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How to Help Non-English Children to Speak in English

by Maggie McCormick, studioD

Children learn languages from immersion in their daily life. When a child speaks a different language at home, it can be difficult for him to express himself in English when the circumstances require it. Build his confidence by focusing on the importance of communication, but using gentle techniques that will make him feel more comfortable in an English-speaking environment.

Speak slowly and clearly. English learners may need more time to process what you're saying. When you speak in an easy-to-understand manner, the child begins to pick up on various grammatical points and phrases from your speech.

Translate what the student wants to say if you can. Sometimes, the student won't know how to express her feelings or desires in English. If you understand her native language, you can give her the English words to say what she wants to say.

Offer pictures to help the child express his feelings. Pictures are an easy solution when you don't understand his language. It's especially important to have pictures of the things he's most likely to need, such as a toilet, food, drink, and to show how he's feeling, such as sad, happy, cold or hungry. Once he shows you what he wants to say, teach him the words.

Encourage the child to repeat words or phrases. Whenever the child doesn't know the English words or makes mistakes with the English, ask her to say the phrase correctly by repeating you. Once or twice will do.

Build an extensive basic vocabulary. If the child is familiar with many different words, she should be able to string them together to get her meaning across, even if the sentence isn't grammatically perfect. Teach the English words for foods, clothing, places, animals and verbs.

Role play likely scenarios. With a bit of practice, he'll feel more confident in speaking. Greeting a person, ordering food in a restaurant or buying something in a store often have standard patterns to the conversation. He'll benefit if you practice these with him.

Correct the grammar by repeating the sentence as a question. For example, if the child says she "branged" her lunch, you might respond with, "Oh? Is that so? You brought your lunch today?" stressing the word that was wrong.

About the Author

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.

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