Once your preschool child has grasped the skills needed to read and write, how can you ensure he keeps on learning and growing in his confidence to most effectively use English? Fiona Walker, Chief Executive Officer and Principal of Schools, Julia Gabriel Education and Lynette Chua, Head of School Support Services, Julia Gabriel Centre offer some tips.

girl learning english

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein

We want our children to excel, not only in school but also in life. To be able to do whatever they set their heart on, to have the skills and confidence they need to succeed. One of the most important skills you could ever ensure your child has is the ability to use language well. What good is high intelligence and sparkling creativity if you cannot share your thoughts and ideas?

We believe mastering a language is a skill that will benefit you in every area of your life.

1. Language is caught, not taught

Talking to your child about the birds and the bees

Children need to have a reason to use language. Ask your child questions and wait for them to answer, this could be to describe how their day went, what they learnt, in school, how they are feeling, what they watched on YouTube and why they enjoyed it.

Ask lots of questions and provide your child with many different experiences. Language is most commonly used to label experiences; How does that taste? What did you see? The more a person can experience, the wider their vocabulary will be.

Now, we don’t all have the time and money to travel the world experiencing new things but don’t worry, you don’t have to – you can read! Through books and the beautiful, evocative language many of them contain we can be transported to worlds far away.

2. Meaningful and Relevant

English is the language most commonly used in Singapore and therefore the opportunity for exposure is there. Widening your child’s vocabulary or improving their grammar should happen painlessly through exposure to good language models. Giving them opportunities to read, write and speak in a variety of different situations will enable them to become more confident with the language, to be humorous, make puns and jokes.

3. Positive Reinforcement

teaching baby english language

Just as when your toddler began speaking, positive reinforcement and encouragement are still needed. Even children as old as teens can still get tenses and plurals wrong on occasion. Repeat back to them correctly or gently remind them but always encourage them to continue speaking or writing.

If your child is keeping a journal or writing poetry, don’t focus on grammar or spelling. Celebrate any efforts they make to express themselves as it is through practice and experience that they will learn how to use the language to their very best advantage.

4. Understand the Requirements of Primary School Curriculum

Signs that indicate your child is enjoying school

The best way to support your child’s academic progress is by fully understanding what is required of them by the school. These requirements should provide the foundation for your child. These are the skills they need to obtain in order to move forward and how well they do will determine their success in school. Often, parents talk amongst themselves or remember a time before the latest MOE curriculum changes and therefore are not clear on what exactly is required. This can lead to unnecessary stress for everyone involved.

5. Language Model

learning new english words

As we have said, we learn the language we are surrounded by. So the question is: “What language surrounds your child?”

Take a good, hard look at the English language that is used in the home, this is how your child will use language. If your child spends much time with grandparents or a helper, who are using English as a second language then that will affect her use of the language. Do you usually communicate in Singlish at home? Again this is how your child will use language. There is a place for Singlish, it a culturally relevant form of language in Singapore, however, if that is your child’s only exposure to English it is limiting.

Singapore, being a multi-cultural city with many people often mixing two or more languages into phrases we need to be mindful of the standard of English our children are exposed to. Again, books are the best way to bring rich and vibrant language into the house if you want to expose your child to a level of language they may not have exposure to on a daily basis.

Remove all the limits you can for your child by ensuring they can express themselves clearly, creatively and confidently in English. This is a skill that goes well beyond the school years and so worthwhile investing in.

how to improve your childs englishFiona (right) has worked at Julia Gabriel Education since 1991 and believes every childhood should be filled with positive experiences and wonder. She works with teams in our centres in Singapore and overseas to ensure our programmes deliver the Julia Gabriel promise.

Lynette (left) was trained and qualified through Nanyang Technological University, the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art and Trinity College London. A mother to three daughters, and a lover of reading, she has been with Julia Gabriel Centre since 2002. Lynette works closely with MOE schools in Singapore, designing programmes to suit their language and communication skills requirements.

This was first published in Parenting with Love: Preparing your child for Primary School

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