Is your child disinterested in English and lacking motivation to learn the language? Let’s change that! In this guide, we will give you strategies and activities to help your child develop a real love of English. A motivated young learner often becomes a fluent English speaker as an adult so it is important to start early. Let’s get started…
Discussing external motivators is more appropriate for older children and teenagers. As your children grow up, you can have a conversation about the practical advantages of learning English in life.
Share your experience
You can tell them about your own experience of learning English. If you are a good English speaker, you can tell them about the experiences and opportunities this has given you: making friends in different countries, travel, a higher-paid job or more interesting job…
If you struggle with English, communicate what you feel you have missed out on or situations (e.g. asking for the wrong thing in a shop) that happened as a result of your difficulties with English.
Remember that when communicating these motivations, it is important to explain them neutrally and not to pressure your child or suggest they are failing at English.
Access to information
A motivator for older children is to tell them that most of the internet is in English, and that by learning the language they will have access to so much more information and knowledge about their interests and hobbies.
Tell your children that by learning English, they will be able to understand the lyrics to their favourite songs and dialogues in their favourite TV shows and films. Impressing their friends with this language can be a motivating factor.
If they are a gamer, tell them they will be able to follow the most popular Twitch streamers and play online with people from all over the world.
It is important to positively reinforce your child’s learning. Parents should smile and say things like: I love the way you pronounced that word or You did a great job with your vocabulary today. This thanks the child for their effort.
Praise is essential as it builds confidence and acts as a type of reward (see below) for completing an activity. However, try not to do it too much or it will lose effect.
Due to problems children have with planning and setting goals independently, the best motivators for them can be rewards.
It is a good idea to create a “rewards system”. Start by making a reward chart with objectives and put stickers on the board when each objective is completed. Once the child has 10 stickers on the board, you can give them a reward.
Internal motivation is the desire to do something for personal satisfaction, not an external reward. If someone is naturally motivated, they have fun doing an activity or enjoy the challenge.
Benefits of internal motivation
Although external motivators can teach a child that effort results in reward, its effects are short-term and do not lead to real commitment and independent learning.
Children will not receive rewards for learning English later in life. Therefore, it is important to develop a genuine interest in the language early and to increase internal motivation to study it.
Developing your child’s internal motivation
Young children are not internally motivated by concrete goals or objectives, but they do have a natural motivation to build social relationships and to learn about the world around them.
As parents, it is our job to build habits that stimulate a child’s personal desire to study and commit to long-term goals.
Below are some suggested strategies to help you do this:
Building relationships and socialising is something children are naturally motivated to do. Take advantage of this by organising play dates and activities with other children who are learning English. Your child will see their friends learning English and this will motivate them to learn it.
If you have English-speaking relatives or friends overseas, try to arrange video calls with them so your child can practise speaking English online. During school holidays, find summer or residential camps where your son or daughter can spend social time in an English learning environment.
Fun and enjoyment are powerful motivators, so it is essential that you include them in your child’s English studies. We want to teach English as a living language, not just as another subject in school.
Children will have plenty of time in school to learn grammar, reading and writing. Your job is to make learning English an enjoyable experience that your child wants to do regularly. Fortunately, there are many ways to make English fun:
Games: These are motivating in themselves because children want to play. There are many different types of games:
Songs: Songs are another fantastic way to motivate your kids to learn English while having fun. Make songs, such as Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes (to learn body parts), a physical activity to link words to actions.
Use taste, touch and smell: Children enjoy activities that test their senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell). Cover their eyes with a blindfold and get them to try different foods, asking them to describe the flavour and guess what the food is. Do not be afraid to make a mess! Also try putting an object in a bag and asking them to identify it and say how it feels.
Go outside: One advantage of teaching your child English is that you do not have to stay in a classroom all day. Go for a walk, take a vocabulary list of plants and animals with you, and give your child points for each one they identify. Travelling overseas can also be a great way to practise English.
Role-plays: Children have active imaginations so role-plays can be a great way to motivate them to speak English. For example, role-plays could include: doctor & patient, shopper & shop assistant, flight attendant & passenger etc. You can also find free dialogues in English online for a range of different situations.
As children begin to form personal interests, you can help connect these hobbies with English. The aim is to combine English with activities they already like, and so use their existing motivation.
For example, if your child likes football, read books and magazines in English about “footy”. If they like watching cartoons, set time aside to watch some together in English each evening. If they like video games, go into the settings and change the language to English. The possibilities are endless.
It is important to make sure that you keep yourself up to date with your child’s interests so that you can change activities and identify new motivations regularly.
Age and Ability: When choosing resources to motivate your child, it is important to make sure they are appropriate for them in terms of age, level and content.
Personality: We have already discussed matching activities with your kid’s interests. Something else to consider is the personality of your child. For instance, quieter kids often prefer word games or craft activities to physical group games, which appeal more to extroverted children.
Books: When it comes to textbooks for younger children, you want something with small chunks of text and lots of pictures – too much language will put them off. The Let’s Go series and Oxford Picture Dictionary are useful resources.
For older children, it is important that textbooks are up-to-date and cover topics that relate to their generation, not children from the 90s! The BBC Speakout series is quite a modern textbook.
Some children are happy to spend hours doing a craft activity in English, but others may need a variety of shorter activities in order to stay focused.
It is important to work at your child’s natural learning speed so they have time to understand and use the language in the activity correctly. Pushing them to study too much too quickly often results in slower progress if the child cannot learn at that speed.
Giving your child the option to choose what they learn also helps motivate them. Children feel more in control when they are given choices and this makes them less likely to resist learning English. We want to encourage the child to take personal responsibility, even if choices are limited to several options given by the parent.
One-to-one lessons with a private tutor are a great way to motivate your child to speak English more. Native speakers can bring the language to life and share interesting facts about the UK or America.
Everyone remembers their favourite teacher from school and having a great English tutor can help children develop a love of the language early.
In addition, the English tutor can build a personal relationship with your child. This helps break down the language barrier and build confidence in a friendly atmosphere. Learning with a native speaker will also help your child understand real English as it is spoken in the UK and USA today.
It is important to make sure that a tutor’s teaching style matches your child’s needs and level. For more information on this, check out this guide to choosing the right tutor for your child.
Do not interrupt them when they speak or let others interrupt them. If your child makes mistakes, write them down on paper and review them at the end of the session.
Do not pressure kids to give long answers. Instead, gently encourage them and praise any attempt to speak. Start with vocabulary they are confident, but continue to add new words each week. Always recap and build on what they already know.
Check for understanding in their native language if they are silent or appear unsure.
Do not worry if your English is not great. You can still help your child learn English, especially when getting started at lower levels.
For pronunciation, use apps and practise learning new words together. Make English a fun activity you do together and the child will be motivated by one-to-one time with you.
Do not worry about making mistakes. Children will learn correct English usage from their teacher and native English resources.
Change things up! Check to see if your child’s interests have changed and adapt activities to fit these new interests. Make sure they are learning new things – kids get bored of too much repetition. Ensure that the level of the material is right for your child – not too low or too high.
School English programmes are often limited and lessons can be boring. If your child has poor English, they may not make good progress in large group English classes at school. In this case, it is important to help them improve their fluency at home and online. Check out this guide to improve your child’s English at school.
This depends on your child and family circumstances. Some parents feel comfortable giving children extra pocket money to teach them that effort in life equates to material gain. Other parents may think this is the wrong message to give to children and so may reward the child with extra time on a favourite activity instead. Clearly establish expectations and rewards with your child before getting started.