How to Teach English as a Second Language to a Child

By Julia Solovieva – Language teacher with more than 10 years of experience in teaching English as a second language. You can follow her on FB on Random English.

With nearly 1.5 billion speakers, English is the world’s most spoken language, and knowing how to teach English as a second language to a child will help you provide your kids with great opportunities. 

Afraid that it may be too early to teach your child a foreign language, even one as useful as English?

Don’t worry!

Starting early with learning English is quite advantageous – and you will be able to spend quality time with your child while learning as well. 

In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at why learning English as a foreign language is important – and at the best tips on how you can teach English to your kids.

Why teach your children English?

The sheer number of English speakers in the world is a clue to answering this question.

  • There are about 400 million native speakers of English in the world and almost 1 billion people speak it as a foreign language.
  • It is an official language in over 60 countries.

What does this mean? It means that, if they can speak English, your child will:

  • Have better career and business opportunities
  • Be able to travel easily in many countries
  • Have access to a vast amount of information
  • Be able to read great works of literature
  • Have access to lots of educational, professional, and just fun content
  • Have great educational opportunities
  • Be able to meet new people and make friends wherever they are
  • Be able to get to know and understand many different cultures

Learning any foreign language is also highly beneficial for one’s health, and by teaching them English, you will provide your children with these health benefits as well.

Best tips on how to teach English as a second language to a child

Children learn languages differently from adults, and the difference is more prominent the younger the children are.

Imagine trying to sit a toddler down and explain grammar to them!

Not only will it be useless, but the effect may even be negative: the child will over time come to associate learning English with something hard, boring, and tedious.

Here are the key things to keep in mind if you want to teach your child English as a foreign language successfully and help them start reaping the language-learning benefits at an early age.

Keep learning sessions short

Young kids have a short attention span. They may be able to concentrate a bit longer on an especially interesting activity, but generally, they get bored easily.

Don’t let your child associate learning English with boredom by keeping your learning sessions short.

Instead of one long session, you can have several shorter ones during the day.

Make it fun

Young children learn through play and fun activities. Encourage your child to play language games with you.

Bring in some toys.

Read some books with fun nursery rhymes and colorful pictures.

Teaching your child to enjoy learning English is as important as teaching the language itself.

Get physical

Children and adults alike learn better by doing.

To make learning English more effective for your child, involve them in hands-on activities whenever possible:

  • Draw letters of the alphabet
  • Draw illustrations to songs, rhymes, stories
  • Sing and dance along to songs
  • Act out verbs of motion and nursery rhymes
  • Play active games

Review often

This tip is not really children-specific. Adult or child, our brains need regular repetition to transfer information from the short-term to the long-term memory.

What is interesting about young kids, they love repetition. If they enjoy a song, they want to hear it again and again. If they enjoy an activity, you will probably get tired of it much faster than they do.

Don’t abuse this quality, though. Variety is also important in learning English. Try to provide repetition of the same language material through different activities, too.

Use lots of props and visual materials

Various props and visual supporting materials help kids make sense of the new language and learn more effectively.

You can tell a child many times the translation of the word ‘cat’ into your mother tongue, and they may even eventually remember it.

But they will remember it much faster if they have a picture of a cat or a toy cat to accompany the English word.

Some of the things you can use are:

  • Educational and other toys
  • Illustrations from books
  • Pictures you have drawn together with your child
  • Printouts
  • Everyday objects
  • Magazine cutouts
  • Cartoons and videos

Don’t talk all the time 

Or course, you will need to speak during your learning sessions: interact with your child, read stories and rhymes, provide examples of language use, etc. Remember, however, that the goal is to teach your child English. 

Make sure to encourage your child to speak English as much as possible and don’t talk non-stop throughout the whole learning session. 

Depending on your child’s age and language level, they may be able to only give short responses consisting of separate words – even so, try to elicit as many of such responses as possible.

Provide praise and support 

Success is motivating in foreign language learning. And even for young kids, it is important to know that they are doing something well and making progress.

 By providing your child with praise and positive reinforcement, by supporting them at every language-learning step, you help them learn more effectively, make progress faster, and have much more fun learning English. 

Further reading: 

https://www.gooverseas.com/blog/teaching-english-abroad-children-vs-adults

https://www.fluentu.com/blog/educator-english/how-to-teach-english-to-children/

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/287862821_Teaching_English_to_children_as_a_second_language_through_a_genre-based_approach 

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