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How to Help Your Young ESL Child Learn English

by Dr. Kelly S. Meier

Young children have unique and individual approaches to learning a new language. In addition to learning words, young children need to learn the differences in non-verbal communication, phrasing structure, humor and other aspects of communication. Providing an everyday context that intertwines language learning and life experiences will encourage young children to be receptive to learning.

Read! Read! Read!

Reading to your child helps her develop a strong vocabulary and provide a greater understanding of what words mean. For English language learners, context is everything, and reading provides a sense of understanding that makes it easier to grasp the language as a whole. Books that include pictures or sensory pages make reading feel like play time. You can also use books that are accompanied by a CD or voice recording to provide a change of pace. Develop a daily routine that includes reading three times a day to reinforce the importance of learning and expose your young child to as many English words as possible.

Make Learning Fun

Engaging your child in fun learning activities helps her develop an excitement for learning a new language. Flashcards with pictures serve as a fun challenge, and helps her recognize familiar objects. Coloring sheets that match the flashcard information provide an artistic outlet that strengthens the connections between language and common concepts. Try playing a family children’s game combining simple math skills and English words. Building English learning into playtime and daily tasks will help her absorb the language and build confidence.

Sing & Dance

Active learning makes learning the English language come alive for young children. Using movement and music to involve young children in a language reinforces concepts and connects sounds with words. As your child hears words put to music, she is better able to retain the information and immerse themselves in the learning process. Try using familiar songs with English words to encourage your child to memorize longer phrases. Adding hand gestures and motions deepens her ability to form a bond with the language.

Encourage And Empower

Young children are eager to learn and please adults. When you’re teaching your child something as complex as a new language, combating frustration is key. Reinforce the small accomplishments with enthusiastic praise. Your excitement is contagious, and it will spur your child on to learn more. Reward your child with a new book or a special treat as she reaches new milestones. Setting goals and accomplishing those goals makes learning fun and rewarding. The more you are invested in your child, the more likely she will be eager for more.

About the Author

Dr. Kelly S. Meier is a professor and college administrator for a large public institution in Minnesota. She received her undergraduate degree from Western Illinois University and her master's degree and doctorate from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She has published more than 15 books on education, group development and diversity.

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