Many parents are eager to help their kids learn English from a young age. One of the most important factors in teaching foreign languages to young children is helping them form positive perceptions of communicating with foreign languages.
A great advantage of early childhood second language exposure is that it helps children form a positive impression of foreign languages. When children are exposed to a foreign language from a very young age, they tend to view the language positively and learning another language becomes something they are very comfortable with. However, if you force a young child to speak a second language even when they are resisting, you run the risk of creating a negative impression of that language.
Here are some suggestions for helping your children enjoy English:
Ease up when necessary
Some parents think a great way to help their children learn another language is to use only that language at home. It’s a commendable idea, but it’s not unusual for children to grow frustrated and want their parent to speak to them in their native tongue. The last thing you want is for your child to develop negative feelings towards foreign languages, or to have any difficulty communicating with Mom and Dad.
Nothing is more important than you having good communication with your children. If your children are expressing frustration when you try to communicate in English, it may be best to ease up and use your native language. You want your children to feel 100% comfortable communicating with you.
Let your children see YOU enjoying English
One of the best ways to get children interested in doing something is to let them observe you enjoying that activity. Don’t make a big deal out of it, but let your children see you reading English books or newspapers. Watch English DVDs, listen to English music or let them see you speaking English with a friend. Your children look up to you. When they are playing, they pretend to be you. If you’d like them to be interested in English, show them that you are interested in English.
Use English that doesn’t require them to answer in English
If a child is forced to respond in a second language they find difficult, they can become frustrated and disappointed easily. You can use a lot of English with your children that doesn’t pressure them to speak.
- Use simple commands, such as “Put on your shoes.” “Let’s go.” or “Give me the apple, please.”
- Give praise, like “Good job!” “Well done!” or “What a beautiful drawing!”
- Make observations or point things out, “It’s cold today!” “Look at the brown dog.” or “This ice cream is yummy.”
- Ask basic questions that can be answered through gesture or short answers, such as “Which shirt do you want to wear?” – while holding up two shirts to choose from, “Do you like spaghetti?” or “Where are your shoes?”
These are all great ways to communicate naturally with them in English without forcing them to speak.
Expose your children to English
Remember that INPUT is essential. Identify some English media (such as DVDs and CDs) that your children like and let them enjoy it on their own terms without pressuring them to produce English right away. Sometimes we have unrealistic expectations for young foreign language learners. Just as a young native English speaker needs time to start producing English, so does a young foreign language learner. Almost all language learners go through a “silent period” before they begin producing language on their own. Naturally, the silent period for a child can often be quite long.
Provide as much enjoyable input as you can, and let them start producing English at their own pace. Read to your children in English as well. Find some good English picture books that your children enjoy looking at with you and read to them at storytime. Just be careful not to completely replace books in your native language with English books. For developing literacy, it’s extremely important that you read to your child in their native language regularly.
Focus on the positives
Learning a second language should be a positive experience. Remember that this isn’t a race. If you are exposing your children to English regularly in fun ways, they will be fine as they progress in their language learning. If you push too hard, they will start to resist. Focus on the positives. Praise your children for their English, but don’t go overboard and make them feel like speaking English is extraordinary. You want your children to feel positive about English without making them feel like English is a big scary subject beyond their reach.