Parents want what’s best for their kids. For example, if you learn a language at school, you'll probably want your child to speak it fluently. This often includes teaching them a foreign language. What age should they start learning English?
Children are great at learning languages, they learn language quickly and gain fluency in a matter of years.
Let’s have a look at the advantages of being a young learner, what methods you can use to learn a new language, and when it comes to children, how to learn language skills at a very young age.
How can teaching children English help with their development?
When to Start Speaking English to Your Kids
“There’s no minimum age” when it comes to learning a language. Most children start learning their native language the second they're born and are conversational by the time they start school.
Young parents often ask how teaching their child or newborn an extra language can help them gain proficiency or even become fluent.
In order to give them the best possible start in life, why not teach them a new language as early as possible? In the house, for example?
It just makes sense. Especially if one of the parents is a native speaker of English. Though lets not get crazy with grammar rules just yet, okay?
When should our children start to learn English words and phrases? Should you consider language immersion from birth? That's how English speakers learn, isn't it?
Experts say that you can from as early as birth! Language acquisition in children is an incredible thing so there’s no age set in stone for when it comes to giving your child an extra language!
The social psychologist and linguist Barbara Abdelilah-Bauer had this to say in the French Newspaper L’Express in May 2014:
“There’s no minimum age to start learning a foreign language. Children born to parents with two different languages are perfectly capable of learning both languages.”
Could a child learn French and English, for example?
As soon as a child is born, they’re capable of reproducing words and their parents can even start talking to them in English. However, the learning process has to be a little different as it would be with a monolingual upbringing.
In fact, a child's first few months are “monolingual”. Language learning in infants is an interesting process. In the beginning, they’ll learn whatever words their parents teach them, considering these new words as part of one language's vocabulary without distinguishing between the two languages. They aren't aware they're learning another language.
If, for example, Mum and Dad address the child in both English and in French, a young child won’t know they’re two different languages. You can't switch from one language to English at this stage. This can often be difficult for multilingual or polyglot parents who are very used to changing language whenever they feel like or when a situation requires a certain language.
How can you let them know which word belongs to their first language and which to their second language? How can young children learn to speak English in a non native household?
The two languages (French and English in this example) have to be personified by the two parents. For example, Mum has to speak in French while Dad teaches the child English. The child will quickly learn the two languages at the same time and realise that something can be said in two ways.
Children are very adaptable. That's why we often say that their brains are like a sponge. Although not necessary, you might consider ESOL courses or there are plenty of teachers who provide English conversation lessons online.
Parents needn’t worry about messing up their child by mixing languages in a bilingual environment as children are very adaptable.
In fact, bilingualism can bring a lot of benefits. They’ll grow up hearing two languages and they’ll also be able to understand and speak both languages like a native long before they’ve ever taken any classes in either of them.
If the child goes to a school where English isn’t spoken by the other children, they’ll be able to distinguish and will already have an advantage when it comes to their English classes.
You needn’t worry about it stunting their development when it comes to their other language, either. As a language learner, a young child is more than capable learning two languages at the same time.
Now it’s down to the parents. They need to divvy up the work: the father needs to keep speaking English while the mother keeps speaking in French.
Might they reject English?
The child might lightly "reject" English if they discover that none of their peers can speak the language. In this case they might not want to respond in English any more because they don't see it as acceptable.
Is it really that shocking? Not really. By this point they’ll have already learnt plenty of things in English.
While they mightn’t want to practice English at this point, their ear and their brain will still understand the linguistic rules.
Don't Confine Learning English for Kids to the House
It’s as true for English students as it is for a child learning the language as their mother tongue! They’re getting a huge head start by learning a second language whether it’s for their academic career (with private tutorials) or their professional career.
What can they get out of this cultural awakening? You need to remember that this can be hugely beneficial for them. Learning English as a child doesn’t always need to be just for school. They can also learn about the cultures and histories of other countries.
It can encourage them to travel the world. In addition to all the English-speaking countries, they can also travel much farther independently without their parents or family (once their older) and you can also provide them with a culturally-rich upbringing.
A trip to London or New York could have a huge impact on them. These beautiful cities could make them want to visit more and more of the wonderful places they’ve heard about!
Find a private tutor for ESOL courses near you.
Ways for Teaching Kids English
Here are some great tips for teaching English to your children.
English Movies and Cartoons for Kids
This technique is a classic. Having fun is always hugely beneficial when it comes to learning a foreign language. This is always more enjoyable than an English class. You can do the same with English children’s TV series.
It’s great idea to give a child films and series to watch on their favourite device (TV, computer, tablet, etc.). When paired with your own teaching, this method can bring fantastic results.
You know what kids are like when it comes to their favourite shows or films. They can learn tonnes of the lines off by heart and will repeat them to their friends at home or school. You can even use their favourite characters to teach them English expressions and songs!
English Books for Children
Books are great for very young children. They can learn colours, animals, countries, etc. Once they start reading them themselves, they take on a whole other form! If Mum’s the English speaker in the house, why not have her read stories and fairy tales in English?
At this point, the child’s imagination has taken over. Everything’s gone in.
When your child gets to between 8 and 11 years old, they’ll be able to read their first books or novels. Their reading and their English will get better. Books can encourage your child to become an avid reader.
Give them the opportunity to read fantastic stories and improve their English even more. Their vocabulary will improve and they’ll be closer to bilingual with every book they read.
English Games for Kids
Games can also encourage children to learn. Don’t confine them to just DVDs, use tablets and other educational resources. You can even play board games and educational games in English.
These force the child to read and think in English. They’ll also learn a bunch of other stuff like: colours, food, animals, etc. Competition can also drive them to try even harder and learn even more!
Don’t forget you can also get toys that speak English. The types of toys that say something when you press a button. Almost every child has one so why not buy one that speaks English?
English Songs for Kids
Some children learn English songs in school. Others don’t start learning the language until later.
When children learn English by singing and dancing, they’re having fun and they’ll learn more quickly. You could do exactly the same at home.
To make things interesting, think about varying the device when you teach them songs in English!
Learning the song together can make these unforgettable family moments. The lyrics will stay in their head forever.
If you’d like to learn about teaching dyslexic children English, read our article on the subject!