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Encouraging children to learn

Language gaps in curriculums

Encouraging children to learn

With the education system hit hard by the pandemic, many classes and subjects are suffering from a lack of teachers. Here are some practical tips for encouraging a child to learn a language outside the classroom.

How do you cover the gaps in your child’s school curriculum, where language classes have been dropped, as an overstretched parent?

Or indeed, as a replacement teaching a subject that isn’t your speciality?

And more importantly, how do you get the children to engage?

While I have taught English to mostly adults since I arrived in Germany, I did teach primary and high school kids for a year in Japan. I found that their motivations to be predominantly practical, and almost identical to those of adult learners.

  • To fit in with their friends - to keep up and understand, or be the person the group turns to for expertise.
  • To sing along with their favourite English-speaking bands’ lyrics - pronunciation is more important than understanding.
  • To be closer to their idols - sport stars, celebrities, artists, musicians, YouTubers and streamers.
  • To better follow an interest - a skill or topic where the majority of reference books, media or patterns are in English. Or games, movies, books, and YouTube content that is only available in English.
  • To improve entrance scores for a degree - this is probably more common in countries with an emphasis on this as an entrance requirement.

Each child may have one or more of those motivations.

Typically, teachers and parents focus solely on that last motivation. The other motivations build a much stronger case for enjoying the learning and retaining the knowledge.

The importance of the practical

The subjects I remember most fondly from my time at school are those that gave me practical skills, or items that I enjoyed using.

The English teachers that encouraged writing anything were much easier (and more fun) to write for than those where if you strayed off the narrow path of what the teacher expected, you failed.

The wood/metalwork class had us produce rings to wear and a cake lifter that I’m still using today.

My first sewing teacher got it right with an oven mitt that was used until it wore through. The second had us sew scraps of fabric together or splodge dye on them - there was nothing truly useful.

Even the maths assignment that had us calculating the arcs of water coming from a hose as if we were planning a water fight had both a practical and fun component.

In language learning, it’s harder to find a practical motivation.

That is, until you cross the language aspect over with another interest or a fun activity like puzzles, word games, video games, TV, etc.

Fill language learning gaps enjoyably

If classes in your child’s school have been cancelled, you can help them with English learning in a number of practical ways.

  • Watch movies and TV with English audio (with or ideally without subtitles).
  • Listen to music with English language lyrics.
  • Play word games and provide puzzles that expand or refresh vocabulary.
  • Play story-telling board games in English - DnD has thankfully lost its dark labels and become quite popular.
  • Watch YouTubers and Twitch streamers creating content that your child is interested in, in English.
  • Buy English-language reference books, art books, etc.
  • Assemble hobby kits, items or puzzles with only English language instructions.
  • Read English fiction books together.
  • Find a teacher for a skill your child wants to develop or a hobby group where English is the main language.
  • Go to exhibits and museums with English-language audio tours.

You can also hire a tutor to chat with your child for 30 minutes to an hour per week - no textbook, just chatting on topics your child chooses - either in person, or online.

Even when it’s just what they are doing at school, or things they’ve been doing with friends and family, this is how I’ve seen the fastest and most natural conversational English improvement. And also where motivation to continue with these sessions remained high.

There’s a large archive of puzzles and word games in my older Patreon posts, should you want to join - you can download and work through them yourself, with your child, or in a classroom.

If you have any other tips to cover the post-pandemic language gap in schools, let me know over on Mastodon.

Categories | TEACHING
Tags | language learning, teaching, Patreon
14 Nov 2022