February 4, 2022

Ten Ways to Help Your Child Learn English

You may not realize how much you can do as a parent to help your children learn English.

Even if they are in their teens, this is true. It can be easier to teach languages to children when they are younger. There are also many things you can do to support your child in learning languages. These can be English worksheets or learning videos. This goes beyond just practicing verb endings with them or helping with their homework. It shouldn’t feel like you’re pushing them to achieve success. This is especially true when they are learning a new language where confidence and lack of self-consciousness can be a huge factor in their progress. Although we have focused on children, you may find these tips useful for adult students too.

1. Give them English versions of their favorite books

Reading a familiar book is a great way to learn an unfamiliar language. You can make reading English more enjoyable for your child if they don’t view it as a chore. It is quite possible that your child’s favorite book was written in English, as a great number of them have been translated. For example, four of the top ten young adult fiction bestsellers on German Amazon were translated from English, including Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone.

It’s not just that children will be more interested in reading their favorite stories in English, but it also makes it easier for them to read in another language. This means that even if they don’t understand a certain word, they won’t necessarily have to search for it. They will probably know the context and use it to help them understand unfamiliar words. Of course, it can be difficult to read a book in another language, especially when you happen to get lost in the plot. To avoid that, take a book you are familiar with. It would be even better to get hooked on a series that was originally published in English. Reading in a foreign language may seem like a good exchange for the opportunity to read the book before its translation.

2. You can learn languages alongside with them

It is very likely that you are reading this article in English. It is possible that your English is not perfect. The idea of trying to improve your English together with your child may seem problematic rather than inspiring. Yet it can be beneficial for both sides to learn a foreign language at the same rate. If your child overtakes you, it can be very rewarding for them. You can also try comparing the structure and vocabulary of different languages, set each other challenges, thus making learning languages a more enjoyable and a bit competitive experience, and not a tedious chore.

Yet you can possibly add pressure to your child by admitting that you are learning a foreign language in order to help them. Our tip will work if you are already learning or planning to learn another language, and now want to do that together with your child. To make the situation easier, pick one of the other European languages, such as Spanish, French, German, or Dutch, which are clearly complementary choices for English speakers.

3. Use English for simple tasks

Find a specific activity where your child can use and develop their English language skills. Although it is a common tip to ask your child to speak English to you, for example, at mealtimes, this can be stressful for them. They may feel the pressure to succeed and frustration if they are unable to express themselves fully. If they are at an earlier stage of learning, they might not have the vocabulary necessary to respond properly, and in this case, you end up having a conversation that is more like a textbook than a meaningful one. This is the exact opposite of making learning a language enjoyable.

There will be much less pressure involved if you apply English for straightforward and elementary things. Use it to communicate basic instructions, that is, those that do not require a reply or only need a yes/no answer. These are things such as “I’m going shopping. Would you like to go with me?” or “Your grandma is coming round later.” These statements use introductory vocabulary and are easy to understand. This way they can still hear English being spoken and learn, but won’t be struggling with it. It’s like practicing driving. You wouldn’t insist on driving down the motorway from the start; you need to allow beginners to practice driving on quiet roads to the shops.

After they have mastered more vocabulary, you can start doing simple activities in English, such as cooking or playing sports. These tasks require a relatively limited set of words and phrases in English which your child can easily understand and respond to in English as well.

4. Encourage them to learn other languages

If English is their first priority, which it is for a large portion of the population, you might think that learning other languages could be a distraction and thus encourage your child to concentrate on English only. This is not a good idea, because learning other languages can actually be beneficial to your child’s English. This is true, no matter how old your child may be.

Students learning more than one language at a time will be very likely to confuse the vocabulary. Or, if the languages are from the same group, they may end up speaking a strange mix of both. However, having at least two or three languages will allow them to compare the structure of each one. For instance, without English, German, and Latin it’s very hard to understand how cases work. If their native language is Indo-European, learning an unrelated language, like Mandarin Chinese, will make English seem much easier by comparison.

5. Try setting your technology to English

Switching mobile apps to English is a good place to start. Following this tip may seem to be a sure way to get your child’s English vocabulary limited to ‘level up’ or ‘game over’ rather than what might be useful for their future career. However, any practice is good practice, and switching technology to English is a low-pressure method to immerse your child into the language. You may find that certain items of technology are in English by default, in which case you don’t need to make any effort to change them.

Even if your child doesn’t like to play games, their social media accounts such as Facebook and their own phones can be an option. If they feel confident enough, they will be able to understand everything. Switching over something like a laptop could seem a serious commitment, but this may be difficult if they are not familiar with English specialist terms.

6. Do not worry about their mistakes

Telling your child every mistake they make is very possible to make them never want to speak English again. Self-consciousness can be fatal for learning languages. Though fluent English might be your ultimate goal, even native speakers whose English is flawless are a rare case. It’s better to focus on your child’s ability to communicate confidently and fluently rather than their ability to say only a limited range of words with no mistakes.

What should you do if they keep making big mistakes? You can agree with them beforehand to pick up one mistake to deal with each week. This idea will let them improve without the impression they are making too many mistakes and simply have to give up.

7. Grammar is secondary, vocabulary comes first

Whether grammatically correct or not, chocolate will still be successfully obtained. It’s better to teach them vocabulary than grammar if you want to help them learn English at school. This is because grammar can be taught more effectively in a classroom than if you try to explain modal verbs while doing dishes. Another reason is that their teacher probably teaches grammar following a planned curriculum, and you wouldn’t want them to be confused.

It’s a fact that grammar can help you communicate better, but vocabulary can help you communicate more. You need to know the word “truffle” if you want to buy four salted caramel truffles. Knowing only a grammar construction ‘I would like’ won’t help you much to buy them if you don’t know the word ‘truffle’. Even if the plural is incorrect, you still will be able to say “four caramel truffle” and get your chocolate anyway. Being able to communicate better is key to having fun while learning a foreign language.

8. Do not be afraid to mix English and their first language

It’s best not to mix languages to raise a baby as a bilingual. But by the time we are teenagers, we’re no longer so easily confused. Mixing two new languages can lead to confusion indeed, but children won’t find it difficult to distinguish their native language from English.

It is important because mixing languages can often be good fun. For example, speaking ‘franglais’ is very popular among British schoolchildren, as this is a great way to practice vocabulary and to communicate your meaning when you can’t find the right words in the target language.

9. Watch films and TV in English together

As above, go for old favorites to ease them into it. Teenagers can learn a lot from watching TV and films in English. You can watch the movie in English or add subtitles in your native tongue if it’s difficult to follow the plot. Once this stage becomes too easy, you can switch the subtitles to English – this gives your child a double opportunity to understand what is being said. And once that’s too easy, go without the subtitles altogether. To make this process easy and straightforward, watch films and TV shows that were dubbed from English originally.

It’s important to remember that the biggest point for all students is to enjoy themselves. If they have difficulties understanding what is going on, this won’t work. Like with books, pick their favorite films and shows though it can be a bit confusing for them to hear a favorite actor speak in a completely different voice.

10. Send them to a summer camp.

Despite the second word in the collocation, a summer school can be a fun and relaxed way to learn English. The English language component is integrated into the structure of classes there, and for advanced students, it could be even possible to take some other course taught fully in English.

If the summer school is located in an English-speaking country, your child will need to use English to communicate with other students and people outside of classes. This is a very powerful motivator. It’s easy to let go of being self-conscious about making errors and having a great time. By the time your child returns home, they will be fluent in English, maybe even able to keep in touch with new friends from around the world. There are also online summer camps, such as the Kids Academy summer camp. With their help, the child can also improve their knowledge and have a great time.

About the author 

Peter Hatch

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