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Get Ahead Kids - Vol. 3, No. 3 - May/June 2011

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The Fun Way to Learn a Language

By Bill Handley

I have always been intrigued by the idea of learning another language. Long before I ever went to school I wanted to be able to speak in a language that none of my friends or family could understand. I saw it as a means of secret communication.

When I discovered that the girls who lived next door learnt French at school I begged them to teach me French. They were only too happy to "play" school in the back yard and give me lessons. They wrote the lessons on a blackboard and gave me written notes although I was too young to read. I retained what they had taught me up until the time I started high school and took my own French classes.

Since I left school I have learnt more at night classes and with home study courses than I ever did at school. I have come to the conclusion that I could have learnt the equivalent of six years' school French in just six months by myself. I would have probably spent less time per day studying the language than I did in high school. Since leaving school I have learnt some 15 or more languages by myself.

Tips for Teaching a Language or Learning At Home

Buy an audio course

I like Assimil The Language Expert courses because they teach the spoken language, the audio is entirely in the language you are learning, and the course is broken up into small bite-size lessons you can easily complete in one day. The lessons are written with humour and they give insight to the culture.

Buy a computer program like KidSpeak courses

I bought the KidSpeak program for learning ten languages. It offers games that teach the language and children enjoy it as fun rather than "language work". It is a fun way to practise.


Print pages in the target language from the Internet that will interest your child. You can download a translation of the page using Google or Alta Vista. The translation won't be accurate but it will save a lot of work.
Try the Languages on the Web page at It has material in just about any language you are likely to learn and simple stories written side by side with the English translation. It has links to many other sites as well.

It is possible to download or complete an entire language course on the Internet. You can download an entire language course at

Another resource is which has links to courses in most languages.


Buy or rent DVDs that your child will enjoy that have a soundtrack in the target language. You can listen in the target language with English subtitles or you can listen in English and have subtitles in the target language.


Buy comics in the target language. Tintin comics are always popular and can be bought in most languages as well as English. Buy the same comic in the target language and English so the child can see the translation or how the same thought is expressed.


Play with vocabulary. How can we remember that "boleh" means "to be able" in Indonesian? What is an English word that sounds like boleh? How about ballet? Then join it to the meaning. I am able to dance ballet.
Krank means sick in German. When you are sick you get kranky. This is probably where the word came from.


Buy music your child enjoys sung in the target language. Download the lyrics from the Internet to help with understanding.

Intensive language days

Choose a day or half day every so often for intensive language study. This is a time for reading, singing, listening and speaking only in the target language.

It may just consist of playing through all the language lessons you have learnt and reading them through afterwards to check on anything you didn't understand. Is there anyone your child can speak with? Can you join an organisation where the language is spoken? How about a church or social club?


Have your child keep a diary or journal in the target language. Have your child complete written exercises from the lessons and, if possible, find a friend to write to in the language.

Add excitement

Dr. Blair has language programs where you pretend you are a secret agent and you play or act out a part.

Mission Europe is an Internet program that follows an exciting adventure as you learn a language.

Learning is Worthwhile

Learning a language can broaden your child's outlook and interest in the rest of the world. It can be exciting to read documents in the original rather than a translation.

For me, learning a language is a way to really get to know a people. I enjoy sitting on a bus in a foreign country conversing in their language. I am part of their environment. I am not just an observer. I remember sitting in a streetcar in Poland discussing politics with my fellow travellers and thinking I am getting first hand insight into the way the people think. Sitting at the table with families in East Germany discussing religion and politics are some of my great memories of the country. I think of the times I was invited to picnics and spending time with families while we lived in Europe and I realise that this could never have happened if we didn't speak the language of our host country

Learning someone's language is an act of friendship. It gives you insight into how they think. There is a thrill that comes with your first successful attempt to converse with someone in their language, when you first discover you are thinking in their language.


Bill Handley is an inspirational teacher, educational adviser and published author of children's books including 'Speed Mathematics', 'Speed Maths for Kids: Helping Children Achieve Their Full Potential' and 'Teach Your Children Tables'.

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