ImproveYour Child’s English in 7 Steps
By Amanda Whitmore, English Teacher of HuameiKindergarten
China’s emergence asone of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries, with one of thefastest developing economies in the world, has led to a dramatic increase inEnglish learning. English is not onlyimportant for communicating with the countries in which it is the primarylanguage, but also as a bridge for communicating with almost every othercountry in the world. Psychologicalstudies of the brain through FMRI scans show that children under the age ofseven years old are at the best ages to learn a language. Sometimes, older students and even faculty assumethat some things we try to teach young children are too difficult, rememberingthe struggle that they experienced while learning English as young adults. However, the physiological evidence shows that achild under seven years-old still has not formed all of the neurologicalconnections that solidify their language skills. From the ages of six to seven,children undergo a language explosion, where they learn thousands of wordswithin a year. It is the time in theirlife that their brains are most apt to remember new words. If they are exposed to foreign languagesbefore turning seven, they have the potential to make new neurological pathswhich will render them as skilled as native speakers, given enough exposure andopportunity to practice. The second major lifemilestone related to language is age fourteen. Ifyour child studies other languages before these two key ages, they will beprimed for linguistic success later in life. The key is to increase those opportunities as much as possible, whetherin the home or in school. Your investment in aninternational education goes a long way, but how can you optimize theiracquisition at home?
1.) Make English routines. Have conversations in English at set times ofday, every day you are with your child. For example, when you get into the car, declare that it is English time. You can ask, “What do you see?” Don’t be afraid if your child doesn’t knowall the answers. Again, while they areyoung, they are retaining new words at a much faster rate than you or I could. Tell them the answer, and then ask them torepeat it five times, using silly voices to make it entertaining. Later, ask them again what it was that theysaw. Other possible English-only timesmay be a certain meal of the day, when you pick them up from school, or whenyou go shopping together.
2.) Watch television inEnglish, no subtitles. As someone who has traveled quite a bit, I found that manyGermans have the best English of all non-native speakers I have met. Whenever I ask others why that is, they sayit is because the Germans never had subtitled (translated) or dubbed (voice over) movies. Theyconsumed all of their entertainment in English. Having learned Spanish with the use of a lot of films, I can attest tothis. It is very difficultwhen you first begin, even exhausting.But afterseveral films, the ear adjusts and especially for your child, it will becomeeasier to understand English after a few films.
3.) Label your home. Use small notes with names of household componentsand objects to label your home in English. Have your child recite those wordsas you encounter them. Be sure to usefull sentences, such as “This is the door,” or “These are the keys.” They may not understand the grammar rightaway, but reciting it properly, in a full sentence, will increase their retentionand ability to conjugate well in the future. Note:When you correct their usage, be sure to do so in an encouraging way. Children who feel confident enough to experimentwith the language, and who are not afraid to make mistakes, will become fluentfaster. Instead of, “No,that’s not right to say ‘these is, it’s these are’…” try saying, “Hmm, these are the keys?” and smiling.
4.) Read to them inEnglish. This may seem obvious, but reading to your child inEnglish is one of the easiest and most effective ways to help them with theirEnglish. Find books that fittheir interests and let them choose one each night before bedtime. Use your finger to point to and trace the words withthem. Allow them to pretendto read, or to repeat the words after you while also tracing the words. These are important precursors to literacy. It is worth noting that reading, as opposedto electronic forms of learning, enhances children’s focus and ability to staywith one task. In fact, studies haveshown that children with more than one hour per day of screen time (movies,videogames, etc.) experience changes in the structure of their brain and theirability to learn and focus throughout the lifetime. Reading,by contrast, does the opposite. (Credit: New York Times).
5.) Go over school work,even when none is assigned. Look over the past week’s work with your child andlet them talk to you about what they learned. Show them that you are interestedin what they are saying, and they will feel encouraged to focus more duringclass, in order to have more to bring home and share with you. Ask them questions about what is in their books. Even if you spend only five or ten minutes doingthis with them, the quick review in a setting outside the school will help themto better retain what they have learned. Seewhere they might be struggling and make flashcards or fun games to help themremember it. Observe how they learnbest and engage all of their senses. Forexample, a child will enjoy and remember writing a word in chocolate sauce on aplate more than practicing over and over again in a textbook.
6.) Sing together. By singing in English with your children, you willteach them to enjoy the language as not just a part of school, but everydaylife and entertainment. Singing also enhanceschildren’s pronunciation and intonation (Credit: Colorin Colorado). You can use a variety of songs, from pop tochildren’s nursery rhymes. The point isto enjoy it and have fun.
7.) Engage a tutor. Even if your child does well in English, a privatetutor can help their English grow even more. Itcannot be understated how helpful that will be to your child’s Englisheducation, if you have the means and the time. It’sall about reinforcement. This is especiallyhelpful if you have less time to spend on these activities or feel insecureabout your own oral English.
What counts isspending time together and getting creative with the language. Remember to keep it light and fun. Children who enjoy the language are going tolearn it the best. Limit screen time. When you do use it, do it without dubbing orsubtitles. Read, talk, and play in English. Schoolchildren are in their primeneurological stage for learning language.A little effort fromyou will go much further than you might even expect.We hope you enjoywatching the miracle of their language development as much as we do!