Teaching English as a second language to a preschool child need not be as challenging as you might imagine it to be. In fact, research has shown that young children pick up new languages faster than adults. This could possibly be because adults tend to try and force any new language they are trying to learn to follow the grammatical rules of any language they already happen to know. Young children do not have this problem – simply because they are not yet familiar with all the grammar rules of their native language. Hence, parents and educators who are teaching English as a second language to kids should make full use of this opportunity and teach them English as if they are learning another first language.
The most fundamental teaching tip we can give you is to never use another native language during English lessons.
1. Keep in mind that the child once learned the native language without having any other language to reference to, so the child can be taught English in the same way. Teaching children in this manner will give them the natural fluency of a native speaker, otherwise the tendency to translate everything they hear, read, think and want to say into their native language will arise. Once this habits develops in a child, it will be extremely difficult to reverse it and likely can only be done through intensely immersive learning experiences, which may not be available to the child. In fact, this is a major stumbling block for adult learners of new languages as well – which is why many adults may be able to memorise massive lists of words in a new language but never be able to speak it fluently.
2. Encourage the child to speak English at home, and reply to the child in English – but never make fun of the child’s efforts. Many children are naturally shy and even adults giggling at a child’s mistakes may discourage the child from trying again. That being said, if the child attempts to speak English in front of guests or extended family members, there is a chance that their adorable mistakes may solicit roaring but well meaning laughter. Obviously, this may cause the child some stress but at the same time, children cannot be protected from every conceivable situation where they may be emotionally uncomfortable. It is the parent’s job to gently correct the child’s mistakes and encourage the child to laugh at him or herself. After all, in a child’s early years of language learning, things should never get too serious!
3. Allow the child to watch cartoons in English or read comics in English. If your child takes a real liking to any particular series, get the version of the publication or production without subtitles in the child’s native tongue. Then use the cartoon or comic to encourage him/her to build upon his/her mastery of the language. You should be thinking about saying things like “…the faster you learn to understand spoken English better, the sooner I can purchase the full season of this cartoon for you to watch“. Sneaky, but effective.
4. In the beginning, allow the child to get away with using broken English occasionally. If you start correcting every mistake the child makes like a grammar policeman, the child will eventually get frustrated and grow hesitant to express himself or herself freely to you. It is not uncommon to see children trying very hard to express themselves with whatever limited vocabulary they may have. Educators and parents should let them try their best and let them finish what they want to say, then suggest new words or sentence constructs that may have been used instead. Developing mastery of the English language in your beloved off spring will require patience, but if done in the right way – the child will develop strong basics that will allow for exponentially fast learning in his/her later years.
5. Encourage successes, but never punish failures. Educators should not overly reward successes or achievements. Children need motivation to keep them going but rewarding every tiny achievement or rewarding children simply for trying will eventually work against you, because at some point you will run out of rewards to give, or the rewards you give will no longer motivate your child. Keep the rewards for actual achievements worth celebrating. Obviously, this will vary from child to child, depending on the child’s speed of learning and his/her native language’s similarity to the English language, so we are not going to make a list in this article.
6. Never compare your child with another, even if you know that your child is doing really well compared to his friends and his cousins and whoever else, simply because there is nothing to be gained from doing so. It will also be undesirable if he or she starts to use another child as his or her “gold” standard and gets satisfied if his or her competency in English is just as good as that child, instead of trying to be the best that he/she can be and realising his/her full potential.
Parents and educators should look for means and ways to allow the child’s mastery of the language to develop at its own natural pace. This can be done by trying different teaching methods including teaching games and even online apps. A more formalised approach to education should be be adopted just before the child actually enters a formal education program. Otherwise, language learning should be kept fun and engaging to enable an immersive learning experience for the child – which is the best way to ensure the child builds native fluency.
Brought to you by the KidsEnglishCollege™ Editorial Team.
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