How to start teaching kids English (or any language) at home

How to start teaching kids English (or any language) at home

by Adriana Stein

Updated November 10, 2020

If you’re a parent that would like to teach English to your children, or if you’re an English teacher who focuses on kids, there are a few things you can do to keep English learning engaging – even from home. As an experienced English teacher myself, the best thing you can do is base topics and lesson plans according to a student’s interests. Combining learning with games, stories, and activities will improve a child’s English fluency (or any other language) in no time

Why language learning at an early age is better

There are so many reasons to begin foreign language learning at a younger age. The younger a child begins, the more likely they are to become a native speaker. Interestingly, somewhere between 60 and 75% of the world is bilingual and also uses two languages on a daily basis, so if you’re a monolingual, you’re seriously missing out! Languages are not just for work-related purposes, they also introduce children to other cultures, ways of thinking, and new concepts that other languages simply don’t have (try explaining the German word Zeitgeist in English for example). 

Here are a few other benefits of becoming a bilingual:

  • More career success
  • Better conflict management
  • Improved multi-tasking
  • Enhanced learning capabilities
  • Protects against age-related diseases like Alzheimers

When you combine these aspects with English, the most popular language spoken in the world, you’re setting your child up for a much brighter future.

6 ways to start teaching kids English at home

If you’d like to improve your child’s English speaking skills at home, there are a few particular tips I can give you as an English teacher myself. The most important thing is always to make learning fun, and that goes for any age. The more interesting you make language learning, the more likely it is that those skills will stick.

1. Create a routine

Although routines are relevant for pretty much anyone learning anything, they are particularly relevant for kids. Routines help keep a structure to a learning system. That’s actually how all school systems function: they operate between certain hours and follow a particular curriculum. Even when children are learning at home, the same learning methods hold true. However, you don’t need to do a whole day’s worth of English lessons for children to learn. It’s better to use shorter time periods across multiple days, such as 30 minutes or 60 minutes every day and maybe even a break in between, depending on how old children are. With particularly young children, you may even need to do shorter time periods, such as 15 minute intervals to keep them engaged. The key point here is that it’s consistent, because that affects how much information children retain over time.

2. Build lessons around stories

Most children love stories, so if you can combine learning English with a story, it makes the learning process more fun. You can use story books, illustrations, role-playing, or even watching movies. For younger kids, story books work well when first introducing a language, because you can read the book aloud and describe images in the book to learn starter vocabulary. If you’re working with older children, have them read the book aloud to practice pronunciation. You can read books multiple times and create quizzes from them to test the vocabulary they’ve learned.

3. Combine language learning with their favourite hobbies

If a child likes dancing, then create a dance routine that helps them learn English. If a child likes painting, then paint together and describe the painting in English. As a teacher for both children and adults, I can absolutely say that the more you relate lesson topics to what the student is interested in, the more they enjoy learning. For kids, this often has something to do with being creative or active. For older children, this may also be learning particular topics like science or art. In either case, children will become eager to learn if they find the process interesting.

4. Play games together

Games are a fantastic way to make learning fun. You can include board games, crossword puzzles, word games (I Spy, Hangman), or even a game that you create with the children. You might also want to simply play your child’s favourite game and try speaking in English while doing so. It’s important to play games together, rather than you observing the child separately. This “togetherness” will keep children more interested in the game and helps avoid frustration with learning obstacles. 

5. Offer rewards

When you play a game together or read a storybook and children do a good job, reward them (I even brought chocolates for my adult students, because everyone does well when they know there’s a reward coming)! Rewards for children could also be chocolate (at a healthy limit), but maybe also a meeting with friends, or whatever else they particularly enjoy. Focus on rewards instead of punishments for mistakes, because you never want to associate fear with language-learning. Emphasize what children are doing correctly and they’ll also learn faster, because they’ll be proud of themselves.

6. Don’t get too in-depth with grammar

While adults definitely need to focus on grammar when it comes to language learning, for children learning grammar is different (although it depends a bit on age). For younger children, they may not have developed grammar skills for their first language, and if English is learned as a second language, learning grammar will become even more difficult. Instead, focus on simpler topics like numbers, adjectives, colours, clothes, food, the body, toys, etc. You can also use English in daily life, such as when getting dressed or during dinner.