Learning English. A new language for my kids whose native tongue is Swedish. As English is a language that is spoken in so many countries we feel that it is important that our kids grow up fluent in English. And in our early home ed years I have wondered about how to do it. How do you teach your kids a new language? For us the answer was: Not at all. Well, ok, I couldn’t always resist the little teacher inside me that whispered that it would be good for the kids to use worksheets sometimes, and that made me buy some schoolbooks in English to be sure that they actually learned it. But the worksheets stayed blank and the books unused. They learned through the assistance of Harry Potter, Minecraft, maps and… Pokémon. And Doctor Who. Doctor Who has been the absolutely best English teacher we could have had. But let´s go back a few years in time. Six, maybe, or seven.
That was when my oldest son was six years old with a new interest. He got hold of some old secondhand Pokémon cards and got lost in the world of Pokémon. He´s still there, thirteen years old with bags full of the cards. Stupid and expensive cards. That was my first opinion about them. That did change pretty soon though, when Lukas started to ask me about the short one liners on each cards, describing the Pokémon on the card. Full of English words. Long and tricky words, many as new to me as they where to Lukas. So I started to translate the cards for him, using dictionaries together when we needed them. We could sit for hours reading about the special powers of Ivysaur and Magnemite, and the descriptions of Charmander: “The fire on the tip of its tail is a measure of its life. If healthy, its tail burns intensely”… And when I needed to do something else than read Pokémon cards, he would go on writing about them instead. In English. Writing down facts about the different Pokémons. Drawing their pictures, making Pokémon journals. And when Lukas was nine years old we went to England to HesFes, Home Educators’ Summer Festival. Lukas hadn´t spoken a lot of English, and what he knew he´d learned mostly from our Pokémon readings. But it didn´t take him long to find the big tent where the kids played Pokémon all day long. We left him there and picked him up a few days later and he was fluent in English, and had learned the rules of the game. Well, we did feed him during those days, of course. And we made sure he got to bed with us in the evenings, but this little boy who hardly ever left my side at home spent days and days in a tent with English kids and Pokémon. And learned to communicate in this new language.
Beppe, my second boy, wasn’t as deep into Pokémon as his big brother, but he found another way to learn English. He was seven years old or so. We had been speaking some English at home, reading some children’s books, and he was using the Internet to Google things, but he didn’t speak a lot of English. We decided to visit friends in Scotland, and to stay for a couple of weeks. We had a great time, seeing Edinburgh, the Scottish countryside, (and talking about the people there as “English,” shame on me… I learned the hard way that they were absolutely Scottish; not English nor British…). We visited museums and small towns. Had coffee and hot chocolate in small cafés wherever we went. But what this holiday really meant for Beppe was learning English with the best English teacher he could find. Doctor Who.
At first Beppe felt a bit awkward, as he didn’t know much English, and while his brother chatted unhindered with the kids in the family we stayed with, Beppe was quiet. A couple of days after we arrived he found this fantastic TV series about the brilliant, nameless Doctor who travels through space and time in his tardis. We had seen a couple of episodes before, but in Scotland was when he got really into this science fiction world of planets, spaceships, aliens and adventure. And there he was, this little seven year old boy, totally mesmerized by his new found hero. He spent every night that holiday watching Doctor Who. No subtitles. No dubbing. And he learned the language well enough to be able to follow the story.
Back home again he read all about Doctor Who he could find on the Internet. He made index books with the Doctor, his sidekicks and other creatures in the cast. He drew pictures and maps. And he asked me to find worksheets with a Doctor Who theme. We got all the seasons of the TV series there is to find and he watched them all. Actually, we all got involved. And we found that in the science fiction world of Doctor Who there´s a lot to learn about science, and it has led to a big interest in science for our family. And for Beppe it was his way to find the key to the English language. And by the way, a few years later when we where visiting Britain again we all went to Wales, Cardiff to visit the big museum; a Doctor Who experience. And that really was an experience…
As for my youngest son, Frode, I´m quite sure that I won´t worry very much about him learning English. His brothers have taught me that language is a very natural thing to learn, given the right circumstances and support. And by the way, he´s already learning. He has to, to keep up with his brothers, and because in our house there are now certain plays and games that are only played in English, just because they´re more fun that way. And he wouldn’t want to miss that for anything in the world.
For Lukas, his interest in Pokémon cards led to a much bigger interest in manga, Japanese culture, and the Japanese language. He’s now learning Japanese by himself, and it is all thanks to these stupid and expensive cards he once started to collect… I don’t know yet if Beppe will want to learn another language, but I am quite sure that if he does, he will not need any classical school books, neither will he need a traditional teacher. (But if he really wants to try it that way, I will certainly support him in doing it that way, too.) Anyway, I think he will know perfectly well how to learn a new language. And he will find natural interests that will make the learning easy and fun.
This article appeared in the May-June 2014 issue of Home Education Magazine
Jenny Lantz is an unschooling mama of three wild boys in the Baltic Sea archipelago. Homemaking, gardening, and cooking vegetables are some of the things she loves to do. Knitting whenever she has a moment. She sells handmade stuff on www.etsy.com/shop/sagotygand blogs on www.nattugglorokattguld.blogspot.com She is happily married to the love of her life. Oh yeah, she is also a book lover, a freedom lover, a tea lover. She is loving the educational freedom of her new home country.