Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Language Learning Tips

Recently I have received my TESOL certification and the things I learned through that course reminded me of the different teaching techniques that I had learned in my Early Childhood college courses. As parents it can be hard to know how to teach a child a second language - lets face it - learning the first one is hard enough! So I thought it would be helpful to you if I shared some of the techniques I have learned throughout all of my studies and my current experience as an English Language educator.

Note: These tips are good for 1st language learners as well!!!

1. Recast: This strategy is for small grammatical errors (usually with past tense and irregular plurals). Simply restate what the child said but with the correction made. This is a fairly simple strategy that parents tend to naturally use with their children. It works wonders for early 2nd language learners as well. The trick here is not to over-correct; over-correction can make a child feel unsure of him/herself and they will avoid talking. So use this every once in a while with words that they are consistently using incorrectly.
  • example: Child says, "I have 3 hot dogs today." Parent replies, "Oh, you had 3 hot dogs today?!"
2. Big Books: Big books are exactly what it sounds like; BIG BOOKS! (You can check out Big Books from your local library.) Reading in the language they are learning is incredibly important for sentence formation! They hear how things are said and relate those words to pictures or actions in their daily lives. Using Big Books (especially for young kids ages 0-6) is a good way to catch their attention, but also a good way to get them involved in the reading process. Again this is a pretty simple and often intuitive strategy, but it is important to actively try to use this strategy.
  • example: Parent reads a page in the big book, then asks, "Where is the _____?" The child can point (and hopefully try to say, "_____ is here/under the bed/in the closet" etc.) If they only point you can ask something to the effect of "who/what is that?" in order for them to respond with the name of the character/object.  
Big Books

3. Set-up Boundaries: Decide when, where, and who speaks which language. There are many different ways families choose to implement this, but the important thing to remember is to be consistent! Children need to be able to predict what language is going to come out of a parents mouth so that way it isn't a surprising experience. I'm sure there are many other ways to set up boundaries, but these are ones that I know to be effective.
  • Father speaks one language all the time and Mother speaks the other language all the time.
  • There is one primary language in the home and one parent only speaks with children in the second language.
  •  There is the language spoken in the home and then language spoken everywhere outside the home. Usually it is best to use the native language of the country in which you live OUTSIDE the home (since children will be hearing this language at stores, in school, and with friends) and then to speak the non-native language of the country in which you live, INSIDE the home. (NOTE: this strategy can be hard to implement due to visitors who do not know the home language, and the easiness of forgetting where you are and using the incorrect language in an incorrect place.)
4. Use Your Words: Encourage your child to use their words. Ask them questions like, "Why do you think that is?" "How would you describe this?" and other questions that require more than a "yes" or "no" response. Model these questions out-loud when you are working on things (ie. you're making dessert and following a recipe, after completing a step ask, "Ok, what comes next? 3/4 cup of flour."). When a child hears you asking questions to yourself they will start asking these questions to themselves. When children do this they are not only practicing speaking, but they are learning how to problem solve as well. The more opportunities they have to use their words the better they are going to be at it. This takes a lot of patience, work, and understanding to actually implement this strategy, but it really can make a world of difference in their speaking and problem solving skills!

Do you have any strategies that you have used to help your child learn a language? If so, please feel free to share your thoughts, experiences, and ideas in the comments!


  1. I am having to work on grammar correcting at my house. My son had trouble with the past tense of verbs.

  2. The more the child is engaged in what s/he is learning the more s/he will want to do more of it. That is why video games are so addictive for some kids. They are engaged at the level they choose...The trouble is with a lot of education is that it is dreadfully boring, not engaging and sometimes downright demeaning. Kids have enormous intelligence, as shown by the fact that we all ( well nearly all) learn our mother tongue to the level of our peers. That learning is arguably one of the most difficult ones we will ever do... Why you may ask... Just consider learning how to to form to make sounds etc all at the same time as learning your FIRST language!

  3. your tips are awesome, because if teachers follow those method they can teach well