Language Learning at Home (with Anne Guarnera)

Foreign Language Learning at Home Anne Guarnera Homeschool Conversations Podcast interview
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Have you wanted to include a foreign language in your homeschool, but you’re just not sure how? Have you wondered why language learning is even important? Maybe you’ve been entranced by the idea of bilingual education, but that sounds way too complicated for your ordinary homeschooling family life. Well, today’s Homeschool Conversations guest, Anne Guarnera, has a great perspective to share! Anne combines professional expertise with her real-life experience as a bilingual homeschooling mom. My favorite part about this conversation was Anne’s relationship-oriented purpose behind language study. She said, “we primarily learn languages so that we can relate better to, and serve and learn from, other people.” Watch out…this conversation might change your whole mindset when it comes to language learning at home!

Be sure to check out all the other interviews in our Homeschool Conversations series!

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Foreign Language Learning at Home Anne Guarnera Homeschool Conversations Podcast interview

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Who is Anne Guarnera

Anne Guarnera is the founder of the blog Language Learning At Home, where she shares strategies and resources to help homeschooling families learn foreign languages well. A former classroom teacher with a PhD in Spanish, Anne is now a homeschooling mom of three young boys, who she educates bilingually. When she’s not with her boys or blogging, she’s almost definitely reading. She and her family live right outside Washington, DC, where they enjoy visiting museums, tackling toddler-friendly hikes, and making friends from all around the world. You can find her online at, in her Facebook group, the Language Learning at Home Community, and on Instagram as @languagelearningathome

Foreign Language Learning at Home Anne Guarnera Homeschool Conversations Podcast interview

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Amy Sloan: Hello everyone. Today, I am joined by Anne Guarnera, who is the founder of the blog Language Learning at Home, where she shares strategies and resources to help homeschooling families learn foreign languages well. A former classroom teacher with a PhD in Spanish, she is now a homeschooling mom of three young boys whom she educates bilingually. When she’s not with her boys or blogging, she’s almost definitely reading, which I love. I can’t wait to ask you later what you’ve been reading lately. She and her family live right outside Washington, DC, where they enjoy visiting museums, tackling toddler-friendly hikes, and making friends from all around the world.

You can find her online at, in her Facebook group, The Language Learning at Home Community, and on Instagram, at Language Learning at home. I am delighted to get to talk to you today and I think this is such an interesting topic, but first I would love to just get a little background. Tell us about your family and why you got started homeschooling.

Education can reflect our deepest family values

Anne Guarnera: Thank you so much, Amy. I’m very honored to have the opportunity to be a guest on your podcast as I’m a fan myself. A little fan girling here, but I really do love listening to you. I hope that whatever I can share today would be of use to your other listeners. You’ve covered a lot of ground there in my bio, but I am married to my high school sweetheart and we live right outside DC. We have three young boys; they’re seven, four, and one. We’re still in our first years of homeschooling, but we have been bilingually homeschooling our oldest for the past three years.

There’s a lot in terms of the why, there’s a lot of reasons why we ended up homeschooling. I remember sitting down with my husband and thinking through the decision and I had a two-page list of pros, and I think maybe like three cons against it as we were going through a systematic process of decision-making. The fact that I’m really at a heart an idealist about education, education has been so powerful in my life and given me so many opportunities and I myself have been an educator in a lot of different settings. I taught in elementary school at the high school level and at the college level.

I taught in different kinds of schools. I’ve seen education work out in a few different ways. Then when it came time to think about education for our own kids, I really wanted to educate them in a way that would reflect our family’s deepest values. Since I couldn’t find a school that would offer them a Christian bilingual education done mostly through living books

Amy: It’s probably a tough order.

Anne: -it’s a tough order, yes. I decided I would probably have to do this myself and I actually have really enjoyed it from the start. I do feel grateful for the privilege to be able to homeschool my kids and to do it in a way that really suits our family and our needs.

Amy: That is such a fascinating story. It sounds like your vision for homeschooling the way you’re doing it now really was the driving force behind beginning homeschooling. Was there any way in which you felt like your philosophy of education or way of homeschooling has changed over these first few years?

Anne: That’s a good question and observation as well. I do think that our basic model has stayed the same and it’s working. For now, so good. We’re only three years into it so I think it’d be very interesting to revisit that question in about 10 years. I think what’s happened as we’ve added more kids to the mix, is that I have become a little more pragmatic in my approach by necessity. For example, with my first, I developed a very particular sequence based on what I know about language learning and literacy education, about how we would learn to read and write. We would work on reading in English first since that’s his dominant language and the language he’s stronger in, then we’d do Spanish, and I had all this research to back up why we’re going to do it that way.

That’s what we did with my first. Now my second born, who’s four and a half, he’s getting really interested in older brother’s lessons, and is starting to join in. At this point, I’m working on reading in Spanish with my oldest. He can already read in English and he’s reading at a basic level in Spanish. My second born is getting it in reverse, just pure logistics. I have come to observe that I need to basically hold lightly to my grand plans and be patient with how things are unfolding. Even though I’m a planner and I love to plan, I do know deep down that it’s probably all going to shake out fine, no matter what order we do these things. I’m trying to hold onto that hope, even though I don’t have that evidence quite yet.

Amy: I think that’s just a reality for every homeschool family with more than one child. You have these ideals and plans and then by the time you get down to a younger child, I think about this with my little guy, who’s five, all the things I used to do with his older brother and my firstborn that I haven’t done with him. I have to remind myself that nothing is outside of God’s control, including the birth order of my children, and for all the things that I think of that I didn’t do the same way, he’s getting a whole different set of benefits from all these older siblings and getting to watch scary movies earlier than I let the older brother and sister do. [laughs]

Anne: Absolutely. Yes, you’re so right. It is a matter of trusting the Lord and that these decisions that sometimes we hold on to and think are so important, really the Lord is going to work them out for his glory.

Anne’s Favorite Parts of Homeschooling

Amy: Well, Anne, what have been some of your favorite parts of homeschooling, and have there been any challenges to overcome?

Anne: My favorite part is definitely time. And that is having lots and lots of time with my kids and, as well, just having a lot of freedom and flexibility with that time. With us being outside DC, our local culture here is very competitive, very pressed for time, and everyone is very busy and obsessed with doing more. I remember being at the playground with my oldest when he was 18 months, and the go-to question to the other parents was, “What preschool are you going to enroll him in so he’s ready for kindergarten.” That’s just how it is here. It’s you have all these throw a bunch of type A folks together, and then they’re type A parents, and then we’re all a giant pressure cooker.

I do love DC, and I love its energy, but I also appreciate that we get to live outside of that culture and that my kids don’t have a lot of academic or extracurricular related stress. It gives them a lot of time and space to be creative in their childhood. Also, to be honest, it also saves me a lot of stress because when we were looking at schools for my oldest and I was calculating the commute time to and from different schools, and thinking about having to have one or two other kids in the car with me for potentially up to two hours a day, that was really overwhelming. I thought two hours a day, I can homeschool in two hours a day. Isn’t that time better spent doing that than sitting in traffic?

Amy: Definitely. I don’t think all that driving time would be worth even the audiobooks you could listen to.

Anne: Right. I know. I have loved that about homeschooling and I love that it’s given my kids a chance to explore their interests and build relationships with each other, and given me a lot of time as well to work on my relationship with them.

Amy: Time and relationship is such a gift of homeschooling.

Challenges of teaching younger kids

Anne: It is, it’s huge. In terms of challenges, so I think you’ll laugh at this being a more experienced homeschool mom, but I taught in a lot of settings, but I’m really used to teaching adults and I love to teach adults and they learn things really fast. What I didn’t realize when I started homeschooling was that little tiny kids don’t quite learn things so fast. Teaching them is much more incremental and I’ve had to learn for myself to be patient with the process. When I started homeschooling my oldest, I honestly thought, and here’s the part where you’ll laugh, I honestly thought that teaching a child to read was like a three-month process. You start phonics in September and by December they’re reading The Chronicles of Narnia by themselves.

Amy: Of course, yes.

Anne: Of course, that’s definitely what my expectation was. I was wrong. As I have learned how much work it really does take to learn these fundamental skills for kids, I’ve had to shift my focus. I try to pay attention more to my own diligence and my own showing up to do the work, to practice every day, and how I’m doing on that rather than holding onto a notion of a timeline for what I feel my child should be learning in any given subject. Whatever timeline I impose – like that three months’ timeline that was just made up out of my mind and it was completely arbitrary — I want to be careful that I don’t teach in a way that ties me to those timelines and makes me either disrespectful of my kids as people and what their developmental needs are, or it makes me over-competitive and is pushing them to perform just for the sake of performance, not for the sake of true learning. Again, being patient and learning to celebrate my kids’ advancements as they come, as long as we’re putting the work in, that has been important for me to learn and grow in.

Amy: I love what you said about focusing on your diligence instead of trying to impose an external timeline on your kid, because those things are not in our control. Even with reading, I have been working all year with my youngest one and even after five times, I keep thinking, “Surely, you’ll get it by now.” This morning, we were looking at some letters and reviewing them and every time he would say, “Mommy, is that in the alphabet?” Like “Yes, son. That’s in the English alphabet.” That’s out of my control, but I do have control over my faithfulness. Do I show consistency? Do I show love and compassion and not get frustrated externally, anyway?

That actually applies even to how I plan our homeschool for the older kids. I’m not so much focusing on, “Make sure you can get to the next chapter in your math book,” but “Are you doing a little math every day?” Because we may get to something that’s tricky and we need to slow down. I don’t want that to feel to them or me like failure. That’s the process of education, but we are going to be able to still be consistent and faithful and diligent every day. It’s a mindset shift of what your goals are and how you define success.

Anne: Absolutely. Especially when you’re coming from an environment, I know you’re a second-generation homeschooler. I’m not. I don’t have that experience of having been homeschooled. Having come from an educational environment where my performance was all measured externally, and did I meet certain milestones on a given timeline? It certainly is quite a shift and a little scary. It is a little scary to say, “Okay, we’re going to keep working at this. I don’t know if my child will be reading when his best friend is already reading, but I trust that every day we’re going to do the work. We’re going to pay attention in case there’s a special need that needs to be addressed, but I’m going to respect my child’s personal development and their personal achievement here, and not necessarily on the calendar schedule that I want.”

Foreign Language Learning at Home Anne Guarnera Homeschool Conversations Podcast interview

Why include foreign language in our homeschool?

Amy: So good. Well, let’s shift gears and talk about language learning at home, which I am just so excited. I’m just ready to learn a lot from you, honestly, because this has not necessarily been a huge strength of mine. I want to start with the big picture, why should our children even be learning another language? Why are we having this conversation? Then what are our big goals for language learning at home?

Anne: Sure. To answer that, Amy, I’m going to zoom way far out for you and your listeners, and then I might dive in deep. Just hold on and bear with me here.

First, let me share for you what is my biggest why, and that comes from Chapter 7 of the Book of Revelation. It reads, “After this, I looked and behold a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples, and languages were standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands and crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the lamb.”

I just love the picture of having that John gives us in these verses. I love to read that heaven is filled with people from all tribes, and cultures, and speaking all different languages. In God’s city, people from every corner of the earth will be praising the name of Christ. By learning another language, I feel we have a really unique opportunity to be part of fulfilling that vision here on earth.

When someone asks me, “Why do you learn languages?” or “Why should I teach my children languages?” if you’re a Christian homeschooler, I think that it’s a powerful motivation to learn languages in order to befriend, to learn from, and to share the gospel with people who are different from us.

That’s really my big picture, and there’s many other reasons. That’s the vision that guides me in my work, but we know that there are many cognitive and academic benefits to language learning. We also know that there are professional advantages that it can provide to children in the future and that it also gives us just a lot of opportunities to build relationships with other people. Those are all other reasons that are perfectly valid for learning languages. Each family can pick from those if they feel led, but those are, I think, the main ones.

What is our goal with foreign language learning at home?

Amy: When we’re incorporating this language learning at home, is our goal to have children who are completely fluent in a language or when they leave home or is there a range of acceptable goals that would be a success in our home schools?

Anne: There’s definitely a range. In fact, I think that considering fluency as the only goal of language learning can be really overwhelming and unnecessarily discouraging to families. I think fluency is actually likely a reasonable goal only for a very small margin of families because to really be fluent in a language, you have to be immersed in it. The opportunities for immersion during a kindergarten through Grade 12 experience are just few and far between.

Four Levels of Foreign Language Proficiency to Pursue in your Homeschool

I like to talk about four different levels of language proficiency that families can pursue and all of these have value.

1. Exposure

The first one would be exposure. This is just simply helping your child listen to a language, helping them get familiar with a few words in the language, and learning a bit about the culture that the language comes from.

2. Conversational Abilities

The next would be, conversational abilities. This would obviously be working to train students to be able to have basic everyday conversations. Things like ordering food, getting to know some basic facts about a new friend, or finding their way around a new place in case they’re ever to visit somewhere where that language is spoken.

3. Proficiency

The next level or the third level is proficiency. With that, I would include advanced conversational ability along with the ability to read and write at an intermediate level.

4. Fluency

Then finally, we have fluency. When I talk about language learning at home, I’m talking about all of those four different levels because you can pursue those things in the same way, but the level of intensity at which you pursue them and how much of your time and impact. I encourage families when they think about this, not to get overwhelmed and think, “Well, if I can’t get my child fluent in a language, it’s not worth it at all.” There are still plenty of benefits to exposing your child to another language, even if it’s only for 10 to 15 minutes a day.

Amy: That is really helpful because I do think in the back of my head, I thought, “Well, if we can’t sit down and have a lengthy philosophical discussion with a guest in our living room in this other language, somehow that didn’t count.” That’s helpful to think that all of those have value and there are steps along the way and not to let, I guess, the ideal, destroy me trying something. Something is better than nothing. How do we choose which language to learn? Is there a good age to start?

Foreign Language Learning at Home Anne Guarnera Homeschool Conversations Podcast interview

What age should you begin including foreign language in your homeschool?

Anne: Sure. I’ll address your second question first. The best age to start is right now.

Amy: I love that.

Anne: Right now. Going back to what I mentioned about teaching adults, a lot of people think that there is a critical period for children to learn languages. There’s a lot of myths that have been built up around language learning that if you don’t start them young, then you might as well not even try. We actually know from cognitive research that that’s not true. For those of you who have older children, you can be encouraged that older children use the existing grammar structures of their native language to more quickly learn the new grammar structures of a second, or third, or fourth language.

Language learning also is a skill that builds upon itself. If you already have some familiarity with one foreign language, then learning another actually is easier because it’s the same skills just applied across languages.

Amy: I literally just got goosebumps like, “You mean it’s not too late?” I have plenty of time.

Anne: No. I learned Spanish as an adult. I was not raised in a Spanish-speaking home. I actually learned it because I did such a bad job learning French. It was by accident that I learned Spanish. I had taken French in high school and did well. I got As. I was in the French Honor Society. When I got to college, I took my placement test the first week there as a freshman and I bombed the speaking part because I couldn’t speak it. They placed me all the way back in baby French. I said, “Well if I have to start from scratch, I might as well do a different language.” I started with baby Spanish instead, mostly out of spite.

I can tell you from experience that it is absolutely possible to learn another language as an older child or adult. However, I will say that the thing that is hard for older kids, as I have seen with my high school and college students is that they can be very self-conscious. They’re already at a stage of life where they are so concerned with what others think of them, which is natural and normal, but having the courage to undertake a language at that stage can make it harder.

If you start with a four-year-old instead, contrast your four-year-old and 14-year-old, a four-year-old has no embarrassment about getting a language wrong or mispronouncing something answering a question incorrectly. They’re going to try and do their best and they’ll be silly and dance along to songs, and your 14-year-old probably won’t want to learn in that same way and will be more cautious about taking risks. It’s not too late certainly with older kids but there are some special challenges that present when you are trying to teach to an older age. That’s the age question.

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How to choose what foreign language to study in your homeschool

I know you asked me also about how to choose a language. When I’m advising parents how to choose a language, there are three things I generally ask them to consider. First, I ask them to consider resources, second, ask them to consider motivation, and then third, ask them to think about the practicality of the language that they’re considering studying.

1. Resources available for foreign language study

In terms of resources, I think it’s important to take a look around and see what’s available to help you and support you in your language learning journey. Does your spouse speak another language, or do you have other family members who speak another language and have the margin to converse regularly with your child? Do you have the funds to hire a language tutor? You don’t have to be independently wealthy for this because the internet is an amazing place. My kids actually do language tutoring with a Brazilian Portuguese teacher for a very reasonable rate. It’s been amazing.

Another thing in terms of resources to consider is are there teaching materials available in the targeted language that you can see yourself realistically using in your home? I don’t recommend that parents try to pull together a curriculum from scratch with no spine whatsoever. It’s fine to use a curriculum as a spine and then pull together lots of supplementary resources such as videos or magazines or books in the target language, but if you’re trying to build a curriculum out of those things, that is so much work. I don’t recommend it. I had done it with my own kids with Brazilian-Portuguese for about two years and it was very consuming.

If you can see if there is a book or series of books that you can use as a spine for your language learning because that is really, really helpful. That’s resources.

2. Motivation for foreign language learning

In terms of motivation, I think there’s two main questions:

What language is Mom most excited about? Because I do think that our own interests and our own passions will transfer to our kids. If it’s something that you want to do alongside your children or lead your children in, then I think your passion is important.

Then the other question is, naturally, what about the kids? If the kids are totally checked out or totally excited to learn one language, that should be a factor as well.

3. Practicality of our foreign language studies

Finally, practicality. To go back to that vision in Revelation and just my whole ethos of language journeys, we don’t learn languages as an academic exercise. We don’t learn languages so that we can get better at grammar or get better scores on the SAT or any of those other cognitive benefits. Those are there, but we primarily learn languages so that we can relate better to, and serve and learn from, other people. Will your family have an opportunity to use language at any point either now or in the future? I think that’s an important consideration. Those three things.

What about if the homeschool parent doesn’t know another language?

Amy: That is really just a helpful framework to think through as you’re processing those questions. Well, you’ve touched about it a little bit, but does a parent need to know the language on their own in order to communicate this with their children? Can we still create an immersive environment at home or some semblance of that even if we’re new to the language as well?

Anne: I have seen parents do this and I really admire it. This isn’t something I have done since I do speak languages I’m teaching to my kids. In my Language Learning at Home community, we have a number of parents in that Facebook group who are doing this for their kids, and I am so impressed by them. What they do to be successful is two things. First, they outsource everything that they can, and then second, they automate everything that they can.

In terms of outsourcing, they are really good at asking for help.

If they don’t speak the language that their child wants to learn, they will find teachers online or find teachers who can work with their children in person, and who importantly don’t need a lot of oversight because they won’t be able to determine if the teacher is not the best and give the teacher a lot of guidance. They need a teacher who knows what they’re doing. Again, the internet’s an amazing place, you can find those teachers.

Secondly, in terms of automation, what those parents do is they make easy trade-offs to increase their kids’ exposure to the language they’re learning without creating more work for themselves.

This is something we’ve done in our family. Our children do not have screen time in English, they only have screen time in Spanish and Portuguese, and it’s predominantly Spanish. It’s very limited Portuguese. That doesn’t require any extra work from me, but it gives them plenty more of practice. And even with audiobooks, I will spend more money, I will get English audiobooks in the library, but I’m inclined to meet our audiobook budget towards Spanish language audiobooks so that when my kids have their daily rest time, they can be listening to those and getting more input and building vocabulary in Spanish when I’m not with them.

I’ve seen parents who don’t speak the language that their kids are learning use the same strategies, or they’ll do something like they set up car time as time for listening to music in the target language, and they don’t mind listening along. That’s fine.

Then finally, just one more thing I’ve seen parents do to automate it is that they help their kids set up systems to have ownership over daily language practice without requiring mom’s assistance. Such as things like doing daily language practice through an app or with a workbook that has an answer key, or with an online conversation partner.

Again, not adding to mom’s plate but recognizing the fact that daily practice is really important to language learning, and making sure that happens within a reasonable schedule, and has some accountability built-in that’s not from mom but from someone who speaks the language or from a material that is created by a proficient speaker.

Amy: This is just taking something that can feel so scary and overwhelming and making it sound so simple and manageable like that’s doable. Your kid already is excited about screen time; we’ll have them watching the target language. I can even imagine an audiobook especially if they were familiar with the story already in English, “Hey, do you want to listen to Henry Huggins in Spanish or whatever?” There it would be that nice connection and that’s something that anyone can do. I’m sure libraries probably have audiobooks in some of these languages as well anyway depending on what your family chooses.

Anne: We found they have. I would say the one caution is I would wait till your child has reached some level of proficiency before you start throwing them into these materials, because just like if you sat me down in front of a cartoon that was in Mandarin, I might watch it but I am not going to learn any Mandarin from that cartoon. Maybe over the course of many years of being exposed to it but I don’t think I’m going to learn it just from a few times. I do caution parents too, wait until they have some proficiency under their belt and then you can even start with materials that are directed at younger children.

On my blog, whenever I recommend resources, I consider who they are for. Some cartoons, like The Magic School Bus, is in Spanish, which is great, but that’s really for advanced or native Spanish speakers even though it’s for younger kids. If you have a kid who is learning at a lower level, then they might need something that’s intended for younger children. That doesn’t have to necessarily be something babyish, it could be a documentary with more simple language but I think it’s important to be cognizant of their language learning level before you have those. You start subbing in those resources just so you don’t overwhelm them.

What about language learning at home when one of the parents speaks another language?

Amy: Yes. That is really smart. Well, how about the flip side? We were just talking about a family where the parents don’t already speak another language in the home and are trying to encourage their children in language learning. Recently on social media, a mom had reached out to me. I think it was in response to a post maybe I had shared, it might have been one of yours, I can’t recall exactly but she asked a question about language learning because actually English is her second language. They have, I know it’s a naturally bilingual home, but she said actually she finds it really difficult to include her primary language, her first language, in the homeschool. She finds that they just pretty much default to English all the time.

As someone who doesn’t speak another language, I think, “Oh, if only I spoke another language it would make this so much easier,” but it can still be a struggle. Do you have any tips or strategies for the parent who maybe is bilingual but is still finding it hard to incorporate language in their ordinary homeschooler family life?

Anne: Sure. I think the first thing I would say to those parents is I feel that struggle. Spanish isn’t my second language, but I’m completely fluent in it. Even so every day I have to remind myself to speak to my children in Spanish and, very importantly, require that they answer me in Spanish. That is something that is just like all of those daily parental tasks that you have. You’re making sure your children do their chores, making sure they’re using an appropriate tone of voice, making sure they get dressed, getting it done all the responsibilities. That’s one more thing that you have to be willing to add to your mental load to take on.

I think it’s so worth it and no adult that I know has ever regretted being raised bilingually. I think that’s an important thing to remember.

Then from a practical standpoint, I think this is a really common situation because I have met also parents who struggle with the same thing. The advice that I have is that I suggest that they use what’s called the Time and Place Method for introducing that other language and becoming more consistent in using it.

There’s a few ways to work around that. I do know families who do school time exclusively in English and then they make all non-school time in their other family language. That can be nice if you have a school day that’s bracketed from say 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM. That’s your English time. You already have resources in English. That’s easy to go with, and then the rest of the time you’re working on your other language, you’re interacting with your kids in that. That works if your kids are pretty competent in both languages.

If they’re not though, because this happens with many families, is that English, our community language, creeps in and crowds out. Minority languages doesn’t have to do anything with racial minorities. It’s just the languages that are not spoken by the community.

Many kids grow up either understanding those minority languages but not being able to speak them. You have to start at a lower level of expectation for what they can do with that. In that situation, I suggest doing something like five minutes. Start with five minutes of designated Spanish time per day. You work really hard getting at your kids comfortable in that language, using basic vocabulary and speaking skills with them. You keep that up over a few months and you add a few minutes, and you add a few minutes. Maybe it gets to the point where you have dinner time in Spanish and then you can use it, and it will expand through your day.

That’s a good way to ensure that kids don’t become overwhelmed and just completely shut down, and not want to use the language at all because that is very real. That can happen. It’s a delicate dance between pushing our kids and supporting them as we come alongside them to meet our expectations.

Then finally the third suggestion I have is if your child is proficient in both languages and the resources exist, you could consider trading off certain subjects into the minority language. We do this just to ensure that our kids get enough Spanish exposure.

Because my husband and I are both non-native speakers and because we, well we actually live in a very largely Spanish-speaking community, but because our church is an English language church, and because most of their friends are English-speaking, we’re fighting a tide of English. We need to work really hard to use Spanish intentionally throughout our day. We do a lot of our bonus subjects at this point in Spanish. That includes art lessons, music and art appreciation, and science, we do those all in Spanish. I supplement a lot of our history and literature with Spanish books as well or trade this out. Those already exist as resources, so it’s not like it’s something I’m coming up with.

Those are books that are already there and I just trade them out and it works really well for our family. If that’s something that’s appealing to just make each subject a different language, then that can work as well.

Foreign Language Learning at Home Anne Guarnera Homeschool Conversations Podcast interview

What if a child is struggling with language learning?

Amy: Those are really great tips. Well, what if a child just is not clicking with the language, or they seem to really be struggling, or they tell us they hate it. How do we overcome those struggles or what are some ways we can handle it or move through that, I guess?

Anne: First, I think it’s so important to know that that is normal. Even kids who are raised bilingual experience that. The reason I think so is because progress is so slow in language learning. It’s like math or even learning to read it is so incremental. As an adult, we may be able to have patience with the process, but I think our kids can get really frustrated by not having signs of progress at shorter intervals along the way. I think as a parent you can hold out a vision for your kids of what it might look like one day in the future when they can actually use the language that they’re studying. This is something I think is much more powerful to show rather than tell.

I think it can be a little bit pedantic constantly telling our kids like, “You will use this one day” with every single subject. It starts to lose its power, I think. I think parents can do their kids a great service if they’re able to show them a context outside the classroom in which languages are important and useful. For some parents, that might be world schooling. That’s great. Wonderful, but for parents who want to do something more close to home this can be something that you tailor to your child’s interests. If you have a child, for example, who wants to pursue a medical career, have that child shadow a nurse friend, or a doctor for the day or even just talk to a friend who’s a nurse or a doctor and have them learn about how languages help that person in their profession.

I think that talking to other people about how they use languages, or even this is powerful too, how they wish they could use languages can be a really powerful motivator. I think our job as parents is knowing our children, knowing their interests. Even for our little ones, we can know their interests and connecting them with people who can show them a bigger context for the things that they want to do, and how languages might support that, I think is so powerful.

Amy: I love that idea to not just tell but to show. So often as parents, we turn into the “wha, wha, wha,” and our kids can tune it out, and so to think of another way of communicating those ideas to them so they can really catch the vision for themselves. We’re not just telling them, “Hey, this is the vision I have for you in language learning,” but so that they get on board as well.

Anne: Just to add on to what I said. I don’t even think it has to be career-related just to say. When my kids go to the playground and they can make friends who speak Spanish and don’t feel comfortable in English I say, “Look, you speak double the languages you get double the friends.” That’s a wonderful thing and that makes sense to a four- and seven-year-old and they love to play with the other kids at the playground. They’re like, “Oh yes, this is valuable. I’m glad I can speak Spanish.” I think that that is so helpful for them.

Amy: Yes. I love that. Double the language is double the friends. It makes you want to go learn  triple and quadruple the languages!

What Anne Guarnera is reading lately

I’m asking these questions to each of my guests this season and the first one is just what are you reading lately?

Anne: This year I decided I would go back and read some of the books that have been most important and formative to me in the last 20 years or so. Right now, I’m actually reading a book that I read when I was studying abroad in Spain so my junior year of college and I haven’t read it since. I remember being so moved by it. It has held a special place in my heart ever since. There’s a lot of preambles but the book is Paula by Isabel Allende. It is a memoir of Isabella Allende. It is for most autobiographical work. She’s a Chilean writer who’s very famous and is part of the magical realism movement in Latin American literature, but this work is more autobiographical.

She wrote it at her daughter’s bedside as her daughter was in a year-long coma having had an attack of porphyria, which is a disease of the enzymes of the blood. She wrote it as a way to reconstruct her family history as something to give to her daughter when her daughter woke up in case her daughter didn’t remember anything about her family. It’s a very powerful work and I wanted to reread it because I read it at 19 before I was a parent, and now being a parent, I think I’ll have a much different perspective on it and I have really been enjoying that.

Amy: That sounds amazing and also a very difficult and moving, but in a good way, like difficult in a good way to read.

Anne: It is but it’s good.

Tips for the Homeschool Day Going All Wrong

Amy: Well, my final question for you is what would you say to the homeschool mom whose day seems to be going all wrong?

Anne: I would say get outside. Especially during this pandemic, I have decided that I have to really live by the maxim, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.” I have found being outdoors an instantly calming mechanism for myself and my kids, and rain walks great, snow walks great. I don’t recommend ice walks.

Amy: A little dangerous. Treacherous.

Anne: A little treacherous, but otherwise go outside and do it. Then on a hard day, I would say poetry, tea time pretty much often turns my day around. Kids love cookies and my kids love poetry and they consider it a major treat. I don’t think they realize that sometimes I just do that to keep them quiet and eating things while I relax and read them poetry but it works for all of us. We consider it really special time. Those are my two strategies for homeschool day gone wrong, and then just go to bed and tomorrow’s a new day.

Amy: Indeed. This has been so great and I can’t wait to share this conversation on the homeschool conversations podcast. Can you let everyone know where they can find you all around the internet?

Anne: Absolutely. My blog is My Facebook group is the Language Learning at Home Community, and on Instagram, you can find me also @LanguageLearningatHome. I hope that’s easy enough.

Amy: Fabulous and I’ll have all that linked up in the show notes for this episode I’ll talk to you later.

Anne: Thanks Amy.

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

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1 thought on “Language Learning at Home (with Anne Guarnera)”

  1. For those of us that don’t speak (very well) a second language, was there a particular curriculum or app that you or Anne recommend? I checked out her website, but I don’t see anything basic for young kids that mom can turn on to let them learn while I am focused on someone else. I know there’s duolingo, and babbel and others, but not sure if some are better than others. I guess I expected this to be covered here, I’d love any guidance you might have!

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