Friday, July 6, 2007

Help Your Child with a Foreign Language

Help Your Child With a Foreign Language (Berlitz Kids) by Opal Dunn provides a simple guide for teaching a child the beginnings of any foreign language. She outlines the process, but also gives a great deal of explanation of how children learn foreign language as well as many examples of how to proceed.

Certainly this small volume embodies Charlotte Mason’s advice from Volume 1, p.300: "French should be acquired as English is, not as a grammar, but as a living speech." My familiarity with Gouin is limited to CM’s description in that same section of Volume 1. I would say based on that description that Dunn’s work applies some of Gouin’s principles:

  • ". . . we must acquire a new language as a child acquires his mother tongue . . ."  (And CM follows this remark with an observation that Gouin’s application of this principle may or may not be the best way to apply it.)
  • ". . . the ear, and not the eye, is the physical organ for apprehending a language. . ."
  • ". . . the child thinks in sentences, not in words. . ."
Dunn encourages us, just as CM did, to delay exposure to the written form of the target language until the child is reading and writing the native language fluently.  I believe CM also encouraged waiting until the target language is *spoken* fluently, which is not something Dunn addresses.

Dunn’s method uses immersion, even when the parent doesn’t speak the target language.  It uses whole sentences primarily, rather than individual words.  It uses real activities.  It uses rhymes and songs.  She shows you how to do this yourself, and explains the principles behind the method so you can see why it works.

Although Dunn’s method is not the same as Gouin’s, I don’t believe that represents a conflict with CM.  In my reading of the Volume 1 comments on teaching French, at any rate, I sense that CM was ambivalent about Gouin’s actual method.  She thought his principles were well founded, but she suggested his method might have to be significantly revised to be practical.  I would suggest that Dunn’s method might fill in for Gouin’s in the homeschool of today.

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