Over the years many parents have asked me what they can do to help improve their child’s English. It is understandable that many are worried about the move to Secondary school, and the demands of the Key Stage 3 curriculum. This can be a particular worry for children who have previously been taught through the medium of another language.
As an English teacher, who has taught in three Asian countries, I have found a number of key ideas for increasing a child’s level of functional English. I use this term to refer to their use of English as a communication tool. How well can your child listen and understand English? How well can they communicate verbally their ideas in English? How well can they use the language in its written form? What I have found is that children who may be extremely proficient in Maths and Science in another language will struggle to interpret the exam questions and syllabus in English. This can then lead to a loss of confidence and feelings of inadequacy.
What the focus needs to be and why
You need to immerse your child in as much English as possible. This is especially important if English is not the language used for communication in the home. I am not suggesting that English is a better language than any other, or making any value judgements. However, the more you are exposed and immersed in a language, the more fluent you will become.
Here are the ideas I have seen to be the most effective:
- Reading of audio books
This means children can hear what they are reading. This really helps children with their pronunciation and listening skills. Hearing and simultaneously seeing English used with correct grammar and sentence forms is very powerful, and is particularly useful for children with grammar issues.
- Listening to podcasts
There are many lists of educational podcasts for children. These are available in a range of subject areas. Podcasts help children develop the listening skills to really tune into what the teacher is saying. You could also listen together with your child and have a chat about it.
- Mobile phone and iPad apps
These mean children can complete activities such as grammar and vocabulary exercises on the move. The British Council and BBC Learn English are particularly good.
- Get to know your school librarian
Your librarian will be able to recommend age appropriate books for your child. This ensures they are not given material that is too difficult so they lose confidence in their abilities.
- Reading of audio books
What I have seen that doesn’t work and may actually have a detrimental effect:
- Forcing children to read books they have no interest in. I see no benefits to giving a young teenager a ‘classic’. Please don’t give 12 year old boys Pride and Prejudice to read! This will only put them off reading, which is exactly what you don’t want to happen.
- Making them do hours upon hours of grammar gap fill exercises from a book. Again this only removes all joy from English learning, and creates an association that learning English is boring and repetitive. It is much better to learn English grammar in context. It should be in a novel/story/podcast.
British Council Learn English App