Enhancing Homeschool and Host Family Environments through Language Learning
How our family has personally experienced the benefits of language learning to create a better host family environment and enrich our children’s homeschooling experience.
Being a homeschool educator to five boys, I consider our family dynamic to be unique. We also frequently host international students visiting the U.S. to learn about our culture and customs. The opportunity to act as a host family for international students came about several years ago when Wheaton Academy, where my husband Paul currently serves as Director of Admissions, started an international student host program and inquired if we would like to participate. In addition to being a fun, family adventure, we also view hosting international students as a special way to provide our children with a rare cross-cultural experience.
From the beginning, we found ourselves hosting students from China. Over the years, Chinese students have become an integral part of our family. We realized the incredible opportunity we had to not only enrich the lives of our host students, but also our children’s lives by providing them with the opportunity to learn Chinese as part of their homeschool curriculum.
Paul and I explored a few homeschool foreign language offerings with the goal of helping our children learn Chinese and, in turn, hopefully foster a greater sense of family amongst all of our children (familial and international students). Ultimately, we decided to hire a tutor from a local college to teach our children Mandarin through one-hour tutoring sessions at our home. After a semester of tutoring, we noticed something—although our children were learning Chinese, they did not enjoy the sessions and would frequently complain the instruction was too long or too boring.
My husband and I were disappointed, because we thought we had found a compelling solution to mesh our two worlds: hosting international students and homeschooling our children. We had often envisioned family conversations around the dinner table where our Chinese students would have the opportunity to speak in their native tongue with our family. Unfortunately, the tutoring instruction and content was not engaging for our children and, as a result, led to their decreased interest in learning Mandarin.
Last February, my husband attended the National Association of Independent Schools conference (NAIS) and happened to visit Middlebury Interactive Languages' booth. Paul was very impressed with Middlebury Interactive’s course offerings and their immersive approach to language learning in a digital environment. My husband immediately recognized how these interactive language courses could help our children acquire tangible Chinese language skills, while also teaching cultural awareness.
Since the Chinese tutoring method was not going as planned, I recall Paul asking me, “Why don’t we try Middlebury Interactive Languages as part of our homeschool education?” We initially imagined continuing and supplementing the tutor lessons with Middlebury Interactive’s Chinese courses. However, after a few weeks, it was clear we no longer needed the tutor. Our children preferred the interactive nature of the online courses. Our children love to learn on the computer, and the age-appropriate content featured in the Chinese curriculum allows them to learn at their own individual paces.
In a short period using Middlebury Interactive’s Chinese courses, our children had a complete change of heart. Instead of dreading Chinese language instruction, they actually looked forward to getting on the computer and learning the language through fun, tasked-based activities. As their teacher, this was extremely exciting and gratifying. It freed up half an hour where I did not need to perform direct instruction, and at the same time, our children quickly and accurately began learning Chinese. Moreover, they were picking up cultural nuances I never thought possible through authentic cultural stories and videos in the course.
Interestingly enough, the Chinese cultural stories and lessons featured in Middlebury Interactive's courses are so authentic that they became a frequent topic of discussion with our Chinese students. There have been several instances where our Chinese students have told our children about how they had learned these same stories during their youth in China. It has now become an after-dinner family tradition to have our Chinese students go with our children to the computer to see what lessons were provided that day, playfully quiz them on what they had learned and get a kick out of working with them on their pronunciation.
As Linda Noack mentioned in her blog on Home Education and Language Learning in the World of Digital Technology, all homeschool parents want the same thing for their children: to provide an opportunity to succeed. Thanks in part to the discovery of Middlebury Interactive’s courses at NAIS, our children are doing just that—developing Chinese language skills, while also creating a deeper appreciation of the Chinese culture and our international, home-exchange students.The Value of Digital Language Education for Homeschool Families Enhancing Homeschool and Host Family Environments through Language Learning Home Education and Language Learning in the World of Digital Technology