Duolingo App- Learn Languages for Free

Duolingo_logo

My nephew told me about this App, and friends, I am really glad he did. As many of you know I grew up in Germany and I home-school my kiddos. One of my deepest desires is for my kids to converse in German with my family. My success varies among my six children on the spectrum of “he can talk to me about every day things” to “I just get blank stares”, and everywhere in between. I’d say four of my children need to learn from the ground up. Duolingo is perfect for that. With this App you can decide how much time you want to spend each day, and it helps you keep on track, by sending you lovely e-mail messages.

Every lesson teaches by repetition, picture association, and it requires you to translate and speak. You can always redo a lesson. The lessons introduce a little bit of grammar, but it is not grammar heavy. At least not in the beginning, I haven’t gotten very far. I’m currently brushing up on my Spanish as I will be heading to Mexico in November.

So far Duolingo is only offering 6 languages, but they are working on several more. As I have just started I don’t know how deep they get into the language. But it is a great start, and hey, it’s free! Give it a try.

As far as children learning with this app, I would recommend it for age 9 and up, depending on your child’s reading ability. My 10 year old is doing it, and he has no problem reading the instructions and writing in German.

Happy learning!

-Sofija

If you are interested in teaching German to your children, here are some other posts I have done on this topic: German for children (if you like a more traditional book/CD program),  my journey of raising my kids bilingual.

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Duolingo App- Learn Languages for Free

Teaching German to Elementary Kids: German for Children

IMG_7958Recently I started teaching German to a 7 year and 9 year old. They are my friend’s children and they have no prior knowledge of German. It was tricky finding the right curriculum. I was surprised that there are actually choices for children younger than High-School. We first tried a middle school curriculum but soon decided it was too dry and and hard. Then I found this Mc Graw Hill program for ages 3-10.

IMG_7966It comes with a lesson book that track with two CD’s. There is also an activity book to practice their learning. The way it works is that children listen to the lesson on CD and use their course book to answer questions. Each lesson has simple songs, though cheesy at times, that help with the memorization. There are no home-work assignments just a list of vocabulary words to memorize.

IMG_7962

There are 10 lessons covering introducing yourself, going to school, counting, going to the supermarket, etc.
IMG_7964 IMG_7962Here is an example of the activity book.

IMG_7965I find this to be a great introduction for younger kids. The games and song keep the kids interested. The lessons are about 20 minutes long, just right for their attention span. Before every lesson I spend about 10 minutes of review and conversation. The program does not do reviews, which to me are essential for retention.

The program is designed for children to learn on their own, but I would say it would be much more helpful if they had someone to practice and review with.

For those of you who like me are German native speakers trying to teach your children:  I have been including my 9, 7, and 5 year old during classes. Here is an assessment on them. This program is too easy for my 9 year old. He is not learning anything new. Still I have him there to review and realize how cool it is that he knows so much and he can help his friends. Part of cementing what you learn is teaching others. The program is perfect for my 7 and 5 year old. My 7 year old knows some but is learning right alongside. My 5 year old is learning a lot. I can see how lax I have been teaching her….

They like it, its fun, not dry at all.

I bought the program on Amazon.

Viel Spass beim Lernen!

-Sofija

Teaching German to Elementary Kids: German for Children

Home-schooling in Turkey

Friends,

I’m so exited to introduce a friend of mine, Jamie, who lives and home-schools in Turkey. Are you ever curious what it is like to live in another country, day in day out, the perks and the challenges? Read to find out…

Sofija: Tell us about your family.

Jamie: 
My husband James and I are both originally from California. We got married 10 years ago and since then have been busy figuring out life on the other side of the world and having kids. We have four beautiful girls, Elise (7), Marie (5), Clara (3), and Pearl (4 mo). All of them were born here in Turkey.
2. What are you doing in Turkey? What do you like about living there, what makes it challenging?
James teaches English at a high school here in Turkey. It is an absolutely gorgeous country. If you’ve never visited, I highly recommend it. I don’t even know where to start answering the question about what I like about living here. There really are so many things! I love the fact that I can drive an hour and be at Gordion, where King Midas lived and is buried. I love that I can drive two hours and visit an ancient Hittite capitol. I love that I can see ancient Ephesus, Pergamum, and innumerable other interesting old sites. Actually, there is an archeological dig going on right behind the Chinese restaurant that is down the street from my house! Living in Turkey has made me fall in love with history. I used to live in a city called Kayseri. My friend there was homeschooling her boys (my oldest was only a baby then) and as she was looking at their history book it mentioned a Hittite city where archeologists had found a lot of things that let them know about that ancient civilization. She looked at her boys and said, “You know, I think this is about 20 minutes away from our house.” How amazing is that?! Aside from the amazing history, Turkey has delicious food, hospitable people, and cheap, fresh fruits and vegetables. Not only that, but every building in Turkey has a man who comes to your door to deliver fresh baked bread every morning, and take out your garbage every evening. I love that when we go on vacation we can drive to the Mediterranean and stay in an inexpensive hotel right on the beach. In fact just a few weeks ago there was a holiday so we took a few days of vacation. I was sitting on the nearly deserted beach, watching an amazing sunset over the Mediterranean while my kids played in the warm water, and eating a pomegranate that was grown right there. Can life really get much better?! I could go on, but I think you get the picture, and probably want to move here yourself! 
Of course living in a foreign country comes along with a host of challenges as well. We have been here over eight years now, so it is feeling more and more like home, and so those challenges are getting less challenging as we get used to them. We spend hours and hours at the police station getting visas, there is always a huge stack of paperwork to do and no matter how much you prepare and do ahead of time something goes wrong. Banking, getting phone/internet/electricity/etc is a lot of work, especially as a foreigner. You can’t plan nearly as much into your day as you could in the US because it just takes longer. Another thing I just can’t get used to is the lack of planning. People don’t even seem to know the day school will start or get out until a week or two before it happens. You can put a lot of work into something and then no one will show up (even though people said they would come), or maybe far more people than you planned for will come. You just can’t tell. It’s not uncommon for someone to go visit a friend on a whim and then stay for two months! Turks are so nice, but also feel very free to give way too much advice and criticism (at least from an American perspective.) Every time I go outside I am told 1) I have too many kids. 2) They are not dressed nearly warm enough. 3) They are all going to get sick. 4) Any other random piece of very personal advice (for example, “Get your tubes tied,” or my personal favorite, “Your butt is big, you should lose some weight.” Another challenge is just the fact that it isn’t my culture. I think I will always feel a little distance from friends because our backgrounds are so very different.


3. Why did you decide to home-shool?
The schooling decision just kind of fell in our laps. Elise (our oldest) was doing part time Turkish school (at the private school where James teaches) and part time home school. Because she was so little I wasn’t too worried about making sure she learned absolutely everything – reading in English and basic math were my only goals for her first grade year (last year). I mostly wanted her to become more fluent in Turkish and to feel more a part of things. Being Americans and speaking English rather than Turkish in our home can often make my kids feel a kind of separation between themselves and the Turkish kids in our neighborhood. I don’t like that, and one of the ways I tried to prevent it was by sending Elise to Turkish school. This school year we were planning on sending her full time. It is a very good private school and teachers kids can go for free. Unfortunately they only have so many of those free slots and they were already full. The administration was also not open to the part time idea this school year, and the school just isn’t affordable for us, and so in the beginning of September our schooling plan fell through. We did not like the idea of sending her to the public school for various reasons and so I suddenly found myself homeschooling. Thankfully, I have always been open to homeschooling, so it wasn’t a big scary thing to me. In fact, aside from the whole idea of increasing fluency and using schooling as being more a part of the community, homeschooling would have been my first choice. Anyway, I started by looking up California’s second grade standards then looked up some other homeschool friendly stuff online, downloaded some books on my kindle, and away we went. It has been very enjoyable thus far. Elise and I are both learning a lot!

4. Is this accepted in Turkey? What are some of the reactions you get?
No, not at all. It is a completely foreign concept and completely unheard of. For the most part I’ve given up explaining how we’re educating our kids. No matter what I say, no one seems to understand. People don’t understand how I can get my kids to listen to me, do school work, etc. They also have a “leave it to the professionals” type of mindset here, for example, you don’t paint your own house, you hire a painter, you don’t teach your own kids, you let a trained teacher do it. Honestly I’m so sick of trying to explain that I now just say that Elise’s education is tied to the internet. It is true, as that is how I look up standards, download books onto my Kindle reader, and she uses Khan Academy online for a lot of her math work. It generally satisfies people far more than the idea of me teaching her. Of course if they ask further questions I’m happy to explain the nitty gritty of it, but I find the more I explain the more appalled they become. I’m pretty sure it is so far outside the box that they just can’t imagine it being in any way a good thing.
5. What are your challenges of schooling in a different country? Do you have a support sytstem?
The main challenge is with curriculum. Some of my friends are using Sonlight or other curriculums and have had huge problems getting it shipped here… they not only have to pay for the books, but also fork out an arm and a leg for shipping costs. Unfortunately all too often it gets stuck in customs. I know people who have paid $100 – $600 just to get the curriculum out of customs. It is really difficult and frustrating for many. I decided to bypass as much of that mess as possible by ordering nothing but a math curriculum (Excel), and using books I could download onto my kindle, the children’s books we have brought over or my parents have sent over the years, and the small library on the US Air Force base that a friend can sign me into. It isn’t ideal, but it works. 
I have a great support system. My mom recently retired from many years of teaching, I use skype and talk with her several times a week. She is a huge encouragement and great at helping me with any questions I have. She also is happy to send me almost anything I think I need, which is great. I also know a couple of moms who homeschool here in Ankara. We all use very different systems, but it’s nice just to have those connections. Finally, there is a great online community for homeschoolers. I got a lot of my ideas for what books to read and what to teach by looking online. A friend recommended charlottemasonhelp.com and it has been a huge help to me.


6. Describe a typical day in your house.

Our typical day probably doesn’t look too different from your typical day, with exception of hearing the call to prayer five times a day, and speaking Turkish when we’re outside our home. We all wake up and get breakfast and James goes off to work. I try to get started on schooling anywhere between 8 and 9 am. I’m new at this so I’m still working out the kinks – what order to do the lessons in, how to balance schooling and taking care of the baby, etc. We keep at it on and off until we have lunch around noon and shortly after that we all walk about a block to a preschool where my three year old and five year old attend half of the day. We want them to be very strong in Turkish and not feel so much like outsiders and so our solution has been to do some Turkish schooling. We really like the preschool we chose. The teachers are very friendly and our kids are happy and making friends. The baby, Elise, and I go back home. I spend another hour to hour and a half with her finishing up whatever we didn’t get to in the morning (like I said, we’re still working out the kinks so some days it’s math, some days it’s me reading her history book aloud, some days it is reading some of the library books we checked out.) At three I put baby Pearl in the stroller and Elise and I take a 15 minute walk to a “kids club” where she will hang out until six. It is basically an after school day care type of place for kids to go, do their homework, and play until their parents get done with work and can come pick them up. We send Elise to ensure her to be in a Turkish environment regularly. We do have a playground nearby and in the past we just took her there all the time. Unfortunately she really does not feel comfortable making new friends and playing with kids, she loves playing alone making fairy houses in the bushes. I love this about her, but it has made it hard for her to get beyond the basics in Turkish, which has made it difficult for her to really embrace living here. The few Turkish friends who she feels really comfortable with aren’t available to hang out and play on a regular basis, so this year after our schooling plans fell through, we decided to put her in this after school program. Right now she’s doing what she can to boycott the idea by refusing to speak a word of Turkish to anyone while she’s there. I really don’t like that, but at the same time I kind of feel like this is just one of those things we have to be firm on and push through until she gets it. We’re still looking for other alternatives but thus far, this is the best thing we can find. It is a safe environment and she is getting used to it and I think she even sometimes enjoys herself (although she would never admit it!)
After three, I sometimes take a walk with the baby, sometimes I go visit a friend or neighbor, sometimes I go to the market and do the grocery shopping, sometimes I plan lessons for an English Club I help teach on the weekends or for other programs I’m involved in. Living in a big city has it’s advantages and one of them is that I rarely have to use the car. I can do all of the above on foot, which I love. James picks up all the kids on his way home, between 5:30 and 6:00, then its dinner and bedtime. Sometimes we stay home in the evenings, sometimes we go visit someone, sometimes Elise and Marie go up the elevator (we live in a 10 floor building) to visit their friend Selin who lives on the 7th floor. James usually goes back out after the kids are in bed, for various meetings, or to work on some classes he is taking online.


7. What are your plans for the future in regard to schooling the kids?
I have no idea! I love the idea of continuing to homeschool them, but I also love the idea of being involved in the community more by having my children in the schools. Next year we will be in California for the school year and I really don’t know if I will homeschool or not. It’s just something we will continue to pray about and make decisions as the time comes.

Thank you, Jamie. I enjoyed learning about your life in Ankara. Especially your typical day. I’m forever curious how other mom’s organize their day. I had to laugh about the comments you are subjected to on the street. Would you believe that I get a lot of the same comments from my family when I go to Germany?

Friends what do you think about those field trips to Ancient Hittites ruins? That is pretty hard to top. Turkey has just moved up on my “places to go” list. Jamie didn’t mention that she is an artist. In the last picture you can see her doing Ebru with her daughter. This an Ottoman painting technique dating back to the 16oo’s.

I hope to do this again soon.

-Sofija

Photos were taken by Matthew Will- all rights reserved.

Home-schooling in Turkey

Teaching German

Friends,

Today I’m going to share with you how I have taught my kids to read German. Understanding and or speaking wasn’t good enough for me. I really want them to be able to read German and ideally write as well. The challenge for me was to find the right material. They are not native speakers, so they are missing some vocabulary and grammatical nuances that are assumed in German school textbooks. However they are beyond the level that  might be available here to kids that have no prior knowledge. So you have to improvise. Personally I always wait until my kids are solid in their English reading before I would teach them how to read in German. However bilingual schools show that it is possible to do both at the same time. Thankfully German is much easier phonetically than English so it doesn’t take that long to teach. Above I have a German reader that is used in German schools. They are easy to understand even for non native speakers. Once we work through that I have them read simple books like the Max und der Keks series to give them the opportunity to read on their own.

For the next level I use the second grade reader above left. I also use different grammar and writing helps.

Above are German readers. They are called Leseloewen or Lesemaus.

After the second grade level I have them read books like early readers. Once they are at a 4th grade level they might be able to read Pippi Longstocking, or similar books.

I bought most of these books in Germany, they have great sales around August. Another great resource is Alphabet Garden, an online store; they have quite a bit of text books and refer you to billingual websites. Amazon.de is also a great option.

My oldest just started high-school. He is pretty fluent and a decent reader. However his grammar and writing skills are lacking. Therefore I enrolled him in German. I want him to start from scratch with Grammar and relearn some of those things he has missed.

In my experience immersion is not enough. If you don’t have a strong grammatical foundation you will always be guessing as how to built your sentences. I was immersed in Croatian all my life. I was taught grammar in elementary once a week but it was assumed that I was a native speaker. I would have benefited relearning it in high-school as a foreign speaker to fill all those gaps I have.

This is just to show you what we have done. I’m sure there are better options out there. If you know of any do tell. I’d love to hear from you.

-Sofija

Teaching German

Raising Billingual Children: The Early Years

I’m starting a new series where I share about my journey raising bilingual children. I have to confess that my children would be monolingual if it wasn’t for the persistence and support of my husband. He does not speak German, so it was all on me to teach the kids. It felt so awkward speaking a different language in front of him and others; I felt like I was cutting them out. But by overcoming that awkwardness and being persistent it started feeling more natural.

In my opinion when you successfully raise bilingual children, 3 things need to happen.

  • You need to speak that language at home all the time. Not just at dinner time, or the weekend, or two hours on Friday. All the time is best. This is the hardest part, and for me it hasn’t gotten easier over the years. The more children I have the more they speak English among themselves and the more work it is to make them speak it back to me.
  • You need to read to them and eventually they should read on their own.
  • Ideally they need to learn to write it and relearn grammar formally and from the ground up. Don’t assume that by immersion they just pick up on grammar. I grew up speaking Croatian on the weekends; I was immersed in it. But I learned very little grammar; and the grammar I was taught assumed that I was a native speaker. Today my grasp of Croatian is very limited. I can have casual conversations, but that’s about it.

This is a tall order, and you might think “I’d be thrilled if they just understood it”. I encourage you to go further, the more you put in the bigger the rewards.

Here are some strategies that really helped in the early years:

  • Take them to the country of the language you are speaking as often as you can. They need to connect with your family, the culture, the food, and they learn much faster by being completely immersed in it.
  • Read to them as often as you can. Find out what the kids are reading these days  or read to them what you grew up with. I have almost as many German kid’s books as I have English.
  • Let them watch shows or movies in that language.
  • If they like video games, get them games in your language. Whatever they are into offer that in your language.
  • I used to think it would be best if I offered them movies and books they already liked in English, but the reality is most of their favorite shows/movies/books are the ones they are only familiar with in German.
  • Let them listen to audio books and radio in that language.
  • Have visitors as often as possible from your country, especially families with kids.
  • Seek out play groups, meet with other native speakers.
  • Share your faith, read the bible in that language.

Myth:

  • It is easy learning a language when you are little: Nope. It might be easier than when you are older, but it is still hard, hard work. Kids don’t want to work that hard. They will resist you. Try to stay positive, but keep going. I have met a lot of adults who told me: I wish my parents had taught me their language… I have never met an adult that told me they regret learning a second language.
  • I’ll just put them in French daycare for a couple of years, and they are good to go. That’s a great start and it will probably help their brains to have the capacity to learn another language, but if you stop when they are still young (12 and under) they will forget everything. You need to have a long term commitment. I have met a lot of adults who were raised in another country and came over maybe at age 8 and stopped speaking that language. They have forgotten everything as adults.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert. I’m just speaking from my own experience and my observations.

One of my favorite side effects in teaching my children German is the fact that I can correct them in public without embarrassing them or others. I can tell them not to pick their nose, or stare at strangers. 🙂

How about you, have you tried teaching your children another language? How did it go? What was easy what was hard?

I’d love to hear from you,

Sofija

Raising Billingual Children: The Early Years