October 17, 2012

A mini manual for parents of children learning English




There is no question that parents influence the language learning of their children. The quality of parent-child interactions concerning the new language define if this influence is for better or for worse. I believe that young learners would benefit a lot if their parents were required to take a basic intro class on how to foster and maintain curiosity, interest, and confidence when they enrolled their children. Can you imagine that? Here is the advice I would present in this class:

Give simple commands in English, as this allows children to experience success by showing they understand. Example: call your mother please, throw me the ball, touch here, let’s go, get your cap.

Make simple questions, allowing the child to answer in their native language or with a single word in English. Example: Where’s your sister? Have you finished your homework? Are you ready?

Give two answers in your questions, so that children can choose one. In this way, we model the answer and help children to produce in English, as they only need to repeat their choice.  Example:  Would you like water or juice? Are you ready or not yet? Is this good or more?

Teach children, instead of testing, by presenting words through gestures, context, or by pointing for the children to discover on their own the meaning of the word. Use cognates, which are words that are similar and have the same meaning in both languages. Example: Get me the jar to put the juice, please. (pointing)  You have to squeeze. (making the gesture)

Help children to say things in English by giving the beginning of words when they do not remember. It's important to use this technique only when the child can complete quickly. Example: Parent:  Co...      Child: Come here 

Praise when you see your child singing a song, saying a word in English, or teaching you something related to English. Children notice it.

Come to your child's presentations and value their effort and work. 

Share your favourite songs by listening to them together. Help with the lyrics. Sing together

Instead of pointing out directly that the child made a mistake, just rephrase using the correct form continuing the conversation. Example: Child: I winned the game.         Parent: I know, I'm happy that you won the game. Congrats!

When getting books, magazines, or videos for themselves, invite children to choose some books, magazines, or movies in English to incorporate the language in their routine. 

Whenever possible, invite and guide children to have successful interactions in English  by writing a short e-mail, recording a video, or talking through Skype. 

Volunteer to have international friends or travellers at your home, thus making English the means of communication. Even better if these have children!

The ultimate learning experience you can provide your child is to travel to a foreign country where the language is spoken, as your child can be totally immersed in the language and in the culture. Older children can benefit immensely from participating in student exchange program or summer camps. 

Last but not the least, be in frequent contact with your child's language teacher, as this partnership is essential for you to know about  your child's feelings and emotions in the language learning process.


Talking only in English to your child, if this is not your native language.  
Pretending that you do not understand the child in the native language. Of course you understand.  
Asking questions to which you already know the answer or that make no sense to the child. Children get it very quick that you are testing and not making a question. Example: How old are you? What's this? (when showing a book)
Forcing children to produce in English. This only makes them feel insecure towards the language and makes them create a barrier to communicating in the foreign language. 

Did I forget anything you consider important? Tell me and I will add it!
Let me know if you actually have this intro class with parents! 

Send you a frog-hug!


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  1. But this assumes the parents have a good command of English to use with the child. In my experience the children are often better at English than the parents. Having a parent/teacher with poor English is, I fear, likely to do more harm than good given their position of authority over the child. Imagine the parent telling the child something completely wrong and the teacher later correcting it - the child is suddenly faced with a dilemma of who to believe and someone is going to end up with a loss of face here.

  2. Thank you for your comment!
    Yes, this mini-manual assumes that parents have a good command of English. I wrote this post from my perspective of teaching EFL to children of highly educated parents in Brazil. In this setting, parents usually speak better English than their children.

    Even parents who do not speak English can contribute to their children's language learning by showing their curiosity towards what children are learning, giving them support by maximizing their contact with the language through multiple sources, and refraining from testing.

    Parent involvement in its multiple possible ways makes a big difference in language learning for children.

    Wishing you great affective classes,


  3. Hi my dear Juan!
    Thanks a lot for this post!! I found it very useful as there are hints I'll start using in my class. It's not that I didn't know them but... where in my "mosquito inner memory"!! ;)
    Tons of smiles, Maria :)


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