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How long does it take a child to learn a foreign language?

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I am teaching dd Spanish this year, after a little exposure last year. She is 6.5 and in 1st grade. I know it takes a long time to master a foreign language, but how long? Did it take your kids till high school to feel confident in their 2nd language, or did it come sooner? I know all kids are different, but I'd really like some BTDT to help me get a better idea of how we are doing.


Also, how do you deal with different verb forms when a child is too young to conjugate even in English?


Thank you!

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If she's doing it for 15 minutes a day three times a week, it will take years. If you move to Spain, it would take her about a week. :001_smile:


Waldorf schools start languages in 1st with songs, rhymes and games. No conjugating til 4th or 5th.


If you want her to learn more, you need more exposure. The easiest way to get more exposure is to set your kid DVDs to play in Spanish. Most DVDs do have a Spanish option. Shorter ones she can play again and again are absorbed more quickly (think Sesame Street or Barney); longer ones (Disney) may be more palatable.


After having French and German (via songs and games) for 6 years and reading/writing a bit for 7th and 8th, most of them barely make it into French 2 in high school.

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FWIW, this is our experience:


Mandarin by immersion (living in China; Chinese housekeeper; mostly Chinese friends) - chatting within a few months and pretty much fluent (spoken) by the time we left four years later.


French by instruction: we have had about six months of instruction, two or three hours a week. Both boys can chat quite happily about simple things: names, ages, where they live, what they are wearing, what rooms there are in their house, what hobbies they have.


I learned French from age 11, then went on a French exchange at age 13 for two months in one year. At that point I was pretty fluent but needed to learn a much wider vocabulary.


Best wishes



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It really depends on what "fluency" is to you. To me, fluency is speaking as well as your native language, being able to completely understand all spoken communication (t.v., movies) and being able to read difficult works of literature or non-fiction. I'm not there yet. One of my profs at the Alliance Francaise, who is originally from Morocco but has lived and taught in the US for 9 years, says he still cannot understand many English language movies.


If you mean able to understand a newspaper, popular songs, make oneself understood in most daily contexts, my dd is there--we started with fun songs in 3rd grade, floundered in middle school (why I wrote my program) and moved to French in Action in 8th grade. She's done about 2/3 of French in Action now, and just began 10th grade.


Here's one scale for fluency http://french.about.com/library/weekly/aa072701b.htm


FSI used to have this rating for "Easy Languages" (French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swahili): 240 hours, beginner; 480 hours, Limited working proficiency; 720 hours, Limited working proficiency +. I'm convinced that one of the reasons immersion has such rapid results for speaking is the sheer amount of hours one accumulates. In contrast, we spend about 4 hours a week on French, so you can see the difference in time invested.


However, as anyone with immigrant grandparents knows, speaking proficiency does not mean grammar or reading proficiency.


Learning a language is like learning math, not just algebra, KWIM? It's a multi-year, cumulative pursuit, and needs to be kept constantly in practice.


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