Learning foreign languages is both a precious gift and an important responsibility. It is a gift because it expands our own thinking and speaking abilities, and it also helps us to further understand and appreciate our world. It is a responsibility because as we study a foreign language, especially through immersion, we become the ‘owners’ of the words that we say. As students, we need to look for connections, constant improvement, and seeking out speaking experiences.

Learning languages through the Waldorf method of education makes this push-and-pull of language learning smoother and more enjoyable, providing rich experiential opportunities to use the foreign language in art, songs, storytelling, and more. In Columbia’s City Garden School, our students receive weekly Spanish instruction, from grades K through 6, where we focus on building language fluency through reciting poems, practicing the art of conversation within a variety of topics, hearing stories in Spanish and then discussing them as a class, guided reading activities, and beautiful student art that makes its appearance in their Main Lesson book. To further promote cultural enrichment, we also bring Spanish-speaking countries to the class through traditional cooking activities, history and geography of Pre-Hispanic countries, and cultural activities like Día de Los Muertos.

Here are five Waldorf-inspired tips to learn a foreign language, which you can easily incorporate into your (and your child’s) daily routine:

  1. Create an immersive, season-based setting: The four seasons play an important role in Waldorf education, as so many of the things that happen both in the environment and our human lives is connected to the seasons. You can take advantage of this by reading stories and hearing/singing songs about each season. This helps you to take in the information you’re learning as true knowledge, as you’re able to see it, feel it, and verbalize it in your surroundings daily. You can also support immersive experiences through travel to Spanish-speaking countries, or you can bring the experiences into your home through different festivities and culinary experiences.
  2. Draw it out: Waldorf education promotes imaginative thinking through teaching art skills from a very young age. Whatever your artistic “ability” might be, just let go, have fun, and draw what you are studying in the foreign language! Is it fruits and vegetables? Draw them out! Focus on the limón (lime) wedges or the shade of orange in the mango you’re drawing, and just enjoy this learning experience. This is also a great activity to do with your children!
  3. Sing to your heart’s content: There’s a reason why Waldorf-inspired schools sing so much, and that is that singing nourishes our heart and soul while relaxing our minds. We all know that songs can get stuck in your head, and most of us can probably sing some childhood school songs still to this day! Utilize this brain trick to your advantage by learning and singing songs in the foreign language that you’re studying. These can also change according to the seasons. For example, “De colores,” is a great Spanish classic that you can sing as we transition into Spring.
  4. Listen to stories in Spanish: Much like songs, humans are wired to love and crave good stories. Our suggestion is to listen to these in Spanish. While you may not understand everything at first, stories that include visual elements, such as art, or even puppets, can help you understand the plot and who the characters are. Over time, you can listen to the same story and understand more elements and details. Can you get to the point where you tell the story yourself in Spanish? Let’s find out!
  5. Seize speaking opportunities: This is by far one of the most effective strategies to learning foreign languages in any method. I always tell my students that if they do not practice speaking the foreign language, it will be physically difficult to ever make the right sounds. We need to verbally practice the language so our cheek and jaw muscles can get used to the movements, just like when you exercise. In addition, our brain also needs the constant practice to be able to develop thinking patterns in that language. So, speak away!

Remember that creating daily rhythms is essential in Waldorf education, as this honors the way that we as humans are wired. We are rhythmic creatures, and we seek rhythm out in our daily routines and activities. Don’t be hard on yourself if learning a foreign language isn’t happening as fast as you would like – continue practicing through daily rhythms and over time, you will build a natural understanding of the language.

If you are a City Garden School parent, you can also create speaking opportunities with your own children! Our students are at different levels of Spanish, but they love to practice and say what they know, within a “bubble of protection,” that usually covers our language classroom. This mental image helps students feel confident in their abilities when trying to speak or answer in Spanish. This encourages them to try, unafraid of making mistakes. Give the language “bubble of protection” a try at home and let us know how your conversación went!

Stay tuned for more blog posts on tips and strategies to learn Spanish and other foreign languages in a Waldorf-inspired way!

Enjoy some Main Lesson Spanish art, from grades 1 through 6!