Teaching English to Young Children – Tips for Success

Jan 10


Deborah Delin

Deborah Delin

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Would you like your child to become bi-lingual? Don’t wait until he starts learning English at school. This article suggests strategies you can use from an early age to help your son or daughter become fluent in a second language.


If you would like your child to master English as a second language (ESL),Teaching English to Young Children – Tips for Success  Articles don’t wait until he starts learning English at school. From a very early age you can lay the foundations which will ensure that English as a second language will come naturally and easily to your child. 


You needn’t worry that introducing English will have a negative affect on your child’s native language ability: research studies have clearly shown that learning a second language does not interfere with the first!  In fact there is overwhelming evidence that introducing a second language improves childrens’ all round cognitive ability and overall performance.  For a fuller discussion of this point, and references to research studies, see the full article: Teaching English to Young Children.

If your mother tongue is not English, speaking to your child in English may not be a good idea as it is likely to feel forced and unnatural.  Here is a list of practical steps you can take to help your young English learner to excel.  These strategies can be used for introducing any language, but this article focuses on English.  The author used these methods for teaching her children French, with great success. 

  1.  From birth, play songs in English to your ESL baby.  Bedtime and whilst travelling in the car are good opportunities.  Choose songs with repetitive and catchy choruses.  Just hearing the English words is great “ear massage” and the English pronunciation and intonation will become embedded in your child’s cognitive awareness.  The aim is to expose your child to the nuances and sounds of the language.  Tunes resound in our heads long after the music is turned off, making song a great medium for language learning.
  2. Purchase musical DVD’s in English.  Choose those which demonstrate the lyrics through actions.  Children as young as 18 months will enjoy watching the colourful scenes while they effortlessly pick up English vocabulary.
  3. Search for educational television programmes and DVD’s in English.  These are available on a wide variety of topics.  Choose those which particularly appeal to your child’s taste.  Balance your child’s viewing between English and native language programmes.
  4. Find an English speaker – a babysitter, neighbour or friend – who could spend time with your child on a regular basis.  Arrange for this person to speak only English with your child.  Arm your “language helper” with a supply of English picture books for reading to your child. The aim here is not to formally teach your child English but, through conversation, reading and play, to lay down a basic understanding and a grasp of pronunciation which can be built upon later.
  5. Once your child can use a computer you can make use of the wonderful resources that the Internet offers.  There are many free ESL and EFL activities (English as a foreign language) for teaching English to beginners.  Choose resources that offer interactive English exercises with voiceovers by native speakers.  If possible, sit with your child while he works at the computer and offer guidance when needed.  Your sessions do not have to be long; ten to fifteen minutes a day will ensure steady progress. 
  6. Start teaching your child to read English as early as possible, especially if your native language is not based on the Latin alphabet.  There are many websites which offer free English reading programmes.  Select a site with interactive exercises that give instant feedback and encouragement.  Choose a phonics-based reading scheme.  Research confirms overwhelmingly that the phonics method is the most effective for learning to read English.  Many English words are made up of sound combinations, such as sh, ea, ought etc. which can be difficult for new readers to decipher.  A good phonics programme will teach these sound combinations systematically, giving new readers the skills to decode unfamiliar words. 

If you implement these strategies during your child’s early years, he will have a solid grounding in English by the time he reaches school age.  Later he will be able to take advantage of the wealth of resources available free on the Internet, interact with English speakers all over the world, and become part of the international community.  His fluency in English will even improve his career prospects.  Your early efforts to introduce him to English as a second language child will benefit your child for the rest of his life!