Five Ways that Parents Can Hurt their Children's English Learning Development

Five Ways that Parents Can Hurt their Children's English Learning Development

In my eight years as an ESL teacher, I’ve dealt with all types of parents – from the supportive to the apathetic and everyone in between. Being a parent myself and teaching both my sons English, I know first-hand the amount of time and effort needed to help them learn.

Recently I started wondering: why do some kids excel at learning English while others can barely string a sentence together despite years of tuition? Based on my experience, these are the most common mistakes that parents can make with their children’s English study.

1)They don’t provide any/enough support for learning at home
This is the most common and frustrating problem, in my experience. If students only attend one class a week and don’t do any review at home, it will be very difficult for them to make any progress. When I mention this during parent teacher meetings, I’ll hear the usual excuses of parents being too busy, or not being able to help because they don’t understand English. My counter is usually that if they can make time to send their kids to class each week then surely they can spare an hour a week (at the most) to ensure they complete their homework. Student progress relies on a team effort from both parents and teachers - we’re not magicians. 

2) They can speak English but won’t help their kids practice
This one really baffles me. Many younger parents can speak English quite well and are more than capable of helping their children practice at home. Due to their lack of confidence however, they spend a lot of money for foreigners to teach them simple phrases that they’re quite capable of teaching them at home for free.

3) Learning is too structured and/or boring.
One thing that’s really struck me is that Chinese kids and native speakers learn English in completely different ways. Chinese kids are usually pushed into formal classes from an early age and the only way they really learn is through flashcards, textbooks and pages upon pages of written homework which gets very boring, very quickly. When my first son was born, I decided to teach him English the same say I learned – through interacting with my daily environment and learning words as I went along. My wife and I also built up an English library and I read him stories, as well as encouraging him to watch English cartoons every day. While at the markets, I had him name as many different types of food as possible and we’d sometimes play a guessing game, of ‘I can see…’  whenever we were walking down the street. He wasn’t shown a single flashcard or textbook until he was four years old at kindergarten but by that time he was already switching comfortably between English, Chinese and Cantonese.

4) They strong>mistake their unrealistic expectations for a reality
So after shoving a four-year old with no English experience whatsoever into a class, some might expect them to be almost fluent in about six months and get angry when their expectations aren’t met. We usually need to explain to them that learning a language is a lifelong process and it can take a while to develop any sort of fluency. I have a four-year-old student who is in that exact same situation. When he first arrived in my class a couple of months ago, he couldn’t say a word and would just repeat my questions back at me. Now he can answer questions properly, say his name, how he’s feeling and describe some objects around him. This isn’t bad for eight weeks but it’s still not enough for his mum, who seems unhappy at his lack of progress so far. I always urge parents to show patience and gently remind them that their progress depends on the support they get at home, as well as in the classroom. Some always push for perfection, which can greatly damage their children’s confidence and English development.  

5) They start learning late
Many kids start learning at kindergarten but in my experience, it’s never too early for them to learn. In fact, I think the first three years of a child’s life are the most important for learning, as they absorb everything so quickly. My boys could say a few words and recognize common sounds such as animals, cars and trains by the time they were a year old. At around 18 months, they showed an amazing capacity to absorb and use a lot of words in a very short time and their vocabulary just exploded. I’m not suggesting that kids can’t become extremely fluent in English after starting in kindergarten or even primary school but providing an immersive learning environment from the time of birth will give them an excellent head start.

Helping them learn English really isn’t difficult. Build up that English library, show English cartoons/DVDs for at least an hour each day, give them a generous amount of your time and encourage them to use English as often as possible. Above all, make it fun and remember that to achieve mastery in English, it must be seen not as a weekly chore but a way of life.

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Keywords: Mistake Learning English


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With small kids the problem is usually the parents. The parents abuse the kids verbally for not knowing what was learned in English class, and then the student becomes ashamed and doesn't try in class. Or, the parent is not an ahole, and they say, you can do it, good job, keep trying. Then the student has more self confidence and picks it up. I hate teaching small kids, I love the kids, some of the adults seem really f'n nuts, whether it is a Chinese teacher in your school that hates you for your salary, or a nutty parent, or business owner needing to make you the scapegoat...

Jul 21, 2016 06:46 Report Abuse



"They strong>mistake their unrealistic expectations for a reality" That is some fine English writing there.

Jul 06, 2016 12:13 Report Abuse



Haha,well spotted. It was grammatically correct when printed in the 'community articles' section but for some reason was changed when it was printed here. If you look at the earlier article, you'll see what I actually wrote.

Jul 06, 2016 20:02 Report Abuse



I love reading this article (I.e. Most of the experience that mentioned in this article has a good points) no need to discriminate. However, most comments and opinion creates directions to see the outside view not only from the article. Really helpful

Jul 06, 2016 11:04 Report Abuse



NO the worst way to hurt their english is to have someone from Africa, Spain, The Philippines etc. to teach them incorrect english grammar pronunciation and spelling in the first place. It is very difficult to teach a child after one of those people screw them up early!

Jul 05, 2016 06:13 Report Abuse



Then we are too late and they are all already screwed up. If you ever witnessed a local teach an English class, you'll notice they all have been teaching incorrectly and don't even know it. That's literally 99% of the students in China. I even saw the opposite once. A half chinese and half caucasian girl with proper command of English being told by a local English teacher what is correct and what is not. (The local teacher was not correct) I really wanted to say something but it was none of my business because the parents requested this extra service for their child. But... I'm sure in a country with over a billion people, this same scenario is just as redundant as memorizing info to pass exams.

Jul 05, 2016 16:31 Report Abuse



It is too bad the children pay for the con games done by non native foreign teachers. Not only are the parents getting cheated out of their money the kids are getting cheated out of an education. I wish they would throw them all in jail. I have no sympathy for people who prey on children!

Jul 07, 2016 01:35 Report Abuse



One big problem is that parents don't create an environment where the child feels like they're not going to be judged and constantly criticised for making mistakes. They don't understand that to try and fail is better than not trying at all, and won't praise a child's effort, they're only interested in the outcome.

Jul 02, 2016 12:47 Report Abuse



Yes I agree, as a mum who can speak English well, I tried to teach my son English as soon as he can speak Chinese but due to laziness, I did not keep to it. But from today on, I will do my best to keep that good habbit.

Jul 01, 2016 16:50 Report Abuse



Nice way of excusing yourself from failing at your job. And the reason why parents whom can speak English won't practice with their children is BECAUSE THEY'RE Paying u all this fucken money already BITCH, they ain't gonna HELP U!

Jun 30, 2016 15:24 Report Abuse



To become truly fluent in a foreign language is nearly impossible unless your parents both are native speakers of that foreign language and they spoke to you in that language since you were a child. And you parents don't know the country's language your parents and you are living in. Essentially if you acted like an interpreter for your parents since you were a child, that's the only way you would become truly fluent. Doing the hokey pokey in a a classroom environment will not make you fluent in a foreign language, I don't care if you got A's in those classes.

Jun 30, 2016 19:08 Report Abuse



Wow, guest 707718, you seem like avery unhappy person - either that, or that was a pathetic attempt to sound gangsta which clearly didn't impress anyone. Are you a teacher or a parent? Do you have any idea how much time is involved in helping a child learn anything? Do you think a responsible parent would simply do nothing for the first 3-4 years of a child's life then completely blame the teacher for him/her not making progress? I wrote this article from the perspective of a parent, as well as a teacher. As a responsible parent, it's my job to mould my kids into good people and help them excel academically. When they take classes, I need to ensure they develop good habits like turning up on time, taking their books and pencils and to ensure their homework's completed. Teachers are busy enough, they can't look over my kid's shoulder to make sure the homework's being done and then call them to remind them to take it to school. That's my responsibility. Come back to me when you have some life experience and some knowledge of what you're actually talking about.

Jul 02, 2016 23:25 Report Abuse



I wouldn't say "very unhappy". I just see through your attempt at excusing yourself from your failures, or whoever the hell you were trying to save from their failures. But worry not, this country is full of ideas that have little to no logic behind them. I'm glad your a responsible parent, if you ever read local news, you would see how meaningless those words are here. My stance is NO YOU DON'T NEED 5 YEARS or more. If you ever seen a foreigner with basic mandarin skills teach English in China, you'll notice this teachers students learn much faster. hhmmm... how's that now? Could it be possible that what we thought was correct doesn't actually work in this country?

Jul 05, 2016 16:24 Report Abuse



Hello, it's nice to see you've calmed down a little. The point I'm trying to make is this: if you really want your newborn to be good at English, why wait 3-4 years until they go to school? If you can, take tbe initiative and give them a good foundation first. I've done that with my kids and I think they've really benefitted a lot. I didn't write this article to complain or criticise but to share some techniques that actually worked at home.

Jul 06, 2016 22:42 Report Abuse



OK, the foundation I agree with. That's my solution to the chinglish problem.

Jul 07, 2016 17:21 Report Abuse



I can't say I agree with that. I am a non native whose English is now fluent despite the fact that my parents cannot speak any foreign language whatsoever. I was lucky to have a good English teacher and loved watching cartoons in English :)

Mar 22, 2017 18:35 Report Abuse



Five Ways that LBH expats hurt their own Chinese language learning abilities. 1) They only hang out with other expats while in China. 2) Teachers in Chinese language training centers and schools treat expats like special little snowflakes. Meaning they give too much praise to expats who speak crappy Chinese. Chinese teachers don't want to be harsh on them because they know they can't learn proper Chinese. This makes these expats think they are fluent in Chinese. These schools just want these expats money, they could care less about them. 3) Expats are too busy livin it up in China, they don't spend countless hours learning the nuances of the Chinese language. 4) Expats are stubborn and think they know everything about the Chinese language. When a native Chinese tells their stupid asses that they are pronouncing words incorrectly or saying grammatically incorrect sentences expats don't take this seriously. 5) Expats don't watch Chinese TV shows or read Chinese newspapers because it's too much work.

Jun 30, 2016 00:22 Report Abuse



In Nanchang they pronounce 10 the same way they say 4, but it's my fault when there's a misunderstanding. And yes China has a large variety of shows about the war against (racist) and ancient China, how dare foreigners not watch?

Jun 30, 2016 13:48 Report Abuse



Your biased western mind can't differentiate si4 from shi2. It's not that they are pronouncing it with the wrong tone, it's your mind that is unable to hear the difference in these sounds! There are a few loser white foreigners in these shows, how can it be racist!

Jun 30, 2016 15:54 Report Abuse



Nurturing environment is essential to language proficiency

Jun 29, 2016 18:21 Report Abuse



Local Chinese kids trying to learn English, they often end up with a chinese-english accent that can be heavy because these children don't practice at home and some of their parents english is also heavy with accent

Jun 29, 2016 10:25 Report Abuse



They repeatedly hammer (brainwash) to their child that the waijiao is not a real teacher but only an entertainer. As a result the child doesn't pay attention in the FT's class and waste countless hours of real life practice.

Jun 29, 2016 09:18 Report Abuse



the current "way of life" doesn't include learning anything

Jun 29, 2016 03:36 Report Abuse