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One of the greatest gifts that parents or teachers can probably give to their children is the skills of reading and writing – a facility with language. Equipped with such skills, not only will they have the ability to learn, to recall and to share information, but will also develop in them a sense of self esteem that will carry with them throughout their school years and into their adulthood. Children with strong verbal skills and a solid foundation in writing are ready to succeed in the classroom and that success will certainly help in preparing them for the increasingly complex world in which to live.

Why English?

I believe language plays a large role in mankind, perhaps the very first step to authentic communication, breaking barriers among people, be they children, youngsters or adults. One of which, English, the international language spoken across the globe, grammar well defined and in fact, the most commonly used language among foreign speakers has become all the rage in the education field. Throughout the world, when people of different nationalities come together, English is their most commonly employed language for communication.

Whatever maybe the views of the West, few people in Hong Kong will question the usefulness of knowing a foreign language and in particular, the learning of English. The English language is a compulsory subject in all local primary and secondary schools, the medium in which many other subjects are written such as Economics and Science, and a core subject in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) under the new 3-3-4 Scheme. Hence a good mastery of English is undoubtedly essential and especially important to students of all ages.

Why Learning English at an Early Age?

Learning a new language is most desirable to begin at a young age when children are most receptive and eager to explore everything around them. To children with English as a second language, it is best to give them a grasp of spoken English early on in their childhood through proper phonic training. It not only fosters communicative effectiveness, but also enables a child to acquire a large reading vocabulary in a comparatively short time and thus can happily enjoy fluent story reading at an early age. Moreover, early identification and intervention of children with pronunciation difficulties would greatly help them with their academic performances and social development in the future. Nonetheless whatever methods we are adopting to help children learn English, the ultimate goal is to build up the self-confidence in them and in the long run, learner independence.

How can Parents Help Children Learn English?

Parents are probably the people whom children are mostly attached to in their daily lives and their influence exerted on these little beings cannot be underestimated. In view of this, it is definitely worth the effort to have parental involvement and participation in helping children learn English, be it spoken or written. The benefits are twofold. First, the children whose parents are involved have a more positive attitude about themselves and feel more relaxed learning in a secure environment. There will be improvement in behaviour, better reading habits and higher academic achievement. Second, the parents involved also show increased self-confidence in parenting, more knowledge of the development of their children and an expanded understanding of the home as an environment for child learning.

As a parent, I couldn’t agree more that being a parent is one of the most difficult and challenging professions and it’s also the one for which most of us have the least training. As a teacher, I fully recognize the difference involved parents can make in their child’s education. When you read to your child, you automatically improve his/her vocabulary and when you review homework, you show by your attention that learning is important.

Learning Good Spoken English

To help children learn good spoken English, the environment is important in motivating children to listen and read with pleasure. A quiet and stimulating room can make children feel at ease. It is only at such a relaxed mood that concentration can be held and imagination can flow easily. Make an effort to set aside some quality time a day reading to your children as well as listening to their reading. It doesn’t have to be long, more importantly is that it’s a time when you and your children are relaxed and feel like spending time with each other.

Choose reading materials that are both interesting to you and your children and which can provoke strong, positive reactions from children. A wide selection of different literature such as fables, fictions or children magazines is advisable. In fact, extensive reading is the most powerful way in literacy development and an early start in childhood is highly recommended. When children enjoy the moments spent with you, they look forward to reading with you every day and become excited about it and even thrilled with the achievement gained when they succeed in reading aloud themselves. Such ‘quality sharing’ is valuable in every learning process. If reading is meaningful and enjoyable, it is more likely to have a lasting and beneficial effect upon children’s linguistic development.

Learning Good Written English

With regard to learning good written English, the ultimate objective is to work towards establishing good writing habits. It is advisable for children to learn with gradual ‘reduced supervision’ in order to avoid spoon-feeding. Parents can kick off by brainstorming and discussion with the child on the topic for writing to help generate creative ideas and imagination and to keep him/her going. It is hugely important that children take an active role in the writing process. Parents should only assist when actually requested to for children should be given more opportunities to self-monitor and self-correct what they are writing. Sometimes fluency is more important than absolute correctness. Thus we have to bear in mind not to correct too many errors in their writings and should encourage them to attempt their own spelling pattern. This not only builds up their sense of independent learning, but also helps to sustain their interest in completing the task.

Moreover, it is not very appropriate to limit children’s time in writing as they need more time to implement their plans. This of course has to be carefully monitored, making sure that they are not working too slowly. It is also a good suggestion to invite children to write for younger ones as pleasure reading. They would certainly feel ‘big’ and hence be more confident in their writing and bold enough to attempt different kinds of genre schemes such as personal narratives, reports and even dialogues.

Offer Praise and Encouragement

Positive responses from parents are crucial in the learning process. The parent should continuously show concern for the child’s performance and at the same time, assess their progress and give them feedback. Rewards should be consistent and immediate. Approving gestures, small gifts, positive expressions or comments like ‘a tick’ or ‘well done’ should be given from time to time. These can increase children’s self-confidence and thus can motivate them to perform better. Sometimes written encouragement packs more power than verbal encouragement for it can be read over and over again.

Enjoy!

Developing good English reading and writing in children could be a pleasurable task. The key is to help them explore their strengths instead of overemphasizing their weaknesses such that they are able to explore and exercise their capabilities and potentials to the fullest. All along parents need continuously to be evaluating and seeking ways to improve their practice in helping children with it. Most of all, young children, especially those at risk of failure, can be helped to become more confident and hence more efficient and independent in learning to read and write good English both at home and in the classroom. Start today. Embark on a special adventure that provides a nurturing combination of love, learning and laughter with your beloved children!