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Kids World

Topics of interest to teachers of English as a second or foreign language to young learners.

July 15, 2002

Can My Child Really Speak English?

by Greg Cossu

KidsAs English teachers, one of our primary goals is to help our students learn to communicate in English. A balanced syllabus would include the four skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking. Of these, speaking is the main focus for English conversation schools. As teachers, we hope that over time our students will appreciate the value of being able to speak English and come to see that it is more than just a once a week activity.

As teachers of children, we are also closely involved with the parents of our students. In most cases, children study English because their parents suggest they do. We see our students at least once a week and can hear them speaking English. But what about the parents? The focus of this article is to look at children's education from the parent's perspective and suggest ways to allow parents to actually hear their child speak English.

I believe that parents are truly concerned about their child's English education. The following comments made by my student's mothers motivated me to think of ways to assure parents that their child could speak English:

Can my child really speak English?
My child never speaks English at home!
Parent: What did you do today in class? Child: Played games.
Parent: What did you learn today in class: Child: Games.

I was frustrated by these comments. In our students regular school, parents can see their child's progress through their report cards. Many students go to music class (piano, violin etc.) and play sports. Parents can hear their child practice their music or go to their child's sporting events to see how they are progressing. How do we measure conversation? I mail report cards to my students' parents twice a year. The report card includes an assessment of each student's speaking and listening progress. I also give homework. Each student has an activity book which includes listening, reading and writing activities. I have been doing this for over 10 years but parents still make comments that tell me they want more confirmation of their child's speaking ability. This forced me to think of creative ways to have students speak English with their parents. Like bringing the classroom into the home.

In SuperKids, the student's books contains board games. After the students play the game in class, their homework is to play it with their parents. The parents then sign their name on the page and the students are rewarded with reward slips or stickers. If students collect a specified number of reward slips, they can choose a prize from a collection of inexpensive items like pencils, notebooks and various toys. This reward system has proven very effective for student motivation.

The teacher's manual contains photocopiable pairwork activities which are done in class. Additional copies are made and then students do them at home with their parents. Any speaking activity that teachers do in class, can usually be assigned as homework for the students to do with their parents. In SuperKids 2, students make mini-books for reading development. After reading them in class, they are then assigned to be read to their parents.

All activities must be signed by the parents in order to get rewarded. This type of homework is assigned on average about once a month. I have been doing this now for the past two years with great success. As a teacher, I feel satisfied knowing that parents are actually hearing their child speaking English.

There are great benefits to having students do speaking activities at home. Parents become more involved with their child's English education. Students gain confidence as they must explain how to do the activity which involves ‘teaching' the target language to their parents. Students also get to practice their English one additional time outside of class.

In children's education, most parents are closely involved with their child's progress. As English teachers we face the challenge of showing parents that their child can indeed speak English. Many speaking activities that we do in class can also be done at home with students parents. A motivating reward system serves as a strong motivation resulting in a high success rate. Bringing English conversation into the home allows parents to see that their child CAN speak English and that there is more to their child's English class than just fun and games.

Greg Cossu

Greg Cossu has been teaching in Japan for over twenty years, the last fifteen years of which have been teaching children. He currently teaches at his own school in Takarazuka where he teaches both children, JHS, SHS, and adults. He is the co-author of the popular series for elementary school students, SuperKids, published by Longman ELT.

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