In celebration of children’s day, I’d like to share some insights into how children learn languages. As a Young Learner teacher, parents often ask me how they can best help their child with English. So, here are my answers to my top 5 parent questions, this time focussing on children aged 5 – 10:
- I want to speak English with my child but I make lots of mistakes. Will my child pick up my bad habits?
Children are innately communication focussed paying little attention to accuracy. All they want to do is express themselves and will use any language available to do this. By speaking English with your child, even with mistakes, you will be setting a good example showing that you’re relaxed and happy to try to speak English. This will help form a positive attitude from an early age which should lay the foundations for successful future learning. As your child grows older, they will have lots of chances to focus on accuracy and iron out any mistakes!
- How can I encourage my child to speak English?
Children have a great capacity for discovering meaning from a few visual clues or recognised words, so don’t underestimate the power of talking to your child in English even if they respond in Polish (or other L1 mother tongue). Give your child time to absorb new language before expecting them to produce it themselves. With plenty of praise and encouragement eventually your child will want to join in. When they do, give them a reason to respond, for example responding to instructions, following a recipe or finding items on a shopping list.
- I’m not a teacher! How can I start teaching my child English at home?
Establish an English language routine. Have a regular time when you do English activities, and think about creating an ‘English zone’ at home where you display English words or store English games, books and DVDs. The amount of time you spend on English will vary but it’s best to build up slowly, at first 10 – 15 minutes will probably be enough. Children are most likely to learn if they are having fun or learning about something which interests them. Top teacher tip: games, creativity and songs are particularly motivating for younger language learners.
- I want my child to learn perfect grammar. How can I ensure this?
The short answer is you can’t. Most children won’t be interested in grammar rules so it can be counter-productive to try and explicitly teach grammar. Luckily, children are good at making sense of what’s going on around them and do pick up on good models of language. Plenty of repetition and revision is key. Don’t forget your child will undoubtedly ‘learn grammar’ and ‘apply good English grammar rules’ throughout their English learning life so don’t focus on it too much when they are little.
- I want my child to sound British. How can I stop my child sounding Polish/Pol-English?
I usually respond to this question with another question: ‘Which British accent in particular?’. There are so many different regional accents in the UK it would take me all of Children’s Day to list them! Also what about other countries (America, Canada, Australia etc) where English is the first language and a child with those accents would be equally good? As a lingua franca, most interactions in English actually take place between two non-native English speakers. As such, in most cases, whilst good pronunciation is important, accent goes out the window and clarity or legibility is what counts.
Well that was my top five questions and answers for your younger children (10 and under). Our British Council Kids website has lots more advice and free English resources: learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org .
If your children are slightly older then don’t worry, next time I’ll be blogging about helping your challenging teenagers. In the meantime, you can show them our British Council Teen website and all its free resources: learnenglishteens.britishcouncil.org/
Happy children’s day!
iron out: Solve or remove a problem.
counter-productive: Having the opposite effect to the one you want
lingua franca: A language which is used as a common language by two speakers with different native languages.
go out the window: Disappear and not be important anymore.