Although foreign language study usually isn’t required until high school, it may be beneficial to introduce younger children to elementary foreign language curriculum. Some programs are designed for children, and others are designed for general users. This review covers elementary foreign language programs I have used or am familiar with. This review is limited to programs that require little to no teacher knowledge of the language. My opinion on the program’s appropriateness for elementary children is also included.
This review does not cover Latin study. CLICK HERE to read my review of Elementary Latin Curricula.
An Elementary Foreign Language Curriculum Designed for Children
This is an immersion Spanish Language Program that uses videos to teach vocabulary.
The videos are entertaining and use humor. My kids laughed and laughed through the “Basketballs aren’t for Breakfast” episode. New words are learned in context in the way language is naturally acquired. Key vocabulary is emphasized and includes the printed word on the screen.
The pronunciation used in the videos is not the Spanish pronunciation used in Mexico or Spain. The double-l is pronounced as /j/ instead of /y/.
Books Appropriate for Elementary Foreign Language Learning
These books provide simple bite-sized pieces of language vocabulary and grammar. Although I have not personally used the Spanish or French versions, I have used the Latin version and was very pleased.
The short lessons are simple and easy to understand. The author includes a link to download audio files to hear the pronunciation of the words for each lesson. The book can be self-paced to complete one or more lessons per day or to take several days on a single lesson.
Only beginning books are available. You will have to find another curriculum when you are done.
Programs with Multiple Languages for the Same Price
Mango is a computer-based language learning program. Much of the content can be accessed and downloaded on a mobile device, such as a kindle or iPad. A yearly homeschool subscription is available with content that is appropriate for students. You can get a good discount on Mango if you purchase your subscription through Homeschool Buyers Co-op. You may be able to access Mango for free through a library system, but it may include the content that was filtered out for the homeschool version. Mango has a large selection of languages that can be studied. It is actually the largest selection I have come across.
Margo lessons focus on teaching conversational skills. The words and phrases are broken down to teach vocabulary and grammar in segments.
As this program is online, you can access it from any computer or almost any device. An app is available for both the Kindle and iPad and lessons can be downloaded for offline use. One of my favorite features of Mango is that when you click on a word, you both hear and see the correct pronunciation.
One of the biggest problems with Mango is the length of the lessons. Although I was hopeful that Mango would be a good fit for my children, particularly since there is no required typing, the lesson length resulted in a total fail. Mango may be a better fit for older children (junior high or high school). I continue to use Mango for my own study, but also find the lessons to be on the long side.
Duolingo is a free language learning app that is available for iPads and Kindles. After looking at their website, it looks like the program is also available for windows and android platforms. Duolingo also has a variety of languages available for study. The lessons are an appropriate length and there is a bar at the top to show you how far you have to go. Lessons teach words, phrases, and grammar through repeated practice.
Did I mention it was free? This is the best free program I have seen and I use it on a regular basis. I feel like its has help me improve my reading comprehension skills in another language.
For me, I feel like Duolingo is a great supplement for language study, but could not be a stand alone program. I have been using Duolingo for years, and my reading comprehension has improved, but I do not think I could converse in the language at all. I also feel it would be helpful to know some of the language prior to starting to use DuoLingo. My children did not like the required typing for providing answers and did not enjoy it for that reason. Duolingo is probably more suited for children who already have strong spelling and typing skills.
Programs Priced per Language
Rosetta Stone is an immersion language computer-based program. I have used the desk-top version. There are also apps and subscriptions available for language learning. Lessons introduce words by saying them and then the user must select a correct picture from a set of choices.
The program includes listening comprehension, speech accuracy, and reading comprehension. Certain aspects can be activated or deactivated based on the users preferences. For example, for younger children, only the listening comprehension components can be practiced.
For me, I found the pictures a little on the confusing side. I would rather have a program that directly tells me what a word or phrase means instead of me having guess to figure it out.
The Learnables is also an immersion program. They have Spanish, French, and German options available. This is a computer-based program that must be used while the disc in the CD drive. Lesson teach new words by presenting a drawing and then the corresponding word is said on the computer.
Students are expected to first learn to comprehend the language from listening to it. Words and phrases are directly taught using pictures (rather than guessing at pictures that occurs in Rosetta Stone).
It can be really boring. I also found the diction difficult to understand. My son did it for a while, but became very bored with it. We did not make it far through this curriculum.
Conclusion on Elementary Foreign Language Programs
If you are starting with French or Spanish, I think Linney’s “Getting started with…” books are an excellent choice. If you are studying Spanish, the Foreign Language for Kids by Kids is really fun. Mango or Duolingo may be okay with older elementary students. If your child can handle tedious learning tasks, the Learnables may work. Rosetta Stone may be a good choice if you limit the activities to listening comprehension.