The day before yesterday, Dr Zahari suggested that I write tips for learning English for this blog. Yesterday, another friend asked me for suggestion on how she could get her four year old to learn English. I wondered if the universe is trying to tell me something. So, here goes.
First thing to remember. English is not a subject that you can memorise. Of course, there are thing you would need to memorise to be able to master the language but English is also a skill that you can only master by using it: the more you use it, the better you will be at it.
As a parent, the best thing you can do to help your child to acquire English is by becoming and English language speaker and user yourself. “But my English is not good, “you might say. That is not a problem. You are not trying to teach your child English, you are becoming your child’s partner in acquiring English. So how do you go about doing this?
The typical Malaysian solution is to look for an English language tuition for your child. This can be expensive and may have questionable effectiveness. If you believe that your English is not that good, just ask yourself, how effective has learning English the “school and tuition way” have been for you?
The simpler solution, immerse your child and yourself in English. Here is how we do that.
Buy English language newspapers. If you still buy newspapers, get English language ones. You do not need to sacrifice your regular paper, just get English language ones on alternate days or so. The point is not to replace your mother tongue newspapers but to make English language ones more familiar and available. After all, improving your English is a process not a sudden switch.
Tell your child bedtime stories in English. I enjoyed telling bedtime stories when my children were small, try doing that. You could buy compilations of bedtime stories. To save some money, you could read stories from the internet. For example, from https://www.storiestogrowby.org/bedtime-stories-kids-free/ . If you are feeling creative, make up your own stories. When your children get a little older, they may want to make up their own stories. The important thing is to do it in English. If you want to make even more familiar, translate bedtime stories that your children already know into English.
Watch English language television and movies. Start by choosing English language television programs with subtitles. When you and your children become more proficient, turn off the subtitles if you can. My students told me that they tried placing a cover on the bottom of their television screen to cover the subtitles. They said it worked for a while before it became annoying. This will give you some familiarity with the sound of spoken English.
Speak in English at home. It doesn’t matter if your English is not perfect. Like I said earlier, it is we are embarking on a process of improving our English language. Start by inserting English words in your speech. Then, insert entire English language sentences. Next, converse entirely in English. You can then alternate between English and your mother tongue. If you want to be more adventurous, add another language.
Read English language books. You could begin by getting your children and yourself translations of popular English books. Shortly after, buy the English language books. My children started with Harry Potter books in Malay. They soon went for the English language ones. Books can be expensive so find a library nearby.
Write in English. Here’s a simple one. We often write notes or reminders to ourselves and the people around us: shopping lists, telephone call reminders, outline plans and such things. Write the SMS and Whatsapp messages you send in simple English. You relatives and friends may find this a little weird at first but tell them what you are doing. They might even join you and then you will have more people to use English with. The same goes for your children.
Another thing to remember, you are not trying to replace your mother tongue with English. A second language complements your mother tongue, not replace it. You are becoming bilingual.
That’s about it. So good luck and have fun.
By ArkinAardvark, Arturo Alfandari [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons