Parent Primer: Foreign Language

Find out how you can help with your child's foreign language homework...even if you don't speak the language yourself.



Parent Primer: Foreign Language

Learning a language means more for your child than just knowing how to say "Bonjour." Research shows that students of foreign languages tend to score higher on standardized tests and demonstrate improved school performance overall. Additionally, evolving opportunities in the global workplace make knowing an another language a significant advantage.

So there are a lot of good reasons to bring a little language into your child's life. Options range from low-key introductions that focus on exposure and enjoyment to programs where half your child's day is spent fully immersed in the language of choice. Many teachers incorporate the culture of the native land into their classes with potlucks, songs, and traditional games.

But supervising homework offers special challenges if you don't speak the target language. We checked in with two teachers for their best tips on how to bridge the language homework divide. Nobuko Kochuba is a Japanese language partial immersion teacher at Fox Mill Elementary School in Herndon, Virginia. She suggests encouraging your child to tell you in English about what she learned that day in language class. Barbara Sicot-Koontz, PhD, French immersion teacher at Herndon Elementary School, recommends looking over homework to make sure it's complete, even if you don't understand it. Both stress that all the encouragement that helps boost homework success in other subjects also translates to positive results for foreign language studies.

How You Can Help:
You can take these simple steps to support your child's foreign language learning at home:

  • Ask him to label items around the home with their foreign language equivalent.
  • Seek out environments where she can practice her language skills, such as with a family member, a local community group, or even an e-mail pen pal.
  • Explore your local library for books, CDs, and videos in the target language.
  • Make an at-home project out of collecting classroom worksheets in a binder and illustrating them with drawings or pictures cut out of magazines.
  • Take advantage of relevant cultural opportunities such as museum exhibits and local theater and dance performances.

You can also try picking up a few words of your child's new language and using them in daily conversation. We've compiled some common words and phrases below. Use the simple vocabulary in a note tucked in his lunchbox or a chat while at the grocery store. But whether your child is studying Mandarin Chinese or American Sign Language (ASL), invite a role reversal and ask him to share some basics with you.

Get language tips for:


Hello Hola
Goodbye Adiós
Please Por favor
How are you? ¿Cómo esta usted?
Good Bien
Bad Mal
How do you say this in Spanish? ¿Cómo se dice esto en español?
Thank you Gracias
You're welcome De nada
No No

Background (courtesy of the Grolier Encyclopedia):

  • Spanish belongs to the Romance branch of the Indo-European language family.
  • Its speakers make up the fastest growing minority in the U.S. Spanish ranks third in the world in number of speakers (surpassed only by Chinese and English).
  • It's the official language of Spain, Mexico, the countries of Central America, most of South America, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.

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Hello Bonjour
Goodbye Au revoir
Please S'il vous plaît
How are you? Comment allez-vous?
Good Bien
Bad Mal
How do you say this in French? Comment dit-on cela en français?
Thank you Merci
You're welcome De rien
Yes Oui
No Non


  • French is spoken in several European countries besides France including Belgium and Switzerland and, as a result of colonization, has spread around the world including several African countries.
  • There are about 77 million "francophones" in the world speaking French as a native language.
  • After English, it's the second international language, used by institutions such as the United Nations and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and spoken as a second language by an additional 52 million people.

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Hello Guten Tag
Goodbye Auf Wiedersehen
Please Bitte
How are you? Wie geht's?
Good Gut
Bad Schlecht
How do you say this in German? Wie heißt das auf Deutsch?
Thank you Danke
You're welcome Bitte schön
Yes Ja
No Nein


  • The German language is the native language of more than 100 million speakers worldwide.
  • It's the official language of the Federal Republic of Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein. It's also one of four official languages in Switzerland, where the majority speaks Swiss German (Schwyzertuetsch), and one of four official languages in Luxembourg.
  • Outside of Europe, there are large numbers of speakers in Canada, Brazil, Argentina, and the U.S. The latter include approximately 85,000 speakers of Pennsylvania German, the everyday language of Amish and Mennonite communities.

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Although Latin is considered a dead language because it is no longer in common use, an argument can be made that it is most relevant of all second languages.

  • The Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian) all originated from it.
  • The Latin student gains an understanding of how language works, and learns many word roots found in English vocabulary. That seems to be reflected in Latin students scoring higher on the SAT verbal section than students of other languages.
  • And, as you can see from our short list below, modern English is rife with Latin phrases.
Ad nauseam To a sickening extent
Ante Meridiem Before noon, usually abbreviated as A.M.
Bona fide Made in good faith, sincerely
Carpe diem Seize the day. Enjoy the pleasure of the moment.
Caveat emptor Let the buyer beware.
E pluribus unum "From many, one," used as a motto on the Great Seal of the U.S.; refers to the Union of the states
Ex libris From the library of ...
In memoriam In memory of ...
Mea culpa Through one's own fault
Per annum By the year, annually
Veni, vidi, vici I came, I saw, I conquered
Vice versa The positions reversed


  • Although Latin is no longer considered a living language, it survives in modified forms in the Romance languages.
  • Latin remains the official language of the Roman Catholic Church, and scientists turn to Latin roots when looking for names for their latest discoveries.
  • Latin, originally the language spoken only in Rome and the surrounding region of Latium, gradually spread throughout the entire western Mediterranean region as more and more people came under Roman sway.
  • Classical Latin was a learned language abstracted from the spoken vernacular by the educated upper classes in Rome.
Subject Refreshers
Listening and Speaking
Age 10
Age 9
Age 11
Foreign Languages and English Language Learning