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dwisehart

English as a second language

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I have a question about teaching English as a second language. I should mention that my wife and daughter are from Russia. My wife came to this country with a converstaional level of English and my nine year old daughter came with no English to speak of.

My daughter goes to school half days and to English class three times a week. She has learned the phonemes and we are working on increasing her vocabulary and on using complete sentences. I talk to my daugther whenever I have the chance and more and more she talks back to me. But I wonder if there is more that I can be doing.

Would more unstructured time with friends of her age be helpful? Is there a particular way that I can introduce English to her that will assist her development? Should I encourage her to read such English books as she can, even if they are not very interesting to her? Would more structured time with a particular program be helpful, especially with school over soon? Is there any good reading I can do on teaching English as a second language?

Thanks for any and all comments,

Daniel

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This is The Montessorian's reply to the question posed by Daniel Wisehart.

Dear Daniel,

The best way to learn a second language at any age is to be immersed in it.  I think your best bet for your daughter would be to enroll her in an all-day summer camp of some sort. (I'm curious, by the way, about why her school is only half day.)

People learning a second language follow generally the same stages as young children learning a first language. That is, first they recognize individual words, then common grammatical patterns, then more complex grammatical patterns. A young child will show no inhibitions about speaking imperfectly, so a 3 or 4 year old will begin to speak with gestures and single words, then with imperfect imitations of simple sentence patterns, and so on. But a 9 year old probably feels more constrained and self-conscious, so very likely her understanding of what others say is far ahead of the level of speech she is willing to produce herself.

It's certainly a help to study English grammar in a structured class, as she is doing. At home, I would suggest that she watch TV, and that you read to her in English. Start with simple picture books. Richard Scarry's Word Book is a great one for developing vocabulary. Each page is devoted to an illustration of a common scene, with many individual vocabulary items illustrated. For instance, in the kitchen are pots, pans, dishes, a stove, refrigerator, and so on. Your daughter is not a baby, but she will probably appreciate playing the sort of game where you point to each item and ask, "What's this?", or ask her to "Show me the refrigerator." (It's easier for her to point and show you first, and only later for her to answer a question which requires a verbal response.) Keep your sentences simple and repetitive, as you would in speaking to a younger child. If you have a twinkle in your eye, she won't feel you're talking down to her.

You can also read very simple picture story books for young children. The illustrations will help her understand. I would think it be more motivating for you to read to her than for her to have to read to you. Interact with her as much as possible. After reading a short passage, ask her a simple question to see if she comprehends.

There are also many wonderful books on tape which can be rented at the library; she can follow the words in the book as an actor reads it out loud.  She might benefit also from watching a favorite video (for instance, "The Sound of Music") over and over, until she knows the conversation and the lyrics of the songs by heart.

But absolutely, positively, she should be around children her own age as many hours per day as are humanly possible. She will want to make friends and communicate with them, and she will have no choice but to do so. I can't stress this enough.

I have many foreign students. Last year my class was joined by a nine-year old boy from Saudi Arabia who could speak no English at all. This year he is completely fluent, and tells very funny jokes, too. This year we have a new nine-year old girl from South Korea; she's been here all school year, and last week she got up and gave a report to the class on Dr. Seuss. I think you will see an enormous difference in just one year, and in two years you will be complaining that she is forgetting how to speak Russian.

I'm afraid I don't offhand know the names of any ESL texts, but there are many good ones available, and a simple internet search will turn them up for you. However, why not leave this to the ESL teacher at her school or to the teachers at her English class, and concentrate at home on building vocabulary and conversation?

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