How many languages do you speak?

EV-9D9: “How many languages do you speak?”
C-3PO: “I am fluent in over six million forms of communication, and can readily…”
EV-9D9: “Splendid! We have been without an interpreter since our master got angry with our last protocol droid and disintegrated him.”
C-3PO: “Disintegrated?”

Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi


Well, let’s be honest. I speak one language, English, and a smattering of Dutch. I can get around a menu, buy some groceries, read a short kids’ book, and be polite, but really speak Dutch… Nah, not so much. I’ve been at this in fits and starts for (shamefully) decades now and have pulled out all the excuses you can imagine: too little time, raising a family, working, no one nearby to speak with anymore, we’ve (not so recently) moved, the damn cat puked on the carpet again, there’s something good on Netflix, I started that new engineering-related website, the usual.

I have, however, recently acquired a commitment from Red Leader in a game of chance to move to Belgium for 3 months (the maximum stay allowed) after Padawan Learner and Wedge Antilles graduate from high school and are off on their own, making their way in the world. Gosh darn it, we’ve earned ourselves a little R&R – a little learning-for-me time – a chance to work towards something lovely and interesting and important for reasons that have nothing to do with college applications, ACT/SAT scores, core competencies, getting child X to activity Y in under Z minutes, or anything so wholly unrelated to us (to mis-quote the brilliant Elizabeth Bennet).

Since Belgium has two national languages (French – her target language) and Flemish (a dialect of Dutch – mine), sits between France and the Netherlands, and is an easy train trip into either language region, it will be ideal for our purposes. She will be able to rely on me in the Dutch-speaking regions and I on her in the French-speaking areas. While we will, of course, visit all the main tourist spots (hello again, Paris and Amsterdam) where English could be spoken if we wanted to – BUT WE WILL NOT WANT TO – learning our target languages well will allow us to visit and enjoy the non-touristy spots that are so often bypassed due to the language barrier.

Because of this travel plan and language-learning need, I am going to be using some of this space for a bit of recording keeping and public accountability. Please feel free to give me grief is I don’t update my progress regularly. I apologize in advance if you just don’t give a hoot about this goal, because you’re going to hear a lot about it.

    Actually R2 has been known to make mistakes… from time to time…

    R2 says that the chances of survival are 725 to 1. Actually R2 has been known to make mistakes… from time to time… Oh dear…”  -  C-3PO, Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back

    “If I sit a test I might fail it – but I’m doing what I need to do in the real world. Why would tests devised for people in classrooms matter more than results in the real world?” – Benny the Irish Polyglot, from Fluent in Three Months


    That’s a pretty good argument for unschooling, as well as focusing on conversation versus grammar in a language, if I ever heard one.

      Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side.

      “Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side.” – The Emperor, Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi


      Ah, foreign languages. Homeschooling parents tend to put a lot of thought into foreign languages. And for good reason, I must say. To function and succeed in the larger world, the ability to speak, read, write, and ultimately to learn to think in a foreign language will be paramount. 

      One of the hidden benefits of learning a foreign language, many homeschooling parents learn along the way, is that it makes the understanding of one’s native language stronger as well. A firm grasp of the grammar terms - article, preposition, appositive, participle, helping verb, etc. – becomes much more than simply an annoying thing to memorize for Friday’s test when a kid realizes that they actually have to be incorporated into the real-time manipulation of words in a foreign language.

      Homeschooling message boards, cooperative groups, blogs and resource societies, therefore, are often hives of activity with questions, comments, referrals and recommendations regarding foreign language selection and materials. From the basic to the devilishly obscure, homeschoolers have no end of questions when it comes to helping their children learn a foreign language efficiently and well.

      • “What language will be most useful?”
      • “Can my child learn Chinese without access to a native speaker?”
      • “Where have you found online materials for Latin and Spanish?”
      • “Why did you pick Polish?”
      • “Should more than one language be attempted at a time?”
      • “Who else is learning German?”
      • “Should reading and writing a foreign language come in conjunction with speaking and listening or afterwards?”
      • “Has anyone else used Rosetta Stone? What are its strengths and weaknesses?”

      Sometimes more difficult situations arise, such as “My daughter hates French and wants to learn Hindu instead. I want her to continue in French, should I reconsider?” It’s always interesting and informative to hear what other people think, even in situations that don’t seem to have any direct impact on my immediate life or our own homeschooling situation – especially those opinions that are so different from my own.

      What’s that? You want to know what I think about this particular situation? Well, I firmly believe that any language that a child wants to learn should be a language that they have the opportunity to learn. French isn’t going away. Her daughter could always learn it later, should she choose to or need to, but to remove a desired language because it’s not “practical” is like removing all your pretty shoes from the closet because they’re not “sensible”.   *shudder*

      So… I’m 415 words into this post and I still haven’t addressed the title or the quote. What gives? Well, Mama Lynx, at One-Sixteenth, has run into a most peculiar situation when attempting to help her children learn Spanish. A real snag. A dastardly plot. Some might even call it a diabolical force that appears intent on destroying her most fervent hope of raising Spanish-speaking children!

      It seems her children have… a wicked funny sense of humor.