Are Saturday Language Schools Really Beneficial?

by Corey · 44 comments

By Corey Heller

Today is Saturday. And what do we do on Saturday mornings? We rush out the door to go to school, German Language School.  Regardless of how early I get up and start getting the kids ready, we are almost always late!  Unbelievable!

“Kids, please, please, please hurry up and eat your breakfast!”
“You really need to get your shoes on NOW!”
“What, you forgot your backpack!?  Arghhh.  No, you stay in the car, I’LL go get it!”

My kids complain almost every Saturday morning about having to go.  But that is because they are 5, 7 and 8 years old and would rather sleep in, go to the park, or play PS3 games (LEGO Star Wars is at the top of their list lately).  Not surprising.  They also complain 90% of the time about the dinners I make for them, insisting that I haven’t made anything they like for years.  Uh huh… yea.  Sorry kids but that’s the way it goes.  Vegetables are necessary and you will see them again and again on your plate.

Over the course of the years, German Language School has simply become part of our routine, like eating dinner at the dining room table, returning library books on time, saying sorry when we hurt someone’s feelings.  Sure, I’ll admit that German Language School isn’t exactly a necessity in our lives.  My children speak German with my husband and me consistently.  They can read and write in German.  We have more German books in our home than English ones. We homeschool our children in German and English and thus have avoided (at least this far) the issues that arise from children entering school and deciding they’d rather not speak any language other than what their peers speak.

I am fully aware that 2.5 hours of German School a week is not going to mold my children into fluent multilinguals.  As we all know, that is just not enough exposure!  The day-to-day interactions outside of German School have far more influence over their mastery of the language.

So why do we send our children to German school?

The answer to this question has more to do with the language environment that German Language School provides than it does with academics.  It is important for us that our children are around the following:

  1. Other children who speak German
  2. Other children with multilingual parents
  3. Adults who speak German
  4. Teachers who share their love of the language

There are more reasons but these are the most important for us.  As an added benefit, our children are practicing some essentials: reading and writing in German on a consistent basis – which certainly can’t hurt!

However, while participating on a panel in Seattle about children and language learning, I shared the spotlight with a school principle (of a language immersion school) who admitted that he remembered his days at Saturday School with frustration and resentment.  While he was being sent off to Saturday School, all of his friends were out playing in the park or spending time together on a sports team.  He, on the other hand, was stuck sitting in a stuffy room learning how to write Korean characters.  He even went so far as to encourage parents to not send their children to Saturday School and to find other avenues for language learning.  He just didn’t feel that the language benefit was worth it.  Granted, he was definitely advocating full-time immersion school but only a few of us have that as a viable option.

So what is the right decision to make?

If my children were in school all week long, would my husband I be doing them a service to send them to German Language School on Saturday?  Would they eventually thank us or would they look back on these days with anger and bitterness, promising that they will never do that to their children?  And to what degree is our children’s response to Saturday School related to the degree to which we insist that they go?  Do they feel they are going just to make us happy?  And is that ok?

We are definitely going to continue sending our children to German Language School for all of the reasons I stated above.  Personally we find Saturday Language Schools a tremendous benefit.  Of course, as homeschoolers we have the luxury of not needing to worry about our kids spending too much time at a desk.

But what about families whose kids are in school?  Those families in particular need the additional language exposure that a Saturday Language School could provide.  What is a family to do?


Two years ago we stopped sending our children to Saturday German Language School. I quit my software job to homeschool my children 100% of the time and we simply didn’t have the money anymore (Saturday schools aren’t free!). Do we miss having our kids in Saturday language school? Yes and no.

On the one hand, it is great to have Saturdays for us as a family. My husband is a full-time Physics instructor and the only time we have together is on the weekends (which is sporadic since he often has a bunch of grading to do on the weekend).

On the other hand, it is a bummer to not have weekly contact with our local German community and an excuse for my children to sit in a classroom setting once a week (as homeschoolers it is fun for my kids to sit at a desk from time to time!). I also miss the rigor of weekly homework in German – it was great for my kids to learn German grammar and spelling through Saturday school!

Ultimately, I think that Saturday language schools offer fantastic opportunities for many families, especially those who do not speak a minority language at home. They provide consistent exposure to the language, albeit minimal. Yet, there are also many reasons why such a school would not work for many families. The worst possible scenario is if Saturday language school causes a child to resent the language since he or she is stuck in a classroom on Saturday while other kids are out having fun. Ultimately, each family will have to decide on their own based on the quality of the school, their children’s personalities and whether or not they are willing to dedicate part of their weekend to a language school.

Do any of you send your children to a Saturday School?  What are your reasons?  Do you find that Saturday school benefits your children’s multilingualism?  Do you worry that you the language benefits will be overshadowed by future resentments?

Corey Heller is the founder of Multilingual Living and the Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of Multilingual Living Magazine. Multilingual Living is the place where she shares her knowledge about raising multilingual and multicultural children. Corey, an American, and her German husband live in Seattle where they raise and homeschool their three children, ages 14, 12 and 10, in German and English.

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Oliver May 16, 2010 at 1:41 am

When I was a child my parents sent me against my will to take piano lessons. I did not have the persistence, nor interest. Now I somewhat regret the fact that I’m not able to play the piano. Luckily my parents did not force me to continue the lessons, and luckily my memories of the music school were generally positive (nice teachers). So it could have been worse. At least I maintained my positive attitude towards pianos and classical music in general.

Of course many children would rather play outside with their friends than attend a school on a Saturday, and I think that it’s important to give children this opportunity. I also think that it is not an either-or question, one may have to go the middle road. If schooling (language, piano or otherwise) isolates the children from their friends and a negative resentment starts to build up, then I think it’s better to rethink one’s pedagogical principles. If the kids feel comfortable in language school, if they generally enjoy the language school, then I would send them, even if there is some initial resistance.

Effective learning, in my view, can only take place if the children feel comfortable in their learning environment (and I’m not limiting this to Saturday language school). For me this is the bottom line. If the kids are mobbed by other students, ridiculed and only experience negative feedback, then I think (Saturday language) schooling does more harm than good. If the school also gives the children a possibility to interact with each other using the new language, meet friends, if the school offers a varied stimulating program, one which the children like, then I think it can be quite beneficial. And I’m not saying that the program has to be “easy” for the children to like it. Much has to do with emotional aspects and emotional attitudes towards the teachers and other students.

In this case they’ll build up a positive attitude towards the language, and later in life they may pick up on this language, even if they have already forgotten the things that they learned in language school.


2 Corey September 10, 2010 at 10:26 am

Great response, Oliver! You are so right on all accounts! Funny how often we look at the academics or the language exposure and forget the emotional elements that REALLY have the most impact. The school director I mention was left with bad memories of his experience, even to this day – that has far more impact than what little Korean he learned!

I so appreciate your expert insights on this!!


3 Goretti Silveira May 16, 2010 at 6:25 pm

The most important thing about Saturday or any after-school language program is that children have fun, are relaxed, and will look forward to the next session — quite a challenge and responsibility for any teacher of young children.


4 Corey September 10, 2010 at 10:28 am

Isn’t that so very true, Goretti! It is especially hard knowing that the teachers are getting so little pay for all they do on Saturdays (at least here in the States). I have heard parents at our German school upset that the children aren’t learning more yet those parents forget that at least their children are enjoying themselves and after a battle to get there actually have a great time.

Not all Saturday schools are the same quality – we have to check them out and pick up on cues from our kids. Thank you for this great comment!


5 Barbara Stedman May 16, 2010 at 8:43 pm

We don’t send our children to the Saturday school, but have hired a German teacher together with another German family to teach our kids reading and writing in German once a week at our home. As we don’t homeschool, this is the only way for them to learn reading and writing as well and not just be bilingual, but also biliteral. The main reason we do the tutoring at home is, that the Saturday school is on the other side of town and that it is on Saturdays. We do the classes during the week to keep the weekend free for family activities. The Saturday school would also not be as effective for us, because the German level of children varies too much. Our friends and us both speak only German at home, so we don’t need to work on vocabulary, but can focus on the reading and writing. They might not meet as many other children this way, but we do have a German playgroup as well to meet that demand (our private German classes are an offspring of that). As we share the costs with another family it is affordable (and definitely cheaper then the full-time private German-American School). So far the children (5, 6 and 8) love their German classes and don’t have any resentments.

I have friends who were sent to Saturday or after school language classes and hated it when the were children but are very glad today as adults, that they are able to read and write in that language, too.


6 Corey September 10, 2010 at 10:31 am

What a fantastic idea, Barbara! I always love it when I hear about families taking things into their own hands and putting together something that works for them.

I don’t think it matters that your kids aren’t around tons of other kids for the German lessons. The connection with the teacher and that one other family can make a big difference. Those connections will definitely go deeper than if the kids were in a class with many students.

And you are right about finding the balance between pushing enough but not pushing too hard. That is the magical spot where a parent has the most important role! Thank you for your comment!


7 Susan May 16, 2010 at 9:21 pm

How can I find a Saturday school? Google did not find anything for me.


8 Corey September 10, 2010 at 10:33 am

Great question, Susan! I would recommend asking your question in the Multilingual Living Forum ( under the education topic. Make sure to list your language and area where you live in the title so that people who know about that area can give you some direct feedback. It can be hard to find a Saturday school for many languages. You might need to start your own! Or what if you did what Barbara does (see comment above)? Feel free to email me directly if you want!


9 Sonja May 17, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Dear Corey,

I agree with you completely and am always happy to see your son in my class! :). I attended German School on Saturdays for 11 years and really disliked getting up early and missing cartoons when I was young. Of course, once I got older and skipped years of college German because I was ahead, I realized how lucky I was to be able to speak, read, and write fluently. My kids will go there, too, I am sure and those few hours a week are really worth it in the long run! Keep up the good work, and I will see you at school!


Sonja. 🙂


10 Corey September 10, 2010 at 10:36 am

It has been our honor to have you as their teacher! You bring so much fun and passion to the class – my son love it! As you could see from my son, he also likes to know what is going to happen and when. He loves structure. You also provided that so he had a fun time without worrying what was coming next. He loved the sheets you gave out at the beginning of class and after the general struggle getting them out of bed in the morning and getting them ready, he hoped we’d come early so that he’d have time to do those sheets. Fabulous idea!!

Hope you will be able to find someone to share with this year. It think that is a great idea. We’d rather have you there half time than not at all! Hugs!


11 Marie May 19, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Our children attend a Dutch Saturday school and seem to really enjoy themselves. My husband’s family is Dutch and everyone on that side of the family is fluent in the language. Our children are 3 and 5, and their interest in Dutch isn’t very high – mostly because my husband and his parents speak English to the kids (Yikes!). I often feel like the language police at home. Anyway, some language exposure is better than none so we will continue to go to the Dutch Saturday school until the kids no longer have a good time there.


12 Corey September 10, 2010 at 10:41 am

Marie, I love your comment about being the “language police at home.” LOL! I mean, that is so very frustrating but it makes me laugh because I know what you mean – especially if your husband and his Dutch parents are speaking English with the kids. Arghhh! You need to send him over to some articles at Multilingual Living (search for “the benefits of multilingualism” on this site!) so that he’ll be inspired to speak Dutch more and more!

I totally agree that your way of deciding when to continue and when to stop is right on. It is all about balance – pushing enough but not pushing too much (as I mention in a comment above). Life isn’t always just about fun. It is also about following through with things and learning to get through hard times even if it wears us out. If the prize at the end is worth it (bilingualism) then sticking with it is good. But if the bitterness overrides the bilingualism, then there isn’t going to be any prize anyway, so better to stop.

Thank you for your wonderful comment!


13 TCK coug May 24, 2010 at 1:27 am

I grew up going to Saturday Japanese school until 5th grade. Having to do homework on Friday nights after going to school Monday-Friday in an American school was definitely hard, and not fun. In Japan, K-9th grade is obligatory; hence, I was forced to go to school. (I moved to Mexico when I was in 5th grade). Now that I am an international educator myself, I can see the many advantages of the Saturday school. Granted, any child would rather be playing with their friends on a Friday afternoon; however, the cultural understanding I obtained through Saturday school is priceless. Language, in my opinion is best learned through culture, whether it be by emerging yourself in that country and/or surrounding yourself with native-speakers and forcing yourself to speak/listen/write the language.

Saturday school did just that. My teachers would not speak English and neither would my friends. There was a definitely disparity between American vs. Japanese school; and I think that is another advantage of going to a Saturday school. By emerging yourself in different types of schools, you can experience/feel/sense the cultural differences.

I am currently fluent in English, Spanish, and Japanese. I have never lived in Japan, so I have Saturday Japanese school to thank for my trilingual ability.


14 Corey September 10, 2010 at 10:44 am

What an insightful comment, TCK! I totally agree with you. There is so much more going on at Saturday school than just language. In a good Saturday school, the whole place feels culturally different. Yes! We hear different languages spoken but we also feel the different cultural bits coming out of the woodwork. There are too many elements to describe as to why and how that happens.

What a fantastic observation! Thank you so much for sharing this… I had totally forgotten about that very important element – and you put such great words to it!!


15 Rinnie June 8, 2014 at 9:57 am

My daughter goes to Japanese Saturday school and my son went there for 4 years. German school sounds like a walk in the park compared to Japanese school. The school is 9-3:30 every Saturday year round, with a handful of Saturdays off. Homework takes 3-4 hours on Sunday plus daily readings. My Japanese husband did not know of this school when we moved here but is now passionate about my children attending. My children both hate it. His attitude has destroyed his relationship with my children and our marriage. By the time my son had quit and started a Saturday sport he was way behind other children. My daughter just spent 3 hours crying and pleading with her dad to let her quit. I wish we had never found this school.


16 smashedpea May 24, 2010 at 12:24 pm

We’re pulling our almost 5 year old out of German Saturday School after one year at the JK level. We initially signed her up for similar reasons to what you’re listing, but found that after a couple of months of excitement over going to school she became bored with it.

I think it’s because most of the kids in her her class started out not knowing a word of German, so she was lightyears ahead of the rest of them (and her German is by no means flawless, given that I’m providing most of her exposure and I work full-time out of the home). We are really quite disappointed with the whole thing, so we are not sending her back for SK next September. As far as I can tell, she hasn’t learned anything that she didn’t already know throughout the past school year, and because her teacher has to speak mainly English to ensure all the other kids know what’s going on as well, she didn’t even have much benefit of hearing other adults (let alone kids) speak the language.

We might be trying this out again for grade 1, so she can learn reading and writing (unless I somehow manage to teach her), but it seems that our local school is either not up to the job (they did nothing, aside from a xmas party, to get the kids involved in cultural events either), the lower grades in particular are not the right fit for us, or our expectations are way too high.

Either way, I’m really quite disappointed by it all, as I had such high hopes for the school and figured that it’d become part of our routine, much like it has for you. I fully support the idea in principal, but in practice it really didn’t work out for us. Unfortunately.


17 Corey September 10, 2010 at 10:49 am

What a total bummer smashedpea! I do know exactly what you mean about the early classes. The teachers often speak in English and for our kids who are fluent it is a big waste of time linguistically. My middle son was very bored in the K class. He kept wanting to go because his older brother was going (in the 1st grade class at the time) but he did mention that he didn’t learn anything and all they did was sit around and play games (LOL!).

I would encourage you to give the next grade levels a try. That is where teachers should be only using German. And if they aren’t, ask the teacher/school director why they aren’t. And if your daughter still isn’t getting much out of it, then definitely skip it. You are working full-time – her spending time with you is far more valuable than sitting in a class she doesn’t get anything from. Plus, it will open up your Saturdays for some free-form language use! That’s a win-win as well!

Thank you so much for sharing this comment! It is important that we hear from EVERYONE about this – good or bad. There are many out there who feel just like you and will be so very relieved to hear what you wrote as it will resonate with their feelings and thoughts!


18 Rossella May 25, 2010 at 11:56 pm

My 6 yo son goes to Italian school for 2 hrs on Sunday. There are a few reasons why I decided to send him to school, I wanted my son to grow up understanding that Italian is a social language that you don’t only speak at home with mom. The school is very well organized, they only hire native Italian speakers and the class is 2 hrs in Italian only so my son is exposed to another adult that speak Italian and to all the other kids as well. It’s particularely interesting now that they’re doing quite a bit of reading and writing, this is something I would never be able to do since I work all day in an office. My son likes going to Italian school so far, he like seeing his friends and stopping at the playground to play afterwards. We drive 45 minutes to the school every Sunday and we try to make it a fun event, we might stop and eat something together, go to the children museum, or go visit some friends. I hope he keeps enjoying it for as long as we can send him, and hopefully my little one will like it also when it’s his turn to go.


19 Corey September 10, 2010 at 10:51 am

What a fantastic way to incorporate Italian school into a whole Sunday fun event! That is going to have the greatest impact of all! The language in the class with someone other than you, the playing with kids after class, the drive together having fun as a family, eating together or going to the children’s museum. I love it! For your son, that will mean that Italian language and Italian school are part of a fun and enjoyable life – not drudgery and frustration.

Thank you so much for sharing this – as much for the inspiration as the tips and ideas for how we can all do it!


20 Kimberly de Berzunza September 10, 2010 at 9:47 pm

I guess I have mixed feelings. I have taken my 9yo son to Mandarin school on Sundays the past 3 years. It was initially his wish to go, but each year it is a bigger battle. This Sunday I am forcing him to start Year 4, but partially against my better judgment, for the same reasons many listed– already busy, too much sitting at a desk, etc. On the other hand, what are his chances of learning Mandarin otherwise, since we are not anything close to Chinese?? I mean he could, of course, but I am hopeful this will give him an advantage.

He has friends at the school, but not in his class, even though he has been with the same group of kids all along. Most do not speak Mandarin, but most do speak some other Chinese language, or Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, etc. Many have a Mandarin speaker at home. I don’t know if my son feels like he’s at a disadvantage or what, because all he tells me is it’s too much work, too hard, and he’s “never going to go to China.” (!!!) It’s relatively easy for him, but he seems to have a lot of memorized phrases without knowing what anything means. Maybe it’s not the right school, the right program, or just the right thing for my son, but maybe if he sticks to it, he will appreciate it as an adult. I’m hoping…


21 Corey September 10, 2010 at 11:55 pm

This is such a difficult decision to make, isn’t it? Have you put the question/concern out there in the Multilingual Living Forum? I only ask because I am curious as to what others would say. You have probably seen the Multilingual Living Facebook discussion that is taking place today about this, right? Some have such horrible memories of Saturday school that they would never, ever send their kids again. Others say that they are so happy their parents make them stick with it.

My kids are not looking forward to Saturday German school – they never really are. Yet when they are there they seem to enjoy it. So I am always torn. I can’t tell if the resistance from my kids comes from just not wanting to go anywhere, or whether it has to do with not wanting to go to German school. We are doing what you mention: taking it one year at a time.

Maybe what your son needs are some real-life situations where he can be around Chinese to the point that he gets excited about the language? Places where he can see the language and culture in action outside of the school setting. Some cultural events? Do you have an Asian section of town where Chinese is spoken? That can really make a difference. It sounds like he just doesn’t see the point of learning it (which is a logical way of seeing things, right?). And, of course, we always need to ask why we are having them go to Saturday school. What do we envision their future to be like because of these language lessons?

Thank you for your comment! These are the real nuts and bolts of raising bilingual/bicultural children! Not always easy!!


22 Jacqueline September 13, 2010 at 1:56 pm

My daughter (6) and son (2) go to Dutch school every Saturday. My daugther goes back and forth in terms of her response to going. This year she is in a small group with kids who all speak Dutch to some degree and she loves it. She is reading and starting to write in Dutch. We live in an area of Seattle that is very diverse and she is surrounded by kids who speak another language at home, so to her being able to speak Dutch means she isn’t different than her peers! My son and I attend a playgroup, so I stay with him (this is also how my daughter started) and he seems happy as long as I am there. This is the first year that other activities have started to interfere with attending – my daugther is in soccer and the her ‘matches’ are on Saturdays. For now we forego the soccer in favor of language but that will certainly change as she gets older.



23 Corey September 19, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Thank you for this comment, Jacqueline! I have heard from others about a Dutch Saturday School in Seattle – I assume that is the same one. We also have the same issues with soccer at the German Saturday School. Many families bring their kids in after lunchtime. It isn’t perfect but it makes sure that the kids can still come to school and then when soccer is over, they are still up with the class. Seems to work fairly well (much better than the families who don’t do the school and then try to get involved after soccer is over – so hard for teachers and students!).

It sounds like your family’s experiences with Saturday Schools is working out very well. As I mentioned in my e-newsletter today, we were not looking forward to starting the Saturday sessions again but after we arrived yesterday, we had a fantastic time and were so glad to be back. It has definitely become a wonderful community for us (aside from the language learning).

Thank you for sharing your experiences!


24 A librarian September 14, 2010 at 7:29 am

Just saw your article after it was referenced on the biling-fam mailing list.

Saturday was the first time our son attended the German Saturday School, kindergarten level. His teacher is great and he enjoyed it. Last week was also his first week to attend regular kindergarten and so far the German School is his favorite.

There are 300 children in the school from about 170 families. Great for our son to see that as well. Many of the parents go to a coffee shop across the street. Can you imagine the surprise if someone would walk into a coffee shop in Boston on a Saturday morning and it is full of people speaking German? 🙂


25 Corey September 19, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Neat about the biling-family mailing list! I am delighted someone posted something there! I was on the biling-fam mailing list for many years and loved it! It helped inspire me to get the Bilingual/Bicultural Family Network going! Is it still as busy and active as it was back in 2003?

Thank you for sharing your family’s German Saturday School experiences! Wow, I love the idea of heading to a coffee shop across the street during class! I can totally imagine what someone from the Boston community must think – I love it! We have a coffee gathering once a week but most of us are so happy to have some free time, we often take off for the 2.5 hours of class. 🙂

It is great to hear that your son is enjoying his German classes – what a fantastic start!! Let us know how things progress!


26 smashedpea September 16, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Whoa, I’m glad this thread has been revived and it’s nice to see so many different responses.

I love this thing with the parents going for coffee while the kids are in school, as described by the Librarian above – that’s the kind of thing I had expected from our Saturday School as I’m always on the look-out for German contacts (to exchange books and DVDs, to get an older kid as a German-speaking babysitter, to find out about German cultural events in the area, etc.), but none of that happened with our school.

I’m not going to go into all the details here, but this whole discussion just makes me wonder whether the weeknight heritage language classes, available through the local school board in my neck of the woods, are any better.

Does anyone know or had any experience with those? We are still taking the year off from our Saturday School, though might still go back later for reading and writing, but maybe those heritage classes are worth a try?


27 Corey September 19, 2010 at 10:36 pm

I totally agree about how great it is to see all of these responses! Isn’t it wonderful! I had no idea there were so many different experiences and am delighted to learn about them.

I don’t have any experience with weeknight heritage language classes. I’m not sure we even have those in Seattle. What are they like? You say they are via the local school board? That sounds GREAT!

A mom in the Seattle area tried to get a German after school class going at her daughter’s school. She organized a teacher to come in for an hour a week in the afternoon to teach a class but for whatever reason things didn’t work out. I think it had more to do with location than anything else.

Let us know what you find out!


28 Antonia April 16, 2011 at 3:53 pm

I am amazed at the size of some of these Saturday Schools – 300 kids?!
Ours has 19, teaches Spanish and is in a capital city with a population of 500,000. (Edinburgh, Scotland)

I would like to know how your Saturday Schools are run and funded. Are they funded purely by the money parents pay or do you get grants and help from somewhere – who?

We are struggling to keep going financially. There is plenty of talk from the local council and government about how important it is for children to learn languages and lots of interesting research on bilingualism going on but no actual financial or practical help forthcoming for families trying to keep their minority languages alive, as far as I can see!


29 Emilia November 28, 2011 at 8:04 am

I just came across the article and have been going through the comments. I guess my response comes very late but anyway… I live in Spain and my daughter attends a Polish Saturday school. It’s run by an association of Polish people living in Madrid and I think there are around 60 kids aged 3-13. We pay 150 euros per kid per year and that includes 3-4 Saturday sessions a month and the schoolbooks. The classes take 3 hours and 15 minutes. The association has been seeking financial support from the community and, as far as I know, they got some funding from the Polish Embassy and the Polish Senate. The local Spanish authorities granted permission to use the premises of a primary school which is a blessing as previously the classes took place in a local cultural centre and it was pretty crammed.
At the moment it might be difficult to get any funding from your embassy or consulate but I think it’s always worth trying. You might also try Ministerio de Educación, maybe they could spare something… Good luck!


30 Amy April 16, 2011 at 7:27 pm

I wasn’t a part of this online community until recently, so I missed the original post, almost a year ago! So glad someone decided to revive it.

I can speak to this experience as someone who attended publicly funded heritage language classes at a local high school (along with dozens of other kids from other ethnicities all learning their mother tongue) and now as a mom playing Chinese homework supervisor and Saturday morning chaperone.

Yes, there were pangs of being deprived of Saturday morning cartoons, but I am happy to have learned something about my parents’ culture in forming my identity, being a second-generation Chinese-Canadian. I formed friendships with people my age from different schools who were recent immigrants and I gained insight on the nuances within our own community while helping the new arrivals get their bearings in my native country.

I lived in Toronto, a very cosmopolitan city, and I particularly admired my Japanese classmates who attended Japanese school, as this was a Saturday program for ex-pat families so the children would not fall behind upon returning to their home country. Their math and science were advanced, taught of course in Japanese. Sometimes they finished lab reports for regular science class in 15 minutes flat because the experiment had been covered the year before in Japanese school.

On Saturdays, the local high school had Korean, Tamil, Urdu and Mandarin credit courses that counted towards your high school diploma. This explains why I was the only local born student in a sea of recently arrived native speakers… They wanted high marks to boost their average!

It was entirely due to my ten year marathon of these classes, from kindergarten to Gr 13, that I have enough fluency and confidence to transmit this to my own kids.

And now, I am happy that I can refresh my literacy skills (very rusty and operating slightly below a Gr 3 literacy level) while helping my 9 yr old with his homework. It gives me a chance to connect with my dad, asking for help on how to do the homework. This Saturday program is a private one, charging a very reasonable $200 per year for all materials.

True, my 9 yr old does gripe about the homework, but I feel stuck because there are few alternatives, and little chance to organize a regular gathering of families that would allow him to interact with other peers and fluent native-speaking adults. What I do like is that there are at least a handful of families like ourselves who are bi-cultural (ie one parent Chinese, the other not) so our kids will have contact with kids in similar situation to them.

About the pp who was sending their kid to Mandarin school, I wonder if it was because the school was geared to kids who have access to native speakers, when this parent and his/her partner do not speak the language. Places in the US like Arizona now have Mandarin playschool adapted for non-native speakers to learn, and perhaps this would give a more pleasant learning experience.


31 Kimberly April 17, 2011 at 7:24 am

The Mandarin school my son attends is private; they lease space from a regular middle school. They charge $300 for the year: 30 weeks of 3-hour classes, including materiales, which are a textbook, two workbooks, and a CD with the lessons in song. I also purchased the Go Chinese! series of DVD-roms from them on a payment plan for $100– they use these for 30 minutes each class period, and I wanted to give him extra practice at home… which hasn’t gone over very well because we just don’t have the time. (Meaning: I don’t have the time to be the slavedriver to make sure that gets done every day in addition to regular homework, piano, etc.)

This school has received a lot of grants that allow them to keep their prices low, and they received donations of about 40-50 laptops. The principal does a lot of grant-writing! They also pay their teachers next to nothing. I sometimes wonder if you get what you pay for, but I have nothing to compare it to… yet. Next year my son will likely play travel hockey and the games will conflict with Chinese school, so I need to look into my other options– which I know are all MUCH more expensive!


32 Antonia April 17, 2011 at 10:24 am

Thanks Kimberley,
That’s interesting. Around 13 dollars for 3 hours of class inc. materials sounds pretty good.
I think we need to look into grants and approach the local council more directly for help. Trouble is that no-one has time to apply and we aren’t an official group, nor do we have charity status.


33 Tanya April 18, 2011 at 12:12 am

I’m taking my 2 year old to Russian class on Saturdays. She loves it! It is all about play, music and crafts. It is like any other toddler class, but in Russian.
For older kids they have singing lessons, drawing class and drama class. No formal learning to read & right or count – just pure fun.
I haven’t heard any parents complaining that their kids don’t want to come.


34 Antonia April 18, 2011 at 6:57 am

Tanya – maybe because there’s no formal learning!
Sounds like fun, but at what point do the older kids learn to read and write in Russian?
I think that’s also important!


35 Jacqueline August 29, 2011 at 10:34 am

I posted on this thread at some point, about the Dutch school that we send our to kids too. As the new school year is fast approaching, I am getting MAJOR pushback from my 7 year old daughter. Everytime we talk about going to school she cries and says that she doesn’t know enough Dutch to keep up with the kids. This isn’t true, but the other kids in her class do have two Dutch speaking parents at home (for the most part).

So, my question to you all. When do you insist on something with your kids and when do you throw in the towel? I hesitate to quit now, because I know that being exposed to other kids speaking her language is really important. I also don’t want to create a negative association for her, so that she never wants to speak it again.




36 Kimberly de Berzunza August 29, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Jacqueline, I also posted a year or so ago, about my son in Mandarin classes on Sundays. We have now also come to a crossroads where sports are a bigger conflict, and he pushes back vehemently to any other options for study. I am not totally ready to throw in the towel yet, but I’m getting there quickly. At this point, I have not pushed it much through our busy summer, and I don’t know if I have the energy to keep fighting. And for us it’s not a family or cultural thing, it’s just that after 4 years, it seems like such a waste to give it up, and also I believe Mandarin will be a beneficial language to know, and SO hard to learn as an adult. I know he gets it, but he doesn’t care right now.

I don’t think I’ve been at all helpful, but I guess misery loves company!


37 Mar November 21, 2011 at 11:43 am

I am trying to start a Saturday Czech language school which will include not just the language but also history, culture and some geography. I was thinking 2.5 hours on Saturday. I already have a space and need to figure our reasonable fee to attract parents. Could you please share how much you pay for your children’s classes and how you feel about it (expensive , adequate) ? Also, anyone has any template for “‘request for grant writing ” I could use? Thank you so much.


38 Antonia November 21, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Hi Mar,
You don’t say where you are but I assume it’s the states (In the UK we say ‘work out’ instead of ‘figure’ :o))
You need to start by working out your costs – room rental, insurance, teacher’s payment, stationary and craft materials etc. Then divide by the maximum number of children that you can legally have in the space, and also decide the minimum number of children you need to sign up each month/trimester to make it viable. Then see what is being charged for other activities like ballet, crafts classes, language classes, horse riding etc and try to make a price equivalent to those per hour. You might find that this makes it too expensive as your class is 2.5 hours long so work on the basis of 90 minutes of a similar class equaling the price of your 2.5 hour one. You don’t say how formal or informal the classes will be. Parents like to know what they’ll get for their money. However I suspect they’ll be so glad to find a Czech class that this won’t be their first consideration. What age kids are you hoping to attract? Will you be able to expand within the same building if you end up with various age groups? It works best if you have a pre-school group and then classes with children no more than 2 years apart in age. Is there somewhere on site or nearby for the parents of older kids to go and have a coffee and a chat while the kids are in class?
I’m probably teaching you to suck eggs here but I am currently taking over the running of some Spanish classes for bilingual kids and so all these considerations are in my mind right now! Good luck, the main thing at the start is to cover costs and have a little over to pay for the Xmas party etc. and to have fun!
Our parents pay £6 per class in advance by the trimester for 90 mins each Saturday but I think it’s on the cheap side and we only just break even so it’s not ideal.


39 Shannon Morales May 16, 2013 at 7:45 am

Hi, Corey! It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, but I saw the repost of this piece and read the comments, and I’m struck by the common thread of parents having to be the “slave-driver” and facing “pushback” from their kids. My 2 kids take a 1-hour weekly Japanese lesson, and oh, the groans I have to listen to! It drives me nuts that on top of paying my hard-earned money for these lessons and taking my time to drive them there every week, I have to face resistance from the very kids I’m doing it for! And I know that scenario is magnified in families with much bigger language learning ambitions like Sat. school.
I have to keep reminding myself of the bigger picture: They are learning something that can be of immense value to them later in life, and it’s something they wouldn’t naturally get otherwise or even think to take the initiative to do on their own at this age. When they understand something they hear in Japanese or brag to their friends that they know Japanese, it’s a real encouragement and validation for me, and I try to soak it in. It is hard to keep it up when they’re already so busy with homework, etc., but I will persevere!!
Now let’s see if I can follow through on my plan to have them READ Spanish books regularly this summer to bolster their Spanish foundation. A good slave-driver never rests! 😉


40 Beth Ortuño May 16, 2013 at 2:01 pm

This is a very useful post and especially for me just at this time, as we have to make an expensive deposit by the end of the month in order to get our son started in a language Saturday school for the upcoming school year. It’s helped me think about what I expect will come of this, and why we’re doing it.
My expectations are modest. My son and I will both be learning this language at the same time, so it’s something we can share, and I plan to take him traveling with me later where this language is spoken. I have family as well as business ties with this country, and I hope even just a little familiarity with the language will help him not feel so much like a fish out of water.
I suppose whether the kid himself feels positive about Saturday classes even as he grows older may depend on whether the school is an isolated thing or a springboard for other good experiences. Many kids groan similarly about Sunday School but my daughter would always wake me and say “Mom get up we’re gonna be late for church!” That surely had a lot to do with amazing, wonderful teachers, but I imagine it also had a lot to do with the fact that she communicated and got together with the other kids outside church, and they were great friends.


41 mom blog homeschool dog blog June 7, 2013 at 6:00 am

Very Cool!


42 a February 11, 2016 at 4:03 pm

My parents sent me to a French Immersion school during the week and also, to German school on Saturdays. Although I admit, that we spoke a lot of German at home ( which definitely helped) and I must of complained enough times, I found it to be quite beneficial. At home, we spoke a dialect of German. German school allowed me to learn the proper Hoch Deutsch . I was able to be part of a community that could not be found with my English/French peers. I was less passive about our heritage and was able to truly connect. German school taught me that there is indeed a reason why I should use den or dem without the reliance of ” you can just hear what’s right”. I was able to learn more complex grammatical rules,learn to analyze texts, increase my comprehension and form extremely long sentences with complex ideas. Looking back on the amount of complaining I did, I now feel that my parents force was indeed a sound and wise decision. I have no regrets of the lost three hours of the day and I rarely think back at those times as torture. Thanks to my parent’s, I am fluent in three languages at University level. The trick is however, that parent’s must show an interest in what their child is learning. If you send your child to a language school and don’t speak that language, you have to encourage them to do the work outside of the classroom and find mediums where they would be exposed to the language i.e.: TV, checking out a book from the library or listening to music. After all learning a new language can be challenging but most of all should be fun as well!


43 Dolinda May 4, 2016 at 4:41 pm

We don’t even have the option of Saturday or immersion school where I live. 2 years ago we did french preschool at a friend’s house. It was 4 little girls (all friends) my kid was the youngest at just 4 and oldest was almost 7. She really ended up not liking it at all and since she started preK after that summer we could no longer do it anyway. She just didn’t like the academics (they were working on some early reading stuff) it had nothing to do with the language. The fall of preK we found a french college student and we did that once a week after school but quit that after Xmas because she was just too tired and clingy after school. This year we really lucked out. I met a french college student a year ago through tennis and started playing with him. He went home for the summer but when he came back he had a new roommate that was also french (the whole house was international students). We all went to our local french meet up together and my kid really liked both students a lot. The girl was an au pair and was excited about playing with my kid. I paid her to come over for a couple of hours a week (sometimes more) and my kid loves her and has fun doing treasure hunts in french among other things. We also did some outings with both students and the guy did some private tennis lessons with her in French as well (it also revived her interest in tennis as she loves him to pieces 🙂 ). Unfortunately the guy left in the winter and the girl is leaving in a couple of weeks and no new french students are coming in. At this point and time my kid does much better with non academic french exposure and still learns a lot that way. She also watches a fair amount of ipad and learns lots from that as well as reading (we are currently reading Harry potter in french and she isn’t quite 6). She loves the magic school bus in french as well and learns lots of science things through that. I have bought some learn to read and write books and we work on that when she is interested. I don’t push it. So I think even if we had Saturday school she wouldn’t do well plus I’d hate to give up every Saturday as well. So far we’ve been fortunate that we have found a number of resources to keep her going and interested (gotta love youtube and ebay). Her french is quite good and she has started to correct me even. We will keep in touch with both students and visit them when we can and skype occasionally. Right now I feel that her speaking the language is much more important than learning how to read and write. She would likely pick that up relatively easily once she is older anyway. It seems counter productive if a kid is forced to go.
I will admit that we are lucky to be able to afford all the books that I tend to buy because I do realize not everyone is that lucky.
My hope is to send her to summer camp in france in a couple of years as well (we go back once a year anyway).
My friends that we did preschool with do have a private french tutor that comes in and works with the kids on reading and writing etc. That seems to work well for them and their kids don’t seem to mind it. So I guess it would be kid dependent.
I think that like with anything (sports language music lessons ) if a kid really hates it it would likely backfire if pushed. But each kid is different and it definitely wouldn’t hurt to try it I’m just not so sure about pushing it if they hate it.


Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: