Is that an English song your kid is singing?
It’s great to hear them using the language, isn’t it?
If you want your child to learn English, the sooner they start, the better.
But you may not feel sure they are ready, especially if you have had difficulty learning English yourself.
What if they get frustrated or confused?
What if English is too hard for them?
You want them to learn the language, but is now really a good time?
As a matter of fact, yes.
Not only are kids rock stars when it comes to learning any language, but with the right program, learning English can be a fun and relaxing experience for them.
Learning English: Why Earlier Is Better
You may be remembering your own language struggles and wondering if it will be the same for your child. You will be happy to know that language learning is a different experience for children than it is for adults.
Some programs claim to teach you English the same way that you learned your native language, but this is not as simple as it may sound. When children learn their native language, they listen for almost two years before they begin to speak. Once they do speak, it is another few years before they can clearly communicate. They start off with single words and sentence fragments (parts) before they can express complex ideas.
If it takes a child this long to master their native language, wouldn’t they become confused and overwhelmed trying to learn another language, too? Actually, no. Here are a few reasons why young children can master English easily.
Eagerness to Learn
When children are young, their brains are like sponges. They are always absorbing information. This information comes out later, sometimes at unexpected times. Think of how much children must hear in the first two years of their lives. Once they are old enough, they can apply meaning to the words they hear.
Here is an example: From the day your baby is born, you say “milk” when it comes time to feed them. You prepare them to be fed and say “milk,” feed them and say “milk.” Once they finish, you say something like “Did you enjoy your milk?”
They hear this for several months. One day, to your surprise, your child points to a milk carton and says, “Milk.” They have learned the word and the correct application. From this point forward, they can ask for milk and communicate when they are hungry using words. If children live in a home where more than one language is spoken, they will absorb all of the words that apply to milk.
Children use the deep motor area of the brain, which helps them absorb a second (or even third) language subconsciously (without being aware of it). These functions typically slow by age 11. This is the reason why children who move to a foreign country with a new language can usually master the language at a faster rate than their parents.
When adults are learning English, or any other language, they are often afraid of making mistakes. They are also afraid of looking unintelligent to others when making mistakes, such as mispronouncing words or using incorrect grammar. The number one rule for an English learner is to have a sense of humor, because it is not a question of if you will make mistakes, but when. All language learners make mistakes. It is part of the process.
However, children are always learning new things, so they are not concerned about how they will look when they make mistakes. They make mistakes all the time! They don’t take themselves as seriously as adults.
Less to Learn
Children use simpler language structures than adults. When they are learning a new language, they use materials similar to what they study in their native language. While using children’s materials may seem like a step backward for adults, children will be right at home using materials that are familiar to them.
Methods That Help Kids to Learn a Language
To figure out what type of learning program is best for your child, let’s first consider the different methods that are best for teaching children a language.
Language immersion gives your child a chance to hear English first-hand in a natural environment. They will hear others use English and they will pick it up by exposure (from being surrounded by it). Immersion is a great way for anyone to learn a language, because you are learning while completing everyday tasks. You also hear English the way it is spoken, rather than the way it may be written in textbooks, which can be awkward or unnatural.
Many children already use vocabulary-based resources to pick up their native language. These programs provide the learner with pictures and the words that describe them. The methods they use are also immersive because many of these programs will include no dialogue in the child’s native language, forcing them to think in English.
Communicative approaches are popular in language schools. Whether your child is learning face-to-face or online via Skype or a similar program, they will have a chance to build their abilities by actively communicating in English. Usually, they will work with a native English speaker who will correct them on the spot (right away), allowing them to learn quickly and build the confidence they need to use English in everyday life.
Types of Resources to Consider for Teaching Your Child English
Now, before we look at some specific English learning programs, let’s take a look at a few types of options you may want to consider.
Tutoring or Classroom Learning
You can find English classes in traditional language schools, online or even in your child’s school. If you have recently moved to a country where English is the primary language, many schools provide special programs in English as a second language. Even if your child is already enrolled in an English as a second language program, you can still seek additional education through tutoring programs, language schools and English camps.
Many programs are online to help not only children but those of all ages to learn English. Type “online English programs” in your search engine and millions of results will come up. It can be overwhelming. To get started, look for programs that specialize in teaching children. Not all online programs do. Then look for programs with a strong reputation and good teachers. There may even be programs that can teach your kids English with their native language. One example is VIPKID for Chinese speakers.
Mobile applications (or apps) are the most versatile because you can take them anywhere. Many of these programs are free and allow your children to learn at their own pace and often by playing games. They will have fun while learning English at the same time.
7 Fun Programs That Help Kids Learn English Like Rock Stars
Here are 7 of the best programs to teach children English that are available right now. Some of them offer convenient online learning, while others have the option of learning face-to-face. No matter what your situation is, you will be able to find something for your child.
What is it? Muzzy BBC is a language learning course for kids that can be used online or with a set of DVDs.
Cost of online program: $9.95 a month. Less if you commit to a longer time period.
Cost of DVDs: Risk-free trial for $9.95, then 5 payments of $39.50 per month, or one-time payment of $168.
Description: Muzzy BBC is an episodic program (with a story told in parts, like a TV show) that will help your child learn English the same way they are learning their native language. Muzzy uses what they call a “natural immersion process” to teach your child how to tell time, ask questions, talk about food, home, transportation and much more—all in English.
Why it’s good for kids: Muzzy is specially created for kids. The people who created the program understand that children have a natural ability to pick up languages. They expand on this by including different learning methods that will help children with many different learning styles. Parents who are learning English will benefit, too. The songs from the program will get stuck in your head and help you learn English!
What is it? Duolingo is an online and mobile application that you can use to learn English and other languages.
Description: If you are learning English, you may have used Duolingo yourself already. With Duolingo, your kid can learn English in a game format. Duolingo includes mini games and opportunities to practice some (basic) speaking in English.
Why it’s good for kids: Kids will enjoy how learning on Duolingo is like playing a game. Different categories like animals, greetings and food are separated. This allows them to practice only phrases and words in those categories at first. Once they have mastered the easier categories, they can move into harder grammar categories that look at things like different tenses. They can practice for as long as they need to until they master their category.
What is it? FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons. FluentU is an online and mobile application.
Cost: $30/month or $240/year.
Unlike traditional language learning sites, FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the English language and culture over time. You’ll learn English as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a variety of engaging content from popular talk shows, nature documentaries and funny commercials, as you can see here:
FluentU makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you'll see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning and recommends examples and videos to you based on the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
You can start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, by downloading the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
Why it’s good for kids: The videos are taken from real English sources such as movies, television shows and music videos. Many of these videos are children’s videos. They are subtitled in English so your child can learn the written language as well. As mentioned earlier, children pick up on songs which are often featured in children’s videos. So they really can be rock stars! (Or at least they can pretend.)
They will enjoy watching these videos and learning English at the same time, and FluentU is great for adults, too.
What is it? These are online and mobile applications available from the British Council.
Description: British Council provides many English learning programs. Their kids’ programs provide activities and games to help children master different grammar concepts.
Why it’s good for kids: Your child will enjoy the worksheets and stories that help them practice parts of the English language like spelling, pronunciation and grammar. There are songs and stories to help improve their listening skills as well. Activities are divided into those best for early learners and primary learners.
What is it? Memrise is a mobile and online flashcard application.
Cost: Free with a premium option for as little as $9 a month.
Description: Memrise uses a flashcard format that can help anyone learn English. The program is put together by Memrise users. The “courses” are created by other Memrise users. What makes Memrise unique is that each word or concept in the course has pictures and sayings to help you remember the word you are trying to learn. You can even create your own reminders to share with the entire Memrise community.
Why it’s good for kids: Like with Duolingo, kids will enjoy the game-like format of Memrise. They will have fun looking at the reminders created by other members and making up their own. There are thousands of Memrise courses to choose from. If your child does not like one, you can switch to another one.
What is it? The New York English Workshop offers face-to-face language instruction (Skype lessons are also available).
Cost: Starts at $75. 45 or 60-minute lessons available.
Description: The New York English Workshop is mainly for New York residents or visitors with a tourist visa. The children’s programs are designed with the internationally-recognized Thibaut method, created by Director François Thibaut. Thibaut also created the Language Workshop for Children, where they have over 40 years of experience teaching languages to children including English, French, Chinese and others.
Why it’s good for kids: With this program, there are no books or vocabulary drills. The methods at the New York English Workshop focus on real conversations. Children will learn English naturally by focusing on emotions and actions. The New York English Workshop has several levels of language learning, so your child will advance whether they are new to English learning or an advanced learner. Children not only learn English skills in this program, but they also learn about American culture.
What is it? The ELS Language Centers is another organization offering face-to-face language instruction.
Cost: Varies by program
Description: The ELS Language Centers provide a variety of English programs for children and adults. Since so many programs are available, it is easy to make sure your child learns the right English skills to suit their needs.
Why it’s good for kids: Kids can choose from many different programs that combine English learning with their interests. Older children can overcome insecurities by making friends who are learning English just like they are. The programs give children a summer camp experience, so they won’t even feel like they are learning.
They can spend time on the beach in Florida, receive sports training in San Domenico, California, or prepare for college in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. These are just a few of the options that will enhance their English learning experience.
No matter what your child’s age or English level is, you can find an English program that will not only help them master English, but have fun!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.