There are many practical ways you can help your kids break the unconscious connection between English and school so as to take the language out of the classroom and into our daily routine.
It doesn’t matter if your own level of English isn’t very good … you can still help your children learn this wonderful language, speak English during the holidays and have fun at the same time!
Tips for under 5s
At this age your children will have been learning basic vocabulary, concepts and expressions. Most of them will be aware that they are speaking or being exposed to a different language, (although the under-2s may not even display this understanding) and by making a big deal of this difference you will be boosting their self-confidence by making them feel special and clever.
To keep them chatting in English during the summer, why not set aside ten minutes each day for English? Always make sure you have an English language children’s picture dictionary at hand and perhaps consider drawing up a weekly reward chart as an incentive to carry out the activity.
An easy way to spend ten minutes a day reinforcing English at home is during snack time. Ask your children to tell you the name of the food being eaten, what colour it is, what size & shape it is (big watermelon, small grapes, thin breadsticks, thick loaf of bread etc). Try repeating the same vocabulary for three or four days in a row so that by the end of the week it becomes second nature to refer to a “fresa” as a “strawberry” or a “manzana” as an “apple”, etc.
Another helpful hint is to choose words which are the same or very similar in the two languages. Make it fun, have a laugh at the English pronunciation of “banana” or “chocolate”. It doesn’t matter that you can’t pronounce the words as clearly as a Brit would; sometimes your children find it just as funny to see you struggling with a correct pronunciation of “chocolate” than to hear you say it as a native speaker would. Break down the barriers – language learning is all about taking risks and sounding foolish!
When at the supermarket ask your children to name every item they recognize in English. When at the doctors or dentists ask them about parts of the body. When out and about ask them to name the cars, motorbikes, busses and bicycles. Perhaps they will know body vocabulary songs such as “heads and shoulders, knees and toes” or transport songs like “The Wheels on the bus go round and round”. Whatever you ask them to name, make sure there is a clear goal so that your child can feel that he or she is reaching the target by sharing all their vocabulary with you.
Tips for 5-9s
This is the perfect age to start taking children to English language play centres where your children will have the chance to mix with other Spanish and native children of their age to do all sorts of activities (dance, craft, yoga, drama… click here for KIM suggestions). These centres are open all year around and have special summer programmes dedicated to keeping English fresh in your children’s’ minds.
At home you could reward them for watching their favourite films in English rather than in Spanish, or ask them to read children’s stories to you in English (perhaps choosing titles that are already familiar to them in Spanish, such as Goldilocks or The Three Bears). Another interesting option is to choose one of the many bilingual children’s books now on offer and read the story together – you focussing on the Spanish and your child focussing on the English. Ask them questions about the English translation, make them feel special because they are able to understand both texts whereas you are limited to understanding only the Spanish version.
Perhaps summer camps abroad, urban camps in Madrid or foreign exchange programs are not avenues you are willing to explore, but there are still opportunities to keep your older children thinking in English during the holidays.
Lots of fun can be had now that they are quite confident in their spoken and reading English. Why not ask them to tell you as many false friends as they know, such as “pan” meaning “bread” in Spanish and “sartén” in English. There are plenty of websites they can look at to help prompt their memories and get them smiling.
When you go shopping with your children, ask them to find as many items as they can that have their name or contents written in English. This is something that never fails to surprise as it shows just how omnipresent the English language is. Ask your children why they think these products are written in English if they are being sold in Spain. Get them to list their possessions which have an English name and find out where they were made.
Finally, prompt them to think about the musicians, sportspeople or actors that they like and whether they know & use English. With the whole world communicating
communicating fluently in English, your children are going to be delighted to be one of the crowd!
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