Friday, July 1, 2011

Get Them Talking

Exploring English by Keith W. Wright

Besides boosting their confidence, asking your child about their day will also improve their English speaking skills.

OVER the last few weeks, we have been looking at ways to improve your child’s English at home by making learning the language fun. So far, we have looked at developing children’s reading and writing skills.

This week, the emphasis is on improving speaking skills. Remember, good talkers usually become good readers and writers. 

Developing your child’s speaking skills does not have to entail formal lessons. Just encouraging them to talk about their day does wonders for their vocabulary and sentence construction.

It is an interesting time as well as an enjoyable and educational one when at the dinner table, parents ask their children about interesting things they saw, people they met at school, what they did or simply “a good thing that happened today”.

Always encourage your children to talk to be active, attentive listeners.

To achieve this goal, parents need to set the example and listen to what their children say as well as expand and on what they have said. When asking questions, parents should offer distinct choices, such as: “Would you like a red balloon or would you like a green one?” and “What fruit should we buy at the shop – bananas, apples or mangoes?”

Remember that children are “copiers”. How you speak, what you say, the standard or quality of words you use, your idioms and colloquial speech, as well as the grammatical errors you make, all are usually copied and quickly become “theirs”.

When speaking to your child, especially when asking questions, endeavour to use “mature” words and not “baby” ones. For example, ask “What would you like for dinner?” instead of “din-din”. Later, the word “like” can be changed to “prefer” or “fancy”.

Full-sentence responses – instead of one or two-word answers – should be encouraged. For example, when you ask: “Which book do you want to read now?” Encourage “I want to read this one about lions and tigers”, instead of just “This one”.

To build your child’s vocabulary, encourage the use of different descriptive terms when speaking to describe people, objects, feelings, events and so on, such as: tall man, huge tower, high wall, pretty dress, beautiful flower, delightful song, sad face, unhappy girl, gloomy weather, exciting day, enjoyable picnic, wonderful concert.

This ability leads eventually to the child mastering the 4S Art of The Alternative whereby they think about and use “better” words to describe something, instead of using the same simple descriptive words most of the time.

For example, instead of always referring to something as “nice”, they will choose superior words, such as: a delicious meal, an enjoyable trip to the zoo, a brilliant sunset, etc.

Take the time to write down your child’s stories and ideas. Encourage your children to create and tell their own stories.

Write what they say and then read their story back to them. Encourage your children to be imaginative and to think outside the box.

Finally, a quick and effective way to assist children to speak English with confidence and competence is to sing English songs. 4S uses music as an effective English language-teaching tool.

It makes learning a lot of fun, especially when “action” songs are used.

A great, traditional favourite and one that is so easy to learn is Old McDonald’s Farm where there is virtually a near endless list of animals to be used and sounds to be made.

To reiterate the point made earlier, learning should be enjoyable.

It should be as much fun as possible, especially for the young. Singing “easy” songs achieves this goal as all young children like to sing and clap and stamp their feet and no one really cares or notices if they are out of tune or rhythm.

Here is a simple and enjoyable game for both the classroom and the home called “I Spy”.

The sound, symbol and word recognition activity known as “I Spy” is an excellent way of teaching and reinforcing a learner’s knowledge of the single sounds and symbols of the alphabet, the blended sounds and symbol combinations and initially developing word recognition, pronunciation and spelling skills.

It is easier for young learners to commence with an initial alphabetical sound rather than a symbol (letter) that begins the name of things they can “spy” (see) in the immediate environment, such pictures and things in the room, on the walls, on the desks or tables, outside, through the windows.

Learners take turns to be the “Spy” saying, for example, “I spy with my little eye something beginning with the sound ‘b..’”

The other learners then have to guess what has been spied, i.e. book, bench, basket, ball, etc.

If someone guesses the correct answer, he or she then becomes the “Spy”. If no one guesses the answer then the original Spy has another turn.

The same game can be then played with “blend sounds” such as “br..” or “fl..” or “gr..” etc for the words bricks, bread, brown, brow, flower, floor, grass, grey, and so on. 

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