From the archives...
A customer wrote us with the following question.
My children are 8 and 10 years old. I know there is a limited age where children are absorbing everything, which is why learning a foreign language is so wonderful when children are very small. We have not yet attempted a foreign language. What is your recommendation for an appropriate time to learn a new language? We are considering basic latin as a jumpstart to Spanish, but I have a couple concerns that I would love input with.
My first concern is that they have not yet learned the more complicated phonograms from Essentials, and I am not sure if learning how to pronounce Latin or Spanish words would cause confusion with the English phonograms.
My second question has to do with Latin vs. Spanish. If I want my children to learn Spanish, but only Latin to help with English vocabulary and understanding foreign language in general, will learning a little Latin first push my oldest past that age of absorption by the time we get to Spanish (around age 11-12)? I am wondering if we should just jump right into Spanish to get that to soak in while they are still at that younger age.
If you have any recommendations, I would love that.
Here was our reply:
This is only my personal perspective and observations, so please do not take it as the final word on this subject! But my thoughts for what they are worth:
- I think learning a foreign language is fantastic, and also that once you have learned one, learning others comes more easily. The tools for thinking about language and how it works are already in place.
- Both Spanish and Latin have significantly simpler phonetic systems than English, with a nearly one-to-one sounds-symbol correspondence, a smaller number of phonograms, and many phonograms saying a sound it says in English. So overall I don't think that component will be overwhelming. It might only take them a week to get the basic phonetic system down if they are already reading most English sounds correctly.
That said, it would still be increasing the number of phonograms they are learning at once, so it might make sense to wait until you are a most of the way through Essentials before beginning. I would certainly do this if you feel like they are struggling at all with the phonograms they are learning in English. By Essentials lesson 23, they have learned 80% of the basic phonograms, so the rate at which new ones are being added is pretty slow at that point. You might also focus more on spoken Spanish for a time and focus more on written later (not leaving it out completely, but not making it a primary focus of your Spanish lessons just yet). [Note: This post was written at the time of the 1st edition of Essentials. In the restructured newer editions, students will have learned 80% of the basic phonograms by Lesson/Unit 15.]
- I'm inclined to agree with your thought that Spanish might be greater priority while they are young, at least if that is the one in which you are hoping for them to achieve greater fluency for their lives. If your primary goal in Latin is to aid in English reading comprehension as they get older, I think it will be sufficient to focus on learning some of those tools in the morphology lessons in Essentials now, and then build on it with a more complete study of Latin later.
- Overall, I think my strongest recommendation would be to pick whatever of the options you like best and then see how it goes, paying attention to your kids and adjusting accordingly! They may be able to suck it all up without missing a beat. If you find they are getting overwhelmed with too many sounds and symbols at once, slow down in something, or set the foreign language aside for awhile. I think you'll be able to tell what is working and what needs a change.
I hope this helps! Again, I am not an expert on elementary foreign language instruction, so I am speaking only out of my own experience and what I have observed. Take this with a grain of salt and see what other good perspectives you get out there, or from other parents and teachers on this site.
Another LOE user also added her thoughts (this discussion was originally posted on LOE's old online forum):
Hi, I am no expert on this topic as I'm at the beginning of the journey, but I have heard many times that many foreign languages, specifically the romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian...), are derived from Latin. I've heard it said that if you teach a child Latin, you are handing them those other languages on a silver platter to learn with ease. In addition 50% of English words are derived from Latin and 80% of multi-syllable english words are derived from Latin, so Latin vocabulary can only help a student's overall language skills. Latin is also very logical and so learning to handle the language helps with critical thinking skills.
Hope some of that is helpful!