When you teach a child, you start to learn a lot about yourself; especially where your threshold for patience really lies.

This experience will be no different for most parents when they start to teach their children English, either as a foreign language or as a first language.

In this article why try to answer the big question – “How to teach a child English ?”. But to be frank, there is no textbook answer to this question and there is definitely no proven formula or method that will work equally well on all children.

So here is what we will write about:

  • 3 common pitfalls and challenges that first-time educators of young children can expect to face and will have to overcome
  • Tools to use when teaching your children
  • 3 expectations that need to be managed

Common Challenges

#1 Challenge: Dealing With Irrationality

Learning involves the acquisition of knowledge through visual, audible or other cues. Biologically speaking, learning involves the brain making the connections between neurons to support the retention of knowledge and to apply the logic behind the knowledge to enable the individual to apply it rationally to ideas. Does this sound too complicated? In simpler terms – learning is a complex activity that requires both an emotional response and biological development. Both these things must happen for learning to be successful.

This means that it can sometimes take time for the brain of a child to develop to a level where the child is ready to learn.

If a child is simply not ready to learn, it will manifest as irrationally low competence in decision making or absorption of information. Have you ever spent 15 minutes teaching a child how to write a single letter of the English alphabet only to have him/her not be able to write the same letter 5 minutes later? This happens because the child’s brain is at a stage of development where it requires more work and effort to make the connections it needs between neurons before it can retain that particular piece of information. So parents should keep working at it – unfortunately the degree of irrationality can be so extreme that it sometimes drives parents to levels of frustrations they are not able to deal with; resulting in raised voices or full on blow ups. This reaction actually has a silver lining though – because research shows that optimal learning occurs during moderate stress. It must be noted that low stress and high stress were found to negatively impact learning, but moderate stress has a positive impact.

#2 Challenge: Finding The Best Method

We have previously mentioned that there is no such thing as a “best method” for teaching, since there are several different types of learning styles. Some children learn English very well from mobile apps and educational games, some from doing English workbooks and worksheets and others from edutainment television. If parents and educators are lucky, they will be able to identify the most suitable style for teaching any particular child quickly. But in most cases, it is not obvious at the onset so the safest bet is to try a little bit of everything consistently until parents can figure out what works best for their own child.

#3 Challenge: Parents Having A Poor Command Of English

Many educators struggle with teaching English to their little ones because they feel that they themselves have a very poor command of the language. However, most adult brains are already wired well enough to learn simple things quickly. Parents who have limited fluency in English can use YouTube videos or other learning software to learn English with their childIn this way, parents of preschool children will be able to introduce the basics of the language to the child before he/she enters the formal education system. Since an adult’s mind is already wired to some level of development that allows the reasonably easy assimilation of information, they should be able to get quite far before needing to outsource teaching to hired tutors.

Tools For Teaching Young Children English

In today’s world, teaching tools and resources for English are hardly scarce.

  1. Workbooks
  2. Worksheets
  3. Reading books designed for teaching English in advancing levels of complexity
  4. Books
  5. Activity sets
  6. Mobile applications
  7. English games
  8. Teaching software
  9. Edutainment television

The list above is not exhaustive. Yet, parents do need to keep in mind that some tools work better than others for different children. A good approach would be to use a variety of tools over time when teaching children, instead of relying on just a small selection of tools. Parents will need to be adventurous and try different approaches to teaching and not just stick to teaching English to their children in the same way that they were taught 20 years ago. This simply won’t work because the level of competency in the language that is expected from a 4 year old – 20 years ago and today is very different.

Yet, although we live in an age of modernity and mobile applications – we would still recommend educators to use physical worksheets and workbooks as the primary tools of instruction. The reason behind this suggestion is simple – schools will also use workbooks and worksheets as the primary tool for teaching in most subjects, not just English. It would hence be advantageous to the child to get used to learning with this specific type of medium. Other tools like edutainment television and activity sets can be used to supplement learning and keep things engaging or to vary the energy levels of study time at home.

One common similarity exists in all the tools that are available for teaching English to preschoolers today – they require a parent or adult’s engagement.

Tools do not teach children. Tools are used to teach children. A good tool will make teaching effective but not necessarily fun.

Some level of parent or educator involvement is required when using any of the tools to teach.Even when using edutainment television to teach children, parents will have to watch these shows along with their kids to explain things that do not get covered in sufficient detail on the shows.

Since the best form of learning is immersive learning, children will also need to be give the chance to practise using the language as often as possible in order to maximise retention of acceptable sentence structure constructs and vocabulary.

Managing Expectations

We have often repeated that different children learn at different speeds. But educators have to manage several other expectations as well.

#1 Expectation: Teaching is intuitive and easy

Educators and parents often under estimate how challenging it can be to teach a child English, or to teach a child anything at all for that matter. This can quickly lead to frustration and anger towards the child. Teaching is not an intuitive activity and not everybody is able to do it well. It requires extraordinary patience and some level of expertise that for most people can only come with experience. Parents learn to become better teachers over time through experimentation, trial and error and simply being committed enough to try different teaching approaches.

#2 Expectation: Your child will cooperate

Even if your child cooperates for a while, he or she will rarely cooperate for as long as you want him or her to. Your child has a limited understanding concerning actions and consequence. They may only barely understand simple instructions like “if you are naughty you will have to go to the quiet corner“, so more complex reasoning like “sit down and study so you can get a decent job in future” is going to fly right over their cute little heads. Offering a reason to study is usually a waste of time for very young children who do not need a reason to do anything since most of their actions and thoughts are driven by impulse. Offering a bribe will usually be counter productive as parents then have to constantly deny the child the bribe “no, you will not get the candy till you finish your work, you cannot have it first then do your work later“.

#3 Expectation: Teaching tools will deliver exactly what they promise to

All teaching materials have some marketing hype attached to them. Just because you purchased a very expensive set of encyclopedias that were specifically designed by a PhD holder to turn your children into mini NASA scientists – it does not mean that your children will discover the 4th law of physics, even if they follow every single of the manufacturer’s recommended lesson plans to the letter and read every tome from cover to cover twice over. Of course, intense and intelligent effort by parents and educators can have a significantly positive influence on the child’s IQ score but that is all it can have – an influence.

In conclusion, it must be said that teaching English to children is in fact a series of experiments supported by opportunity –  because all learning needs some level of context to stick in a child’s memory. For example, remembering words in large part depends on whether the child has an opportunity to recollect the vocabulary he/she has learnt and use it in context of a day to day conversation.

Brought to you by the KidsEnglishCollege™ Editorial Team.

Check out our English Short Story Collection & our Teaching Aids/Resources.


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