‘My son Anand who studies in an English medium school cannot speak English fluently’. A worried parent wrote this recently to Daily Brunch.

We all want our children to speak English fluently. And we know that childhood is the best time to learn a second language. But what are the steps that we need to take to accomplish this goal? That is really a tough question! Don’t worry we have some really useful tips for you! Choose a time of a day and start talking to the child in English. Make sure that the time that you choose is convenient for the kids also. The best way for a kid to learn a new language is through hearing. If he gets exposed to others speaking the language, he will slowly pick up the sound patterns and the accent of English. This will help the kid familiarize himself with English. In the initial stage, don’t expect that the kid will respond to or reproduce whatever you speak. Nevertheless, you can encourage him to respond.  The child is sure to make mistakes. At this point, do not get irritated. Remember, kids have a very short span of memory, compared to the elders. You need to be very patient and persistent in your efforts. The younger the child is, the more likely he will forget what you have taught them.  This does not mean that you can ignore the mistakes that the child makes. You need to correct him without chiding or teasing him. Let him speak naturally as it comes to him. By encouraging him to speak, you can help him shake off his shyness to speak.

What if the child does not respond positively to your efforts? You may feel angry and may yell at the kid. Do not do this. That may scare the kid away from participating in such activities. Your focus should always be on inculcating an interest in the kid to do these language learning activities. Persist gently with your efforts till the child begins to participate. Whenever possible, ask him questions in English like ‘what did you have for breakfast this morning?’ or’ how was your day at school?’ or ‘what colour does he like the most?’ Don’t expect that the child will understand everything that you speak in English in one go. Try to use facial expressions and gestures to indicate what you want to convey. Speak to him gently and clearly. Once the child starts responding positively to your efforts, we are halfway there.

The next step is to help him learn new words. How should we proceed in this phase? Don’t ever try to make it a formal teaching session. According to Karen Wu Adi, “When a child feels like they are being taught something, they can tune out and become disinterested very quickly”. So help him learn it the fun way. When you are in the kitchen, tell your child the names of fruits and vegetables in English. When you are outdoors, introduce the names of trees, birds, and animals. This encourages the child to relate his lessons to everyday life. Sometimes, you can tell him a story or recite a nursery rhyme in English. You should always make such activities interactive. For instance, you can ask them to repeat a rhyme. Or you can ask them to tell the names of one or two characters in the story. At times, you can tell them to reproduce the story in their mother tongue. A whole lot of fun games can be devised to help them learn new words. If the child gets bored with the same method of teaching, be creative in your method of teaching. The more creative you are in teaching, the better will be your result. For example, cut out the pictures of a few animals, birds, flowers and so on from a magazine or a newspaper, and paste them on a book. Then tell the kids the names of these things in English for a couple of times. Now you can shut this book, and ask the kid to find out the picture of a ‘dog’ from the book. By correlating the word ‘dog’ to its picture, the kid will naturally connect the word to the object it signifies. Do not go by the assumption that the kid will remember all the words that you have taught him. A kid’s learning is all about repetition.

At all stages of learning, the parent needs to encourage the kid. Give him a pat on his back, whenever he responds positively to your efforts. Make sure that the gifts that you buy the kids for their participation in these activities do not divert their interest from the language learning activities. So always present them with gifts that supplement their learning process. That will definitely encourage him to pursue the activities of similar kind, in future also.

What if the mother is not good at English? Do not worry. That’s not a problem at all. Here, your focus is not on making the kid absolutely well versed in all the nuances of the language. Rather your responsibility lies in creating an interest in your kids to learn the language. If you achieve this goal, then you are successful.  All you need to do is make learning quite interactive. Remember, learning a new language is not an easy task. And it should not be at the coast of your mother tongue either. Give primary importance to speaking. Let reading and writing come at a later stage. Help your child feel the language and let them learn the fun way.

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