Homeschooling When English Isn’t Your Native Language

If a parent doesn’t speak English, can they still homeschool their child in Colorado?

I’ve received a number of calls from families who want to homeschool their English-speaking children, but the parent only speaks Spanish or Russian or some other language. During these phone consultations (while an English-speaking family member translates) they ask me if homeschooling in another language is even possible — or legal.

After carefully rereading our homeschool law and conferring with Treon Goossen, Colorado Legislative Analyst and co-author of Colorado’s home school statute, the answer appears to be Yes …. with a few cautionary outcomes to consider.

Colorado’s homeschool legal requirements don’t say anything about teaching in any particular language. Not a word. It doesn’t say you can’t, it doesn’t say you can. It simply lists the required subjects to be taught:

A nonpublic home-based educational program shall include, but need not be limited to, communication skills of reading, writing, and speaking, mathematics, history, civics, literature, science, and regular courses of instruction in the constitution of the United States as provided in section 22-1-108.

English for Everyone English Grammar Guide: An ESL Beginner Reference Guide to English Grammar Rules.

We concluded that since the Colorado home education statute DOESN’T mention the language question (and we’re not about to go to the legislature to ask and open a new can of worms) that it is perfectly legal for the parent to speak, and teach their child, in their own native language.

However (and here come the cautionary outcomes), the child will still need to be tested or evaluated in the odd grade levels. You might find an evaluator who speaks your native language AND is a Qualified Person, but it’d be tricky. Finding a nationally standardized achievement test in your language might work … if your language is Spanish. But Russian? German? Hindi? I think those would be much tougher to come by.

Also, this is America. You’re looking at teaching and preparing your child to get a high school diploma, go out into the world, attend an American college, get an American job. America’s language is English. We have to think of the child, his/her future … and that proficiency in English is required.

Having said that, no one wants to strip you of your culture or your native language. So, get creative. Teach your child, have your child teach you right back. It’s been said that you don’t truly know a thing until you’ve taught it to someone else. Example: Mom can teach her child in Spanish/Russian/Chinese/whatever, and daughter can teach Mom a little English.

If you think about it … it’s an absolutely excellent unschooling scenerio. This is how Unschooling “just happens”: the family wants to homeschool, logic dictates that some bilingual education needs to happen to ensure success. In order to accomplish this, the child gets to play “teacher” and make up lessons for Mom and Dad, Grandma, etc. Teaching the adults provides spelling, grammar, reading, writing and literature practice while designing the English lessons. And, depending on what subjects the child chooses, she could also be learning History (translating while learning the backstories of major holidays and events, like let’s say: 4th of July, Cinco De Mayo, Thanksgiving, the Winter Solstice, the bombing of Pearl Harbor), the moon landing (explaining and translating the scientific terms in movies such as “Contact”, “Twister” and “Apollo 13”).

Let’s take Math (Not one of my favorite subjects.) Explaining favorite family recipes from one language to the other, would involve translating mathematical measurements such as ‘1/2 cup’, ‘teaspoon’, ‘liter’, ‘350 degrees’, and ‘celsius’. There’s also the correct English names for the various ingredients — “flour”, “cilantro”, “eggs”, “shrimp”, and “cinnamon” for example. What a great linguistic adventure! Makes me wish my Finnish grandmother was still alive so she could rattle off Finn at her usual 90mph pace, and I’d get to learn actual useful phrases, rather than just the few random words I picked up (and still mispronounce … I think). Hmm. What would I do with Finn, though? Translate fattening, decadent cookbooks? 😉

Meanwhile, I located some ESL/EFL resources …

The Annual Spanish USA National Spelling Bee.
Takes place every year. Locations change every year. The Bee could take place in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, etc.

Mommy Maestra: Discoveries of A Latina Homeschooler. I actually found the above Spanish Spelling Bee info (and lots of other cool Latino educational treaures) on the Mommy Maestra blog. Monica (the mom) is 6th generation and says while she can speak and understand Spanish perfectly, she still struggles to teach the language and culture to her own children, mostly because she’s ‘rusty’. Monica posts almost daily, providing hispanic homeschooling news, free downloadables, curriculum links, hands-on math projects complete with pictures, and even nifty science experiments that will bubble over on the stove, explode all over the walls, making a sure-fire kid-giggly mess. Sounds like unschooling to me! It’s definitely a fun read.

Homeschoolers Hispanas ~ Mi Hogar para Jesucristo is a devoutly Christ-Centered Latino-speaking group on Facebook, bringing both homeschooling and unschooling families together. I had to laugh when I read the description; even though I’m not Latino it sounded just like how we newbies felt when we began homeschooling back in the early 90s. “This group is about the special and interesting life of the hispanic homeschooler. Does most of your family think homeschooling is illegal? Are all your friends waiting for you to become normal? And how many hispanic women do you know in your homeschool group — if you found one that you feel comfortable joining? Want to keep on talking? Join this group! We’ll encourage each other along this strait and blessed path!”

Please remember, Homeschoolers Hispanas believes that Jesus Christ is the savior and he IS THE WAY to God. Anyone who disrespects their faith or tries to make this into a debate board will be banned and have their postings deleted.

Learn up to 12 languages with Duolingo! It’s completely free – now and forever – with no ads or hidden fees. Wondering how that can be? It’s because you’re translating real documents while you’re learning.

Learn Language Quickly with Mango.
Mango is available for free to Pikes Peak Library District patrons [Colorado Springs area]. You’ll need a resident PPLD library card and PIN to access it. It’s available in two versions:

Mango Basic
Perfect for beginners, Mango Basic teaches every day greetings, expressions of gratitude, goodbyes, and helpful phrases in a short period of time. The courses, which require only 2-5 hours of time to complete, are currently available in 22 foreign languages and 14 ESL courses.

Mango Complete
Mango Complete offers a 100-lesson course that digs much deeper and is designed to provide a more complete understanding of the entire language and culture. It is available in nine foreign language and three ESL courses. Foreign language courses include Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. ESL courses include Polish, Spanish and Portuguese.

Dave’s ESL Cafe
The Internet’s Meeting Place for ESL/EFL Students and Teachers from Around the World. If you need to connect with someone who knows your language, or can teach you the language you want to learn, here’s the place to find it. They have forums for newcomers, for discussing the political climate around the globe and a whole lot more.

FSI Language Courses
Copies of both audio and text files for learning a multitude of languages, developed by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), which is part of the U.S. Department of State. These were developed by the United States government and are in the public domain.

This is all I’ve found so far. If you know of a great ESL or EFL resource for homeschoolers and unschoolers, let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

Adios! Aloha! Ciao! Sayonara!