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4 Ways to Teach a Child English as a Second Language

By Contributor ; Updated June 13, 2017

Introduce English at a Young Age

Studies have shown that children who are exposed to English or another language before the age of 10 have a better chance of learning to speak without an accent. The developing brain of a child undergoes physiological changes at the onset of adolescence that make it more difficult to distinguish and reproduce many of the sounds of a foreign language.

Consequently, if you expose your child to hearing native-spoken English from an early age, it will be that much easier to teach him to speak like a native. It's also important to start teaching English as a second language early, because young children have an easier time learning languages than adolescents or adults. This is because young children are still using their intrinsic language-learning skills to acquire their first language. They quickly realize they can use these same skills when learning English.

Exposure Equals Understanding

The more exposure your child has to English, the more she will begin to understand. When children learn a new language, they will typically understand more than they can speak. In the beginning, most children will have what is known as a "silent period" in which they will listen to English being spoken and may respond nonverbally or in their primary language, but they will not speak English. It's important to allow this period to run its course without interference. Don't force your child to speak to you or others in English. Instead, focus on providing your child with as much exposure to the language as possible. That way your child can acquire English naturally.

Social activities with native English-speakers provide a relaxed opportunity for your child to hear English without the pressure of having to speak it. Participate in casual activities like dinners, barbecues or parties with native English-speakers on a regular basis. Allow your child to interact with both children and adults who speak English so he can become more comfortable and less self-conscious in English-speaking environments.

Reading Is Fundamental

Reading aloud regularly to your child teaches valuable language skills in any language. When trying to raise a bilingual child, reading aloud is crucial. From as early on as possible, you should read books that are in English and the child's primary language. If possible, reading the same story translated into both languages can provide added interest for the child and the opportunity to compare both languages.

Take advantage of story time at your local library or bookstore to make reading more engaging. Most children will enjoy sitting with a group of other kids listening to a story, and hearing English spoken by a variety of different native voices can also be helpful. This is a great option for parents who do not speak English well themselves. Visits to the library or bookstore also give your child the chance to participate in choosing books to take home, which in turn will make him more enthusiastic about reading at home.

Make Learning English Fun

Becoming bilingual should always be a positive experience for your child, or she could learn to resent it. To that end, you should strive to make learning English as fun as possible. Set up play dates with other children who speak the same primary language as your child but are also learning English as a second language. Engage them in an activity while speaking English. If you don't speak English well, invite a friend who does to participate. Singing songs and reciting nursery rhymes is another way to get your child engaged in learning English.

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