Charlotte Mason recommended that mothers be very intentional about foreign language lessons during the early years. She believed, and modern research confirms, that young children can more easily learn languages than older children and adults. Research also shows that babies who learn more than one language have cognitive benefits. During the early years, Charlotte Mason recommended daily language lessons. If you aren’t bilingual, that’s okay! There are many modern day resources to help.
Charlotte Mason’s Foreign Language Lessons for the Early Years
The daily French lesson is that which should not be omitted. The children should learn French orally, by listening to and repeating French words and phrases; that they should begin so young that the difference of accent does not strike them, but they repeat the new French word all the same as if it were English and use it as freely; that they should learn a few–two or three, five or six– new French words daily, and that, at the same time, the old words should be kept in use–are points to be considered more fully hereafter…” Home Education, page 80
From this passage, we see several recommendations for Charlotte Mason foreign language lessons:
Start at an Early Age
While she doesn’t name a specific age here, we know that babies who are raised in bilingual homes can speak two languages as soon as they are able to talk. As children’s tongues are trained in the habits of their own language, it becomes more difficult to retrain these habits as they get older. I notice this with my children. Miss H, five, has a more difficult time mastering the pronunciation of French Phrases than my son, two. Whilst learning languages does become harder as you become older, due to your sponge like brain no longer being so absorbent, it can still be done. One of these ways is to go an immerse yourself in the culture and language. To do this you may like to join the Cultural Care Au Pair programme due to an emphasis on embracing the language.
Learn Several New Words Daily
The exact number is flexible, per Charlotte Mason’s suggestions, but acquiring several new words a day is possible and meaningful. As we will see in a bit, she recommended to start with nouns, so if you are not bilingual, this makes it a little easier for you, as well! Check out these 5 reasons to learn English if you’re still unsure of what language you want your children, or yourself, to learn!
Spend time reviewing past words as well. Teaching words without really mastering them is wasted time. This is where writing down the words we’re learning, or using a book, are helpful for me.
Related: Making the Most of Outdoor Play During the Early Years
The What, When, and Where of Language Lessons
…in the meantime, it is so important to keep tongue and ear familiar with French vocables, that not a lesson should be omitted. The French lesson may, however, be made to fit in with spirit of the other out-of-door occupations; the half-dozen words may be the parts– leaves, branches, bark, trunk of the tree, or the colors of the flowers, or the movements of bird, cloud, lamb, child; in fact, the new French words should be but another form of expression for the ideas that for the time fill the child’s mind.” Home Education, pages 80-81
As she mentioned twice in this passage, these should foreign language lessons should happen every day!
These lessons are beneficial in, but not limited to, the outdoors. Since so much of the early years are spent outside, you can add in language lessons without taking another chunk of time out of your day.
Make a list of words in your language of choice, and head outside, identifying different things that your child is getting familiar with. If you’re teaching your child French, I have a free downloadable list of French nature words in the free Subscriber Library! (You can read more about it below!)
What Language Should You Teach?
Charlotte Mason recommended French, but in a different time and (if you’re) on a different continent, then maybe another language would be more meaningful. Many Charlotte Mason families choose to teach their children Spanish. I personally chose to teach my children French at this point because I know a little bit of French. I know zero Spanish. It was easier for me to review French with my children than having to learn an entirely new language! Since it’s a Latin-based language, I hope that learning French at a young age will help them be able to pick up Spanish easily later on. This article from Simple Charlotte Mason describes Charlotte Mason’s foreign language lessons are approached later on (even Latin!)
What If You Don’t Know a Language?
This is my dilemma. I am not great at any languages, but the beauty of Charlotte Mason’s method is that we get to learn with our children. Start learning! Get a language learning app like Duo Lingo and study up. Look over words that you want to teach ahead of time, and get familiar with how they are pronounced. If you’re really dedicated or just want to learn for yourself as well as with your kids, invest in a private tutor who can deliver quality lessons that you learn a lot from, such as these Spanish lessons. A wise mom in the Charlotte Mason Early Learning Facebook group mentioned that she records the pronunciation of Spanish words on an app on her phone, so that when she’s outside, she can correctly say each one.
Subscriber Library Free List
In case you’re also planning on teaching your child or children French, I made a list of French nature words to share with you. There are 99 words here, so that should give you enough words for almost 30 days of language lessons with your little one! Although I’m not fluent in French, these were checked by a native French speaker (thank you, Friend!) This list is in the free My Little Robins subscriber library.
Another great resource is TalkBox Mom. It gives us phrases to practice in our everyday life, so children can learn French like a native! You can use the code REFVH6Y7G4ITQ for $15 off of your first box.
This is great! I can’t seem to find the subscriber library so I can print out the nature words list. Thanks for your help.
Hi! You can sign up for the subscriber library here! Thank you! https://mylittlerobins.com/2020/01/introducing-idea-nest-free-early-years-resource/
You briefly mention bilingual children at the beginning of this post, but I was wondering how foreign language learning applies to children who are already being raised bilingually. Should they be learning words in a third language? I am also learning a second language (the mother tongue of my husband – German) and find it a bit overwhelming to think of teaching/learning another at the moment.
Hi Natasha! Charlotte Mason’s PNEU schools taught multiple languages! She also had a few examples of very young children being fluent in French, German, Arabic, and English! Your children are already ahead of most (at least in America!) but if you do find the motivation to teach them another language, it would definitely fit into Charlotte Mason’s vision for the early years!
Model the JOY says
I’m grateful for this post! I was just contemplating the addition of a foreign language and was hesitating with our already busy days. I think I will try to add in Sign Language – something I’ve taught all my girls since they were really little, but I’d love to expand.
Thank you so much for this! I think we’re going to start learning French this year, too. I will have a first-grader and a kindergartner and I’ve been reading Home Education, about 2/3 of the way through now. And I just printed your sheet of nature words so we can use it!! I am not a native speaker, either, and so correct pronunciation is the thing that worries me, too. Do you happen to know which app records correct pronunciation of a word and replays it? That’s a great idea. I had been thinking of looking each one up on Google translate and playing it for the kids as we learn it, so that I don’t teach it to them incorrectly (by saying it a bit off, myself).