Playing in English: Improving communication with your children while having fun

Published on December 29, 2007
Playing in English: Improving communication with your children while having fun
Simon Downes

You don’t need to be a native speaker to play in English with your children. More and more parents are turning to a home-based approach to learning English where the first teacher of English is the parent. While some simply aim to develop a positive attitude towards English, and openness towards other cultures, others dream of assisting their child to be a near-native bilingual.

Many times parents ask me what is the right way for children to lean English. But the answer is there is no right way, only the way that works for you and your child. I advise parents to stop trying to find the right way. Kids have many learning styles and so it is okay to try various teaching methods. Don’t worry about whether it is the correct way or not, just try to do something. There is no need to be perfect or to be too serious about the activities as a child’s moods and emotions change easily. The results of your efforts will most likely be a positive attitude towards English and an improvement your own communications with your child. If it doesn’t work out, it’s all right to stop. Just try to maintain a positive tone throughout the experience.

There have been quite a few phrase books on the subject of parents including English phrases in daily communications with children and many groups and circles exist to support these parents. Some fear that this will slowly replace Japanese with English, while in fact, only a small percentage of parents are using English for more than 10% of each day.

The well-known University of Southern California researcher Stephen Krashen wrote, “Development of literacy and development of language in general occur in only one way: when we understand messages.”

The general intention of parents who use English with their children is often misunderstood. As a result there are two main misconceptions. The first is that one needs to be native speaker of English to teach or to play in English, and the other is that Japanese language is somehow negatively affected as a result of the experience.

To many, the idea of a non-native parent teaching English or using English with their child is not only strange, but also carries some risks including developing bad grammar habits and an unnatural accent. To this effect, Japan has long supposed that the best English teacher for a child is a native English-speaker. However, with the incredible amount of English input children experience in daily life by way of music CDs, DVDs, TV and books, children develop their own sense of correct pronunciation, and grammar. Children can work it out themselves with help from parents (Source Dr. Marshall Childs, The Daily Yomiuri).

I have noticed that some 2-4 year-old children exchange words in utterances; e.g., “ほら、見て…cat”. However, because the children are being taught that there are two ways of saying something, they gradually learn to differentiate between Japanese and English. Moreover, this mixing seems to be less apparent in children who attend Japanese kindergartens and daycare centers, and therefore have more exposure to Japanese. Therefore, mixing is nothing to worry about. As long as parents are not sheltering their children from Japanese society, there is little risk that a child will suffer any negative consequences from the experience.

Children learn best when they are having fun. I often see examples of good communication between children and their parent or grandparent in my school. Even when the guardian has poor English skills, sometimes mixing English and Japanese, the child has fun playing and talking in English. The result is a fun time with improved interest in English and good communication.

    1. mic December 27, 2008
    2. mic December 27, 2008

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