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By Melonie Kennedy

Mindset

Homeschool families incorporate foreign-language studies into the curriculum for many great reasons. Perhaps you live overseas and chose a language in order to communicate with your neighbors. Or, you might have a dream vacation in mind and want to venture beyond tourist standbys in favor of areas where English isn't spoken.

But what if cultural immersion isn't that easy to find? Perhaps, instead, you have chosen a language because of a child's interest or a desire to stand out in the job market. You may feel it's impossible to learn everything you need to become a fluent speaker just from working on educational exercises – you want to hear the music, taste the food and get to know the people who speak your chosen language. Have no fear; you don't need a passport or a plane ticket to learn more and practice your language skills on native speakers.

In addition to our studies at home with Rosetta Stone and other homeschooling resources, here are a few ways our family has learned about various cultures.

  • Contact your local or state chamber of commerce.  It often has a schedule of events hosted by cultural agencies that support immigrants and share their culture with people in the area. When we lived near Monterey, Calif., that's how we found an amazing Jewish Food Festival & Craft Faire, as well as Greek and Italian festivals. We went home from these events tapping our toes to traditional music, bellies full of wonderful new foods we'd sampled.
  • Ask your librarian for DVDs about specific countries and ethnicities. We have enjoyed the Families of the World collection, which is narrated from a child's perspective and is interesting for the whole family. Don't forget to grab some CDs by musicians who represent the cultures and languages that interest you.
  • Try military bases. If you live near one, contact its public relations administrator and ask about upcoming events open to civilians. Many bases have a high concentration of foreigners married to service members; there may even be people on base who can point you to civilian gatherings, as well. Military language schools, such as the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey, Calif., offer many multicultural experiences for civilians and service personnel alike.
  • Check the phone book. It may sound a little simple, but it's often overlooked. Look up cultural halls, foreign international church congregations and community centers for native speakers of your chosen language. Cultural holidays can be learning experiences for your family, but be sure to ask the hosts about any restrictions (cameras, proper attire, etc.) before you attend.
  • Contact your local or state chamber of commerce.  It often has a schedule of events hosted by cultural agencies that support immigrants and share their culture with people in the area. When we lived near Monterey, Calif., that's how we found an amazing Jewish Food Festival & Craft Faire, as well as Greek and Italian festivals. We went home from these events tapping our toes to traditional music, bellies full of wonderful new foods we'd sampled.
  • Contact the guidance counselors of local high schools and colleges. Any school that hosts foreign exchange students can put you in touch with home-stay agencies that may be hosting upcoming events.  The schools may host multicultural days open to the public, as well.
  • Check out college classes. Some community colleges and universities offer "enrichment only" classes where students cook Thai food, practice conversational Korean or go on "shopping" field trips to areas with a large German, Filipino or Chinese population. Most of these classes are open to teens. Ask the instructor if younger children are welcome. Many colleges will allow younger students with a parent or guardian present, as long as the applicable fees are paid.

This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to incorporating cultural enrichment into your language studies. Pick up some cookbooks and visit the ethnic aisle of your favorite grocery store. Get cookin' for a total language-learning experience

Melonie Kennedy is a military wife and mother. Her work has appeared in multiple magazines, books, e-books and blogs.Contact her at ravenwrites74@yahoo.com.