By Jo Blackmore, LearnEnglish Kids team
How do I start teaching my kids English at home?
Many parents would like to teach their children English at home, but don’t know how to start. It doesn’t matter if your own English is not perfect. The most important thing is that you are enthusiastic and that you give your children lots of encouragement and praise. Your child will pick up on your enthusiasm for the language. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t start speaking English immediately. They will need a certain amount of time to absorb the language. Be patient, and they will begin to speak English in their own time.
Establishing a routine
Establish a routine for your English time at home. It is better to have short, frequent sessions than long, infrequent ones. Fifteen minutes is enough for very young children. You can gradually make sessions longer as your child gets older and their concentration span increases. Keep the activities short and varied in order to hold your child’s attention.
Try to do certain activities at the same time every day. Children feel more comfortable and confident when they know what to expect. For example, you could play an English game every day after school, or read an English story with your children before bedtime. If you have space at home, you can create an English corner where you keep anything connected to English, for example books, games, DVDs or things that your children have made. Repetition is essential – children often need to hear words and phrases many times before they feel ready to produce them themselves.
Children learn naturally when they are having fun. Flashcards are a great way to teach and revise vocabulary and there are many different games which you can play with flashcards, such as Memory, Kim’s game, Snap or Happy Families.
You can find free downloadable flashcards on a wide range of topics on our website.
There are many other types of games you can play with your children to help them practise English.
- Action games – for example Simon says, Charades, What’s the time Mr Wolf?
- Board games – Snakes and ladders, other traditional games
- Word games – e.g. I spy, Hangman
- Online games – you could finish your English time with an online game from LearnEnglish Kids.
Using everyday situations
The advantage of teaching English at home is that you can use everyday situations and real objects from around the house to practise the language naturally and in context. For example:
- Talk about clothes when your child is getting dressed, or when you are sorting laundry (‘Let’s put on your blue socks’, ‘It’s Dad’s T-shirt’, etc.).
- Practise vocabulary for toys and furniture when you are helping your child to tidy their bedroom (‘Let’s put your teddy bear on the bed!’, ‘Where is the blue car?’).
- Teach food vocabulary when you are cooking or going shopping. When you go to the supermarket, give your child a list of things to find (use pictures or words depending on their age). Revise the vocabulary when you put the shopping away at home.
Younger children love books with bright colours and attractive illustrations. Look at the pictures together and say the words as you point to the pictures. Later you can ask your child to point to different things, e.g. ‘Where's the cat?’ After a while encourage them to say the words by asking ‘What's that?’ Listening to stories will get your child used to the sounds and rhythms of English.
The animated stories on LearnEnglish Kids are an excellent way for children to develop listening and reading skills. Older children can complete the accompanying downloadable activities to check understanding.
Songs are a really effective way to learn new words and improve pronunciation. Songs with actions are particularly good for very young children as they are able to join in even if they are not yet able to sing the song. The actions often demonstrate the meaning of the words in the song.
There are many fun, animated songs on LearnEnglish Kids which you can listen to with your children.
With younger children, there is no need to explicitly teach grammar rules, but instead get them used to hearing and using different grammatical structures in context, for example ‘have got’ when you are talking about someone’s appearance, or ‘must/mustn’t’ when talking about their school rules. Hearing the grammar being used in context from an early age will help your child to use it naturally and correctly when they are older.
For older children, you can use the grammar practice section on LearnEnglish Kids. Videos, quizzes and games help kids to learn in a fun, relaxed way.
It can be very useful for older children to teach their siblings or other family members. Explaining how to use grammar to someone else helps you to master it yourself.
Which words and phrases should I teach first?
Consider your child’s interests and personality when deciding which topics to teach, and let your child help you to choose. You may like to start with some of these topics:
- numbers (1–10; 10–20; 20–100)
- adjectives (e.g. big, small, tall, happy, sad, tired)
- the body
- animals (e.g. pets, farm animals, wild animals)
You can find lots of fun activities on a huge range of topics on LearnEnglish Kids.
It is also important for your child to get used to ‘English time’ language, so use the same phrases with your child each time, e.g. ‘It’s English time! Let’s sit down. Which song shall we start with today?’ Children will soon pick up phrases such as please; thank you; Can I have …?; Where is …?; Point to …; What colour is it?; It’s …; I like …; I don’t like …
Whatever your approach, the most important thing is to relax, have fun and make learning English an enjoyable experience for both you and your child.
Thank you for your comment. It's fantastic that you want to give your son this opportunity to learn English from such a young age. There is no right or wrong time to start, in my opinion it's as young as possible, so I think it would be great to start now. I can't say exactly how many hours a day you should talk or play in English, but in the article above, the section on 'Establishing a routine' could give you some ideas. Each child is different, so time the activities according to your child's attention span, how tired they are etc. And the most important thing is that they enjoy their English time with you. Again, as each child is different, it's not possible to say how long it will take for your son to speak English fluently. It usually takes time for children to 'absorb' a language before they produce it themselves. As parents we may be keen to hear our children say English words as soon as we start teaching them, but it's important to be patient and not to rush them.
As well as the resources in the Parents section of our site, you may like to look at our Parents Facebook page for lots more ideas.
You could also interested in the British Council's learning apps for Early years
The British Council also offers a free course on Future Learn to help you discover how very young children learn English as an additional language and how you can help them progress.
I hope that helps. Good luck and have fun!
LearnEnglish Kids team
I'm sure it must be challenging keeping up your children's English whilst living in an area with no other English speaking families. However it seems to us that you are doing everything right - reading, watching TV and speaking in English with your children. You probably do this already, but playing games with your kids in English is also an excellent way for them to practise their language skills, learn new vocabulary etc. Have you seen our Video tips and Top tips sections?
You'll find ideas there for games and other activities to do at home in English with your kids.
On our site you'll also find printable flashcards for learning vocabulary
Or why not do some of these activities in English with your kids
For information about courses for children, please contact the British Council Spain. You'll find their details on their website.
Your children are lucky to have two langauges at home and I think the main thing is for them - and you - to enjoy the experience, which will give them a positive attitude to English for life.
Don't forget the LearnEnglish Parents facebook page where you'll find lots more ideas, links to other useful sites and a community of parents all over the world who are supporting their children as learners of English.
I hope that helps.
Jo (LearnEnglish Kids team)