2024-05-07T14:33:40-04:00Jun 30, 2022|

English as a second language for children: Tips for newcomer parents

When you move to Canada with children, helping them adapt to Canadian culture and thrive in their new environment will likely be a top priority. Although Canada is home to people from all over the world, language is the thread that binds them together. As one of two national languages (French being the other), English is widely spoken throughout Canada. In most cases, it will be the primary language of communication at their school and in daily life outside your home.

Depending on your children’s ages, the language(s) you speak at home, as well as the education system in your home country, your kids’ familiarity with and fluency in English may vary. The good news is children are fast learners and mastering English as a second language will be easier while they’re still young. In this article, we share tips to help newcomer parents teach their children the English language.

In this article:

Why learning English is essential for newcomer children

As a newcomer child, the ability to communicate and express yourself in the language of the masses will be important. Even if your children speak, read, or write well in their native language, how well they adapt to Canada outside your home will depend on their grasp of English. Here are some reasons why learning English is important for your children.

Communicating with other children and making friends

Leaving old friends behind in your home country can be hard for newcomer children. The faster your children learn English, the easier it will be for them to communicate with other kids. It’ll also help them build new friendships that will enrich their experience and make them more comfortable in their surroundings. Moreover, making new friends will play a big role in helping your children adapt to Canada and learn about other cultures.

Adapting to their Canadian school

Unless your children attend a Francophone (French) school, most lessons will be taught in English. Not knowing the language well can become a barrier to their learning and lead to feelings of isolation and underconfidence. The ability to understand, speak, and write in English will help your child to participate in class, complete their work, and succeed in the classroom.

The earlier you start, the easier it is to learn a new language

Children are great at learning new things, and that includes languages. Chances are the younger your child, the quicker they will learn English. That doesn’t mean that older children won’t be able to learn; it just means it may take them a little longer. 

Strong language skills will set the foundation for future success

Knowing English will also help your children as they grow older. Getting a job, meeting new people and establishing a social life, getting into college or university—these are all things aided by learning English. Remember that your children aren’t losing any part of their culture by learning a new language, they’re simply gaining access to all that Canada has to offer. 

Tips to teach your children English as a newcomer parent 

Kids are natural learners, but there are steps you can take to help your children learn English more quickly and adapt to life in Canada sooner. Here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Work on your own English language skills

Canada is a multicultural country and, as a newcomer, it’s relatively easy to blend into the culture and also to find others who speak your native language in most cities. However, learning English will enrich your experience significantly, allowing you to make meaningful connections and appreciate Canada. If your English skills need work, set an example for your children by taking steps to improve them. Find language activities that you can do together and make learning fun. The stronger your grasp on the language, the easier it will be for you to help your children learn.

2. Tailor your lessons to the child’s level of English

It’s important that you adapt your lessons to the age of your child and their comfort with English. If your child is at a young age where they’ve only just started speaking in full, coherent sentences, you want to start with the basics. Learning the alphabet, names of objects, and simple phrases they’ll need every day can be a good place to start. 

Children’s songs are catchy and entertaining and a great way for young ones to learn English. Then, as their understanding grows, you can help them learn more complex words and phrases. Older children may already have learned basic English in their previous school, in which case your focus should be on grammar, fluency, and expanding their vocabulary.

3. Start with things your child likes 

Learning a new language is a challenge at any age. For kids, you want to make the experience as relatable as possible. You know the activities your child enjoys, so try incorporating language lessons into those. For example, if your child likes sports, teach them the English names of all the equipment. Watch sports with your child on TV and make sure they listen to the announcers describe what’s happening in English. Starting with activities they like will help make learning English much more enjoyable.

4. Try activity-based learning

Activity-based learning can make learning more interactive. Singing English songs (or poems for younger children) can help with pronunciation, and repeating the same songs builds familiarity with the language. Watching TV or YouTube videos in English, playing interactive vocabulary games, and watching English cartoons are other ways to actively learn the language. Language learning apps like Duolingo and Mauril can also make learning sessions more interactive and fun. Mauril is a free app to help you improve your English and French oral comprehension skills, using a wide range of stimulating and entertaining content from CBC/Radio-Canada.Hearing how words and phrases are used will be helpful for your child, especially if they find the activity enjoyable. You can also consider getting audiobooks from your local public library so they can listen to stories in English without added screen time.

5. Visual imagery helps younger children learn faster 

Research shows children tend to learn better with the help of visual aids. This is because their understanding of a subject exceeds their ability to communicate. Try pointing out different foods in your kitchen or items in their bedroom and ask them to repeat the English word. If you take your child grocery shopping, use your shopping list as an opportunity to teach them their favourite foods’ names. Visualizing things in context not only helps children learn new words quickly, it also improves retention.

6. Encourage your child to converse in English outside your home

Nothing will help improve your child’s English as much as conversations. Although you may feel more comfortable speaking in your native language at home, encourage your children to step out of their comfort zone when you’re together outside. Switch to English while walking your children to school, when you’re out exploring your neighbourhood, or shopping for groceries.

You may also want to schedule play dates for your children with kids who are fluent in English or have a different native language than yours. This way, their playtime together will also double as English-practicing time and they may even pick up some new words.

7. Set a routine

Repetition and routine are key to learning any new skill, including English. You may want to set aside some time each day specifically dedicated to teaching your children the language. Depending on your child’s age and comfort with English, you can start with 30-minute or one-hour lessons. These could include activity-based learning like watching videos, reading a story, time spent having conversations in English, or, for older children, practicing with English exercise books. 

Routine doesn’t mean you should do the same thing every single time, but the consistency of doing something every day can help reinforce the basics of the language. It will also make your child feel that English is part of their daily life.

8. Create a safe learning environment 

Children learn best in a warm, low-pressure environment. Make sure you’re not too hard on your child or overly critical of their progress. Instead, correct them gently and allow them to feel comfortable enough to make mistakes. Punishing your child or mocking them when they mistake or forget a lesson will only make them withdraw and dislike the language. Being supportive and encouraging will result in better outcomes and will show your children that you care. 

Bear in mind that sometimes children learn faster than their parents, and before you know it, they may be correcting you. This will give them pride in their progress and also help you adjust your pronunciation.

9. Allow them to learn from other children 

You don’t need to be your children’s only teacher. In fact, it’s helpful for both you and your kids if you let them learn English from other children. Even when your child is still learning the language, don’t be afraid to send them to the playground or sign them up for after-school activities. Interacting with other kids their age will only benefit your child and help them learn conversational English more quickly. It’ll also add to the time they routinely spend practicing English at home.

10. Be patient and supportive 

Teaching requires patience and compassion. Remember, your child is in a new country, trying to make friends, while also learning a new language. Navigating through so many changes would be difficult for any adult, so imagine what it feels like for your child. Children have shorter attention spans and every child learns at a different pace. If you find your children getting bored with their lessons or losing focus quickly, try switching to an alternative learning activity. You must be patient and supportive as your child learns English at a pace that works for them. 

ESL resources for newcomer children in Canada

As a newcomer parent, you may not always be equipped to teach your children English or be their sole means of learning a new language. You may be unable to teach your child English at home because of lack of time, because you don’t speak the language well enough yourself, or simply because they don’t learn well in an informal environment. Alternatively, you may want to supplement what they learn from you with more formal training. Luckily, there are plenty of English as a Second Language (ESL) resources available in Canada to help your child master English. 

Most schools in Canada offer ESL programs specifically designed to help newcomer children adapt to their new classroom and lessons. Outside of school, you can find free ESL courses funded by the province, summer programs, and other English language resources. Here are some resources to help your children better learn the language:

  • Register with settlement agencies to explore free ESL courses offered by your province.
  • Enroll at the newcomer welcome centre at your local school board. 
  • Sign your children up for ESL classes during and after school. 
  • Visit your public library for books, classes, and other resources that will help your children learn English.

As your children adapt to their new life in Canada, learning or improving their English language skills will be a top priority. Although each child has his/her own learning style, these tips will help newcomer parents introduce their children to English or make it part of their life at an early stage. In most schools, English is the primary mode of course delivery, so fluency in the language will help children perform academically, forge lasting friendships in the classroom, and prepare for success in Canada.