Language learning at all times

Manaswini Sridhar

My child attends an English medium school. We chose this medium of education because we want our child to speak good English. We understand how important English is. But my daughter makes so many mistakes! What’s more, she doesn’t enjoy speaking the language! I have tried shifting her to different schools, but it just doesn’t seem to be working! Help!

Children spend most of their time in school, so most parents assume that learning takes place either in school or at the tuition centre. What parents don’t understand is that the learning that takes place in school must be supported at home for it to be a sustained experience.

Alas, most parents (and educational institutions!) also believe that language cannot be learned sans paper-pencil, and therefore it has to be learned only in the study room! However, language learning can take place even when you are performing mundane tasks such as cooking! If you are cutting vegetables, ask the child to identify the vegetables and to also spell them. Let your child handle the vegetables as she speaks because there is nothing more powerful than physical contact with objects, especially for children. Move now to the colour of the vegetables. If you are cutting an orange carrot, ask your child what other vegetables are orange or red. Elicit answers on whether the carrot is a root vegetable or a stem vegetable. Ask your child to give you more examples of these vegetables. Go on to the parts of the plant and how the plant produces flowers, then fruits and vegetables. Do all this in English, occasionally substituting words in the vernacular if the child does not understand, or else resort to illustrations. This activity will probably take you only ten effortless minutes. It will be a question and answer session, just like any other natural conversation.

On other days, when the child is not disposed to having a conversation, play a pictionary game of sorts. Ask your child to draw a book on a bed, a cat sitting near a mat, a flowerpot behind the house, a man sitting between the sofa and the TV. The child is learning to use prepositions in concrete situations. Isn’t this a wonderful way of learning grammar?

Language can also be learned at the dining table, provided the TV is not on! Parents can talk about their day in English and children can listen to vocabulary related to work and the office. Constant listening to the usage of words in context will enable the child to use language automatically and effortlessly. Beginners find it difficult to follow a string of sentences, so make sure your conversation is in the question-answer format.

You: So, what did you do in school today?
Child: We did Math….
You: Did you find it interesting?
Child: It was ok…
You: What did you do?
Child: Addition.
You: Shall we do some addition, then?

Here, instead of asking the child what is 2 plus 2 (which the child must have done umpteen times in school!), reel out a small situation.

Mother and father decide to go to Dinosaur Island. They take you and your sister. Just as they are leaving, Grandfather calls and asks if he and Granny can come. So, we take two cars and go. When we reach the picnic spot, we find that Aunt Prithi has also come with Granny and Grandfather. Now, how many of us are on the island?

The child learns to listen, acquires vocabulary and does his problem solving all at the same time. Now ask your child to spin you a word problem in the form of a story, using animals and his imagination! Children love to play around with words if you only have the patience to listen to them and egg them on, making sure that it is fun all the way!

Play games of analogy with them. Ask them to explain in complete sentences the relationship between an artist and a brush, the tooth and the toothbrush, the comb and the hairbrush.

Example: An artist uses a brush to paint pictures.

Make English a special time for your children. You needn’t spend more than ten minutes at a time with your child to speak English. If you have a large family, each one of you can focus on different activities. Father can talk about the workplace, ask questions about the school, friends, etc. Grandmother or Grandfather can show the child photographs of the family and talk about them in English. Big Brother or Sister can teach the child rhymes and songs.

While playing a board game such as Snakes and Ladders, resort to English by saying things like, “Oh, no! Down I go! I have reached the tail of the snake!” or “Good for you! You have thrown a six. You go up the ladder!” or “Six is what I need!” “I need a two!” Learning and fun always go hand in glove. Children will not get vexed or irritated when language is fun. They will be so involved in the game that they will be quite unaware of the language they are using. A child who is normally averse to English, will triumphantly say, “I win!” at the end of the game.

Parents forget that they taught their young ones to speak the mother tongue by constantly repeating words and making the child utter them. Second language needs the same kind of tutoring. Unfortunately, most parents become impatient and hope that the school will do the job for them this time round.

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at

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