In this post I am going to try and break down 7 of the most important things to keep in mind if you are trying to help you child learn English (or any foreign language) from a young age (i.e. before the age of 5).
7 Tips To Help Your Children Learn English (Or Any Second Language)
1. You Can Help: The main thing parents need to be aware of is that they have the ability to help their children. Be a good role model (by studying a language yourself). Be supportive. Create a positive learning environment. Help your child form good habits (by having good habits yourself – e.g. sit down with your child when they are trying to do their English homework and do your own work or study).
2. Start Young: The younger your child starts learning the better. Too many blogs and well-intentioned people with absolutely no background in language education try to advise parents to let their child master their own language before learning a second language (sure, this is one way, but it might not be the most effective way).
What science does know is this - young children (under the age of 9 months) can discriminate between the sounds of various languages and are able to learn multiple languages at once. Unfortunately, as children get older, this ability to naturally differentiate between languages decreases, thus making language learning more difficult. This being true, the younger your children start learning English, the better.
3. Read To Your Children: If possible, read to your child in English. If you can’t read, then use read-along books. The more time you and your children spend reading, the better results you will get. Furthermore, the very act of reading to your child helps form all-important emotional bonds between parent and child – bonds which are so much more important than any language learning benefit you may gain from reading.
My suggestions: Mr. Men and Little Miss (a series of books that have cute characters and simple stories), Dr. Seuss books (books that rely on rhyme and simple sentence structures), and Little Golden Books (a range of different stories for all interests)
Oh, one more thing. Your reading and pronunciation does not need to be perfect – all you need to do is try your best.
4. Use Media Wisely: Yes, too much time watching TV is bad. Too much time browsing the internet is bad. Too much time playing with your cellphone is bad. But, using media wisely can be very good for language learning. The more (good quality) language input a child can get (especially in the Korean setting where English is not commonly spoken in day-to-day interactions), the better results they will get. So, set aside some time each day or each week for your child to watch English language programs or movies.
My favorites include: Sesame Street (2+ years of age – a favorite for many children), Blue’s Clues (3+ years of age – learn and interact), The Wiggles (3+ years of age – for children who like music), and Nina’s World (3+ years of age – great for girls, but also for boys).
5. Interaction Is Key: Too many parents think that grammar lessons and rote learning vocabulary words are somehow the most important things in language learning (probably because a lot of private language institutes use this outdated method). The thing is, we all know children need to learn words and grammar, but this is often more effectively achieved by using English to interact with other English-speaking people. Of course, this is not always possible – especially in Korea. If this is the case, don’t stress. With young children you can read and interact with books (e.g. point at the pictures and say the words), sing songs, and play simple English games. As children get older, find language institutes that encourage face-to-face interaction and communication.
6. Use What You Know: As we just learned, one of the best ways to help your child learn English is to just interact with them in English. Yes, that’s right! Stop making excuses! You don’t need to be Shakespeare; you just need to use the words and phrases you know so your child can get used to the sounds of English.
7. Guide, Don’t Push: Learning English is not easy, and pushing your child does not make it any easier. I know you have great intentions. I know you care about your child. I know you want the best. But believe me; pushing your child is not the answer. Being a supportive guide will yield much better results than pushing them. Of course, this does not mean you stop sending them to classes or making them do their English homework (that would be a terrible idea). What I mean is this – stop pushing your child to get perfect scores on their grammar tests and English tests (although children under the age of 5 probably aren't doing tests, yet). These are just scores on paper. English is so much more than a score on a paper. It is a way of communicating and experiencing the world. Let you child develop at their own pace, and limit your pushing to an occasional gentle nudge.
For more on the above thinking points please check out the following clip.
Keep English Real!