time, teaching had always traveled one way: from the teacher to the child.
Montessori flipped the (until then) unquestioned teacher-centered model 180 degrees around. In her ingenious method, the teacher becomes a facilitator whose main role is to help the child unwrap the learning compass that is already inside of him or her and become the motor of his or her own progress. The results were (and are) extraordinary.
We have learned quite a lot about the young multilingual mind since Maria Montessori’s death but…
One thing that is very clear today that Montessori stated quite brilliantly in her time is that the young child goes through a very powerful sensitive period for figuring out languages. There are lots of studies documenting this amazing ability.
For this reason, I believe that we would do well to subscribe to Montessori’s ideas and transform ourselves into facilitators whose role is to prepare “the environment” (as Montessori called it) in order to allow young children work their inner magic with languages. By “environment,” Montessori meant much more than the physical environment; the term referred to all sorts of relationships, practices, and materials.
[Please note that the ideas that I will share with you for those precious 15 minutes are my own. I am not trained in the Montessori method and my system is quite different to hers. However, I am a great believer in the potential of young children and for this reason I am on my own quest to facilitate their spontaneous learning one modified practice at a time.]
I’ll Show You How to Unwrap the Children’s Inner Language Learning Mechanism 15 Minutes at a Time
So here is the thing:
If you don’t try new things, you will never discover anything significant –
That is why I try plenty of new things even at the risk of being disappointed. I know that this is how I will discover the gold nuggets hidden in the sand.
And now I invite you to jump in and try this practice at home or in your class – again, the practice refers to what I would do if I only had 15 minutes a day to help my children or students learn a language.
But you will have be patient like the turtle and wait for the continuation to this blog (I have written it as a series – I won’t only tell you what practice this is, but also tips to get the most out of it). So come back on February 28th and keep reading… or opt in to my list and I will send you a reminder to keep reading next week. [To opt in to my list, just write your name and e-mail information on the right sidebar where it says, “Sign Up for Language Learning Tips”]
To be continued on 2/28… [Note: The next issue is now available. Click here to continue reading: Part 2: Only 15 Minutes for Spanish? Then Be Aware of THIS]
P. S. You may want to take a look at the “Language Challenge 180” hosted by Multilingual Living. Better to learn in company, don’t you think? At this point there are over 325 families that have joined the challenge. Why not join the fun!
Ana Lomba is changing the way people think about and interact with young children learning languages. Her Parents’ Choice award-winning books, lively songs, games, stories, and mobile applications are quickly becoming favorites with teachers and parents who want to nurture young children’ inborn language abilities. Key to the success of Ana’s break-through method is a focus on the family as the ideal environment for early language learning – even her signature curriculum for language programs is built with parents in mind. Ana has taught toddler, preschool, elementary school, and college-level Spanish courses, and held leadership positions with some of the most influential language organizations in the US, including ACTFL, NNELL and FLENJ. After graduating with a law degree from Spain, her native country, Ana pursued graduate studies at Binghamton University, Princeton University, and NYU.