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For the last six years I’ve been supporting families that want their children to learn English from a young age. If you’re also one of these parents but not sure where to start, here’s what I’ve learned.
Early emersion is the easiest method, but not the only one
If you can, get your child (1-5 years) in some type of an immersion environment. This could be a preschool, a playgroup, or another family that you trade childcare with. This is the fastest and easiest method to get your little ones started with English. I have one family where their son attended an English speaking (full immersion) preschool for six months before they moved back to Switzerland. When they returned he could easily dialog with me in English, telling me about his day, communicating his needs as well as his feelings. This was only six months! But his parents knew that if he didn’t use his English he would lose it, so that’s where I came in.
Consider a babysitter
If you can’t afford a full immersion environment such as a preschool or daycare, you might be able to find a babysitter. A native speaking caregiver that could come to you once or twice a week and play with your chid in English would be nearly as good! Of course, they might need some help organizing games and activities that get the children speaking and learning, but with a little support and training on activities that they can do with your child, the right babysitter could be the key to raising an English speaking child.
It doesn’t take as much time as you think
I’ve been surprised, over the years, how little time it actually takes for children to begin speaking a second language. A full-immersion environment for as little as 10 hours per week will have your little one speaking in just a few months. But, that’s still 10+ hours per week. If you can’t find a full-immersion environment, then you as a parent will need to find other ways to get them their 10 hours per week. Also, keep in mind that if you want your child to be completely bi-lingual then you should aim for more like 25 hours per week, or 30% of their waking time.
But it does take some time
Language is an investment. While children are very fast learners, it does still take time. If you can’t find an immersion environment or a native speaking babysitter, you can teach your child English, but you need to be willing to invest the time. And when it comes to small children, it’s all about play! I have a child, and it’s hard for me to play with him. I’m all about getting him set with activities to entertain himself, but actually sitting down on the floor and playing for 1-2 hours per day? Nope. Not happening! But if you aren’t the playing type of parent, you could also consider music, orginized games and crafts or outings. The point is to get in at least 10 hours per week in the beginning. If you said “from 10-12 Monday-Friday we speak English and do English activities together, such as making lunch, listening to music and sining along, looking at books and talking about the pictures, for example, you as a parent could build a very effective English learning program for your child. If you are a stay-at-home parent and are motivated enough, you could be a wonderful language teacher!
Sing, sing and SING
I mentioned singing above, but it’s such an important part of language development, I want to touch on it again. Think about how children learn their first language, and expand their vocabulary. When they begin nursery school it’s singing, every day singing. There’s a hello song, a clean-up song, a circle time song, a snack time song, a goodbye song, and the list goes on and on. Singing is a powerful tool, so use it to teach English. You can sing to your baby from the very beginning, or even before they are born. Make your own list of songs you can incorporate into your everyday routine. For example, I sing/say these songs/rhymes to my multi-lingual son nearly every day. “Good morning to you”, “this little piggy went to market”, “clean up, clean up”, “this is the way the ladies ride” and “pat-a-cake pat-a-cake”. At the end of this post you will find links to several of my favourite nursery rhyme song books+CD. Super Simple Songs is one of my all-time favours because they sing slowly and you can also find Youtube music videos to go with the songs!
Play “English” games
Once your child is around three years old, playing games together can be a very enjoyable way to learn English. My favourite go-to games are Memory, Go Fish, Charades, Picture Bingo, and KABOOM. Here’s a link to 10 games to play with little English learners
Use dramatic play
Another great way to teach/learn English is through dramatic play. Just last week I printed out this free Ice cream Shop printable, and had a wonderful time playing (teaching ;- ) English to some 3 and 4 year olds. I’ve discovered a neat trick that works with most children. If you teach them a new game or activity in English, they will usually continue to play or do the activity in English. So I’m all about coming up with new games and activities for my little learners. Once we played “Ridding the Bus” after reading the book and singing the song “The Wheels on the Bus go ’round and ’round” and the kids loved it!
Read English books
This might be my favoured. I’m a sucker for picture books, I have way too many, and I just ordered more this morning :-D. Here’s a list of some of my most used, most loved picture books for ESL children’s classes. They are linked to Amazon, and I’ve included the covers at the bottom of this post. The wheels on the Bus, We’re going on a Bear Hunt, Five little Ducks, Five little Monkey’s, There was an old Lady, Down by the Station, Down by the bay, Five green and Speckled Frogs, Is your mama a Llama, Orange Pear Apple Bear, Dear Zoo, Monkey and Me, I am the music man, The Napping House, and I’m as Quick as a Cricket.
Watch English shows
I’m strongly against screen time for little learners, but I also realize that we live in a world where you can’t escape screens entirely. I suggests making all screen time in English, whether it’s watching movies, playing games or surfing the internet. Make sure your children’s devices are set to English.
Finally, Just relax – you’re in it for the long haul
You can’t learn a language overnight, so don’t think that you can teach your children one either. Take a deep breath and then set up some long term goals that are realistic and obtainable for your lifestyle and family! And don’t forget to have fun!
Please check out my TPT store for lots of free printable ESL games, and also a few for purchase. Thanks!