Thursday, June 9, 2011

English at home - Exploring English

by Keith W. Wright

To help your children improve their English, use the language constantly and share the joy of reading.  
While many of the e-mails I receive in response to Exploring English come from teachers, tutors and students, in recent times I have received quite a number of e-mails from parents who are keen to help their children improve their English.

My daughter Alison, who has a PhD in Early Childhood Education (ECE) and is a senior university lecturer in Australia, once told me that the most important people in the world are mothers and pre-school teachers as they have the most significant and profound influence on a child’s education potential. 

While she is biased being both a mother and an ECE teacher, there is obvious merit in her contention. As an educator, I appreciate the importance of parents having knowledge that will equip them to better assist their children in their education journey. 
I am also aware that many teachers and tutors, as well as some older students, are parents themselves, and that some of the techniques that apply to education in the home are also applicable to the classroom. I hope the columns that will be run over the next few weeks will be of interest to most readers. 

Reading together 
Reading is often one of the six macro English skills that parents seem to focus on, and for that reason, this column shall begin with that skill. 
It is important that parents regularly read and tell stories to their young children. Share the joy of reading with them while using expression to emphasise the characters, their roles and feelings. Stories come alive this way and children can learn that the potential of books is limited only by their imagination.

 There is value in the everyday interaction and enjoyment that accompanies reading together. Parents should use the “lap-reading” approach to make early reading very personal and pleasurable. 
Moreover, adopting the practice of letting your children choose the book they want you to read to them – even if it is the same one night after night – has its benefits. 

Some other worthwhile suggestions: 
● Borrow or buy books about topics and characters your children are interested in;
● Echo-read a story, that is, as your child reads, you say the words a fraction of time after them;
● Read and re-read your children’s favourite stories as many times as they choose.
● Encourage your children to retell a story you have read to them;
● Encourage your child to use the pictures in a book to predict the focus of the story;
● Encourage your child to hypothesise or imagine what the text might say, i.e. what the story in a new book is about from the cover, the title and other illustrations and pictures;
● Encourage your child to look through and read supermarket and retailer brochures, menus, fliers, leaflets and advertising material, as well as colourful, picture magazines. As they read, talk to them and ask about the products they find, e.g. naming the fruit, household goods, different food items and products that are pictured. Also, have them find logos and symbols;
● Use pictures in brochures, fliers and general advertising material to develop the one-on-one correspondence link between the known name of something, e.g. a “chair” and what it is, how it is pronounced, and the word used for its name;
● Apply simple literacy learning techniques such as pointing with your finger to show how one reads from left to right and top to bottom in English; and
● Have your child create a favourite picture-word scrap book from the pictures and words in the advertising material mentioned above. 
Here are some ideas to immerse your child in learning English around the home:
● Use ownership word labels or cards (based on core combinations and syllables) around the home, especially in the child’s own area, such as bed, floor, window, toys, etc;
● Use “story strips” on cards, which could contain simple sentences such as: This is Amin’s bed. I sit in this chair. My cat is called Boxie;  
● Make use of magnetic labels and other “stick-ons” on the refrigerator, metal cabinets and so on; and
● Have a “home message board” where messages, family tasks, shopping lists as well as items of interest to your children can be displayed by them and other members of the family. 
When buying books for your child, some general advice should be adhered to in order to develop your child’s interest in reading. 
Buy books that use rhyme, repetition and related pictures. Select colourful picture books with familiar and known themes such as home, family, holidays, etc. Choose some classic favourites, e.g. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Little Mermaid and The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen, The Tale Of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, etc. 
If affordable, buy some audio books or “read-along” books to give your child the opportunity to “listen and look” when reading.

And lastly, beware of books that teach incorrectly.

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