When it comes to learning a language, your home is one of the best classrooms and you and your relatives are the best teachers.
You don’t have to speak the language well and you don’t need expensive materials to teach. Why? Because children learn languages best by doing everyday things with the people they love. If kids feel the love and support of their adults, if they have fun or feel proud of what they’re learning, most kids will work hard to become an expert at any language.
But, how can parents who don’t speak much English be good teachers of English in the home? Here are ten ways you can help your child improve his or her English:
1) Help your child find fun stuff to do in English.
What is your child interested in? Maybe he can join a sports team, take an art or dance class at the community center, or go to the library’s weekend activities. If he’s having fun, he won’t realize how hard his brain is working to strengthen his English skills.
2) Read with your child every day, in either language.
Kids who read a lot end up with strong language skills. And reading in any language helps! If you want, read together in your native language sometimes and in English sometimes. (Some books even have both languages written on the same page!) You can read out loud or your child can read to you. The great thing about children’s books is that they have lots of pictures that help you understand what’s happening when you don’t know what a word means.
3) Listen to music and TV in English sometimes.
Maybe you make a rule that the family listens to music in your language in the car and music in English at home. Or maybe Fridays you watch TV in English, while Saturdays are for movies in your language. It doesn’t matter how you organize it, just as long as you find chances for your family to easily and regularly practice listening to both languages every week.
4) Hire babysitters who speak English.
It’s great to have your child practice his family’s language skills when Grandma or Grandpa babysits. But you also might hire the nice high school student who lives next door to babysit your child a few times a month. She probably doesn’t charge that much and will be a great source of English for your child. Tell her that her job is to care for the kids, but also to naturally teach them English just by playing, reading, talking and having fun in English.
5) Go on-line with your kids.
Rosetta Stone is not the only way to learn English at home. Have fun with your kids playing on sites like Learn English Kids. Or visit any of the websites recommended by the experts at Common Sense Media.
6) Have “English Night” once a week.
One night a week, ask the whole family speak in only English… and make it fun! Prepare typical American or English food, eat dinner together while speaking in English. During dessert, play a fun card game or board game in English. It’s OK if you speak very little English. It really helps your child to see YOU trying your best to speak it, to see you asking for help, to see you keep a good attitude even when you make mistakes.
7) Help your child make English-speaking friends.
Playing with friends is fun for your child and FREE for you. If you’re not sure which kids might be possible friends, ask your child’s teacher for help. She will know who speaks good English and who is a nice friend for your child. You can meet up at the playground or invite the child over to your house for a “playdate”. If it’s your first time meeting the parents, invite them in for a cup of tea; you too might make a good adult friend who can help you with your English.
8) Continue speaking, reading and learning together in your language.
Studies show that having a strong first language helps kids have a strong second language. Two languages don’t create confusion, they support each other! In fact, kids who speak two languages understand better how languages work and have a wider vocabulary. Point out to your kid that if she reads a lot in the family’s language, she will know lots of words in that language. That will give her a special, super power for learning English words. For example, if your family speaks Spanish at home, your daughter can figure out what “amicable” means in English (it means friendly) because she knows the word “amiga” in Spanish. English-only speakers don’t have that same super power!
9) Don’t worry about mistakes.
If your child makes mistakes speaking in English or your first language, it’s OK. If he mixes up the two languages in the same sentence, that’s totally normal too. Big developments are happening in your child’s small head! Your kid’s figuring out how two language systems work and that includes mixing them up and making mistakes. Don’t worry about correcting those mistakes all the time. That would be no fun. The best thing you can do is to keep your child exposed to lots of good examples in both languages through school, books, friends, music and movies. It’s most important that your child just fall in love with communication in general.
10) Set a good example.
Whether you are taking ESL classes at your local school or college, making new English-speaking friends who can help you with your accent, or using the dictionary to help you understand a magazine in English, talk to your child about the ways that you are studying English too. If your child sees you making the effort to learn, sees you not giving up even when you make mistakes or get frustrated, and sees you asking for help when the language gets hard, your child will feel motivated and inspired to do the same!