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How To Help Your Child Succeed With English At School

Fluent English can give children a better future, but many struggle to develop their language skills at school. But why? In this guide, we discuss the problems with how English is taught at school and give you strategies to help your child get better grades, build confidence and gain fluency. Let’s jump in!

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5 Common problems with school English classes

In the right environment, children can learn English as a foreign language quickly and with relative ease. However, they must be given enough attention by the teacher, have opportunities to regularly use the language and develop a personal interest in English. Unfortunately, most school systems do not have the resources to provide this type of English tuition.
The following problems may be familiar to you from your own experience of learning English at school:

1. Classes are too big

The number of children in a class limits the amount of speaking time for each child. Even if the teacher tries to encourage pair work and group discussions, it is difficult for one teacher to give enough attention to each child.
Shy or less fluent children are often ignored while several confident kids receive most of the English teacher’s time. This isn’t fair, but it often happens.

2. Mixed-ability classes don’t work

Most schools have a range of student ability in their English classes. This can mean that more fluent children make slower progress or that kids with weaker English skills do not understand the lessons and become bored by them.

Some schools use “setting” to create several different English classes by ability. However, if your son or daughter is struggling with English, then they may end up in a lower set class where progress is slower. This puts them at a disadvantage when trying to move up a set.

3. Not enough speaking!

Unfortunately, speaking still comes last in most school English classrooms. This is a problem because you can’t speak a language without actually speaking it! For your child to gain spoken fluency and develop a clear accent in English, they must have regular opportunities to interact with the teacher verbally.
Confidence comes through practice, but non-native teachers often lack confidence in their own spoken English and so this skill is not developed enough in most school classrooms. Reading, writing and grammar are usually the main focus, along with some translation exercises or dictation tasks.

4. English classes are “boring”

If your child is struggling with English, then it is likely that they also find English boring. Unfortunately, state schools have a set English programme that they must follow. The content and delivery of these lessons may be outdated and may not suit all children. It is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, and again is due to a lack of school resources.
A bored student will always make slower progress. To become a fluent English speaking adult later, it is important to encourage children to develop a personal connection and interest in the language now.

5. Lack of native English teachers

Although many non-native English teachers are great educators, there are some potential problems when children have little or no interaction with native speakers.
Children may continue to make mistakes associated with their mother tongue, and that are also made by their non-native English teacher. They may also fail to develop native features like accent, correct word selection, idiomatic language etc.

How can I help my child to progress with English at school?

How can I help my child to progress with English at school?

Start early!

In many school systems, English classes do not start until the child is 12 years old. If they do start earlier, these classes are usually at a very low level.
By the time we reach the age of 12, our brain’s plasticity (flexibility to learn new things) begins to decrease. This makes it harder to learn a new language. Therefore, it is important that you take advantage of your child’s ability to learn a language early.
Learning a language from an early age means your child is more likely to be fluent as an adult. Not only that, but it will also increase their overall cognitive ability, problem-solving and communication skills.

Make English fun

An interested child becomes a life-long student of English. If school English classes as boring, you can still make English interesting and enjoyable at home. Remember that English is a living language, not a dusty textbook subject!
Here are some strategies you can use to help your child enjoy learning English:

  • Games
    These are a fantastic way to motivate your child to learn English. You can play games that involve your child moving around and using their bodies, such as Simon Says, which can help your child associate words with movement to help them better remember them. You can also play searching games in the house, which involve your child finding a certain item – e.g. something blue or something round.There are many games you can play, and all of them will have your children learning without them realising they are doing it. For a more detailed list of games, check the link to the post at the end of this section.
  • Online resources: Children start using technology earlier than their parents did these days and can learn how to use apps and websites quickly. Try using apps like Duolingo, Lingua or MindSnacks that have lots of games to reinforce your child’s learning. Check out our list of websites with games for kids.
  • Songs & music: Children love singing, and it is a great way to introduce vocabulary, pronunciation and sentence structure to them. For older children, who are starting to build their own taste in music, singing their favourite songs and learning the lyrics is another great way to motivate them.
  • Reading: Reading is an important skill too, and it does not have to be separate from speaking. Set time aside for reading in English, perhaps 20 minutes before bedtime, and make it fun by doing the voices of the characters. For more tips on some great online resources for reading in English, check out this post on kids reading websites.
  • Appealing to your child’s interests: All children are unique individuals, and the best way to motivate your child to succeed with English is to show them how it relates to their existing interests.

For example, if your child likes craft activities, do these with instructions in English instead of your native language. If your child loves football, find interesting information about top players online and read or watch Youtube videos about their lives etc.
If your child likes cartoons, watch them in English and schedule time in the week to watch them together. If your child likes video games, go into the settings and change the language to English. Whatever your child is interested in, try to find a way to connect it with English.
For more fun activities, take a look at our guide to teaching kids English at home.

Create an “English routine”

Create an “English routine”


Children cannot plan as well as adults, so it is important to help them establish an appropriate English routine. Write a list of activities to do in English with your child each week. These could be usual activities or tasks that you previously did using your native language. Decide on how many hours to dedicate to using English each week.
Example of a simple English routine:

  • Discuss one speaking topic for 5 minutes each morning during breakfast
  • Learn 10 new English words each week with a short test on Sunday evening
  • Watch English cartoons for 30 minutes each weekday after school
  • Do 1 creative activity in English for 30-60 minutes every weekend
  • Read a story together in English every night before bed (taking turns to read pages)
Taking a break

Sometimes children are just not in the mood to learn – they might be tired, or perhaps they’ve had a bad day at school. In these situations, it is better to take a break. Forcing your child to learn English may create negative associations with the language, which is something you want to avoid.
Similarly, parents are not always in the best headspace to teach their child English. If you have had a bad day at work or feel stressed due to your schedule, it is better to take a break for the day. Children can pick up on stress and negativity, and you do not want this to affect their English studies.

Using your home

An excellent way to make English part of your child’s everyday life is to label items in English so that children learn to associate the sound, word and object together. Use these items in activities you do together. For example, you could bake a cake with your child, ask them what they need to bake it (nouns) and what they need to do with these items (verbs).
See this post for more tips on how to help your child learn English vocabulary.

Practising English in school holidays

It is important to be consistent with English learning and keep practice up during the school holidays. If children have a long break, they will forget what they have learnt.

You could also look for summer camps and activities in English around your local area or overseas. These can be a great way of improving English while having fun with other kids. If you know other parents with kids learning English, perhaps arrange a play day to play games and do activities in English together.

Keep English interesting!

When planning your child’s English routine, little and often is best. 20–30 minutes a day is better than a two-hour session once a week, which will make them tired and bored.
It is also important to remember that children’s interests change quickly, so parents need to be able to change activities if they notice a child becoming less enthusiastic about a particular game, book or song. Always keep the content fresh and relevant to your child.

Setting clear goals

Setting clear goals

What should be the main goal for my child’s English?

The main (big) goal should be for your child to reach B2 (upper-intermediate) level by the time they finish secondary school. Many English-speaking universities and workplaces require this minimum entry level.
If your child reaches B2, they will have a clear advantage when it comes to academic and employment opportunities. They will also be in a good position to progress further to C1 (advanced) level as an adult.
Another main aim should be for your child to be in the top 25% of students in their school English class.

What are some good short-term goals?

Reaching B2 will take a lot of time and effort from your child so it is important to set multiple smaller goals to get there. You can think of these like stepping stones when crossing a wide river.
Examples of good short-term goals:

  • Learn 10 new items of vocabulary each week
  • Speak English for 3 hours each week
  • Read 4 graded reading books per week
  • Use English language learning apps for 2 hours per week
  • Do an English level test every 3 months and track progress

Having realistic expectations

Having realistic expectations

It is essential to set goals for children when they are learning, so that both you and they can see the progress they are making. However, it is also important to manage your expectations of what your child can learn during a given time period.
Learning a language happens in these five steps:

  1. Silent learning: Initially, a child will not say much at all as they gather input (language learned from listening and reading).
  2. Early production: The child starts to use some words and phrases.
  3. Emergence: The child starts to use basic sentences.
  4. Intermediate: The child can have a conversation.
  5. Advanced: The child begins to reach fluency.

There is no strict rule about what age a child should be able to do each step because progress depends on factors like motivation, ability, support and exposure to the language.
Parents should always be supportive and not become frustrated if the child is not at the level they want them to be immediately. A good expectation to set is that the child should use English every day, engage actively in the learning process and (hopefully) enjoy it. Progress will come naturally as a result of this.
It is also worth knowing that steps 4–5 will take much longer to achieve than steps 1–3, and that between 4–5 there may be long periods when it is difficult to clearly see your child’s progress.

The Plateau Effect

All English learners eventually reach something called a “plateau” (usually in the intermediate phase). This is when a learner reaches a certain level and stays there.
Reasons for this might be that it becomes difficult to see their progress or they become frustrated that after so much work, the goal of becoming fluent still seems far away. Another reason is that after reaching a certain level, they become too comfortable there and do not see the need to improve.
At this point, you will have to think of new ways to motivate your child and help them stay disciplined as they progress to B2 level and beyond.

It can be difficult to know whether your child is experiencing the Plateau Effect, but things to look out for are: a big difference between what language they can understand vs. use, limited vocabulary, repeated grammar errors and fluent but unnatural language production (sentences with incorrect structure).

Boost your child’s English with private classes

Boost your child’s English with private classes

Parents today lead busy lives and, despite their best intentions, it can be difficult to support children 24/7 with English. You may wish to consider getting a native English tutor for your child to provide regular classes, guidance and feedback on progress.
One-to-one English tuition offers the following advantages:

  • Increased talk time: In a one-to-one session, your child has the tutor’s full attention and much more time to practise than in school classes – more speaking means better speaking. This increase in speaking time will also help your child build confidence and make them feel more comfortable participating in class at school.
  • Motivation: Your child will build a relationship with their tutor. A one-to-one tutor can establish what your child’s motivations are and tailor the class to their interests. This personal approach is impossible in a school classroom with 25-30 other children.
  • Correcting errors: A dedicated English tutor can focus 100% on fixing the individual errors made by your child. No time is wasted on other kids in class or distractions associated with the school classroom. Accent reduction is also made easier.
  • Self-paced learning: Individual classes give your child the opportunity to improve their English faster. If the tutor notices that the child is progressing well, they can help further by introducing higher level material. There is no need to wait for other students to catch up.
  • Cultural understanding: A native English tutor will be able to expose your child to idiomatic language and cultural references that will not be in school textbooks. Your child will gain a good understanding of the modern English language and British culture.

If you are considering paid tuition, check out our guide to choosing the right English tutor for your child.

Want to improve your child’s English fast? We can help! Our British English teachers offer specialised 1-to-1 classes for kids that are educational and fun. We believe that a positive experience at an early age leads to a love of English and better fluency for life. Contact us today to book your free consultation and see how our online lessons can help your child succeed!
Click here to download this post via our mobile website!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Written by Sam Savage
— ESL Tutor

Sam Savage is a TEFL-qualified English tutor and writer from England. After gaining his TEFL qualification, he started teaching English in Spain in 2009. During this time, he also worked as an editor/translator for art organisations and publications in Madrid. He later returned home and graduated from the University of Gloucestershire with a MA in Critical and Creative Writing. In his free time, he enjoys all things cultural, especially writing fiction. Sam is also a published author.

Written by Sam Savage
— ESL Tutor