by Claudia Windfuhr

Tips for helping your youngster to learn a foreign language
To master a language, students need daily practice (oral and written homework, phone-partner exchanges, listening to language tapes.) It’s like a sport! This is particularly true for Saturday schools. You need to expose your child to German during the week. Do not wait until Friday evening to do the homework assignments.

The students prepare flash cards (one side English; the other the foreign language.) Make sure your child is reviewing them, saying the words out loud, sometimes spelling them. You do not need to know the foreign language to quiz your child: Just tell them the English word and have them tell you the foreign one. Make one pile with the words your child knows and another one with words to review at a later day. It feels like playing cards but it’s much more.

Dictation (or copying) of dialogues helps kids to master words in the context of an entire sentence and thematic unit. It also improves spelling. If you do not know the language, ask to get some tapes. Use the tapes by pushing the stop button when it seems appropriate. More advanced students might want to listen to bedtime stories in German.

Memorizing dialogues gives children correct, ready-made sentences for use in different situations. It’s a step up from using single words and fosters confidence in being able to communicate in the foreign language. Have your child recite the dialogues while driving to school or helping with the dishes. The phone-partner system is a good method for trying out the new language in a non-threatening way. Each week, parents/guardians sign that the child did a phone partner assignment. If your child’s teacher does not assign phone partner activities, ask them about it or find a buddy in the class and do it on your own.

At the German School of San Francisco, we have a great video library. Check out some fun German children’s videos for your child (and one with subtitles for you). This is perfect to entertain your child and have him/her learn German at the same time.

Our textbooks are from Germany and have all grammar explanations in German. But the books have charts which are easily understood. I suggest that your child is copying those charts into a special booklet over time. You should decorate it with funny stickers to turn it into a well-liked book that the child will look at over and over again. For advanced students and adults, I also recommend that you buy the following book which has saved some language students’ lives:

English Grammar for Students of German
by Cecile Zorach and Charlotte Melin
The Olivia and Hill Press
P.O. Box 7396
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48107
Tel.: (313) 663-0235
Fax: (313) 663-6590

Most of all, always remember to make learning fun, reward your child, and laugh about mistakes!

Claudia Windfuhr is academic consultant for the German School of San Francisco and has been teaching German as foreign language at various levels since 1981. She has been asked many times to advice parents who do not speak the language on how they can help their children to progress. Above ideas have worked well in the regular school setting and some of them might also work in Saturday schools.