Bedtime storytelling is not a time for grammar checks

Confidence is key when it comes to learning English as a second language

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 October, 2017, 6:37pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 January, 2018, 11:53am

English is deemed one of the two official languages in Hong Kong, the other being the first language spoken at home. For many parents in recent years, enrolling their child into an international school has become the golden ticket to acquiring native-level English.

However, finding a way in an immersive English-learning environment is merely step one. Non-native English speakers often find themselves in the face of many challenges as they pick up the language.

This topic was addressed during a panel discussion at the International Schools Festival co-organised by Education Post and education consultancy Top Schools Hong Kong on September 16.

At the discussion, all panellists agree that immersion is the most effective way to language learning, in comparison to rote memorization, especially when children are at an early age.

One of the panellists Eva Charisa Hsu, principal of Fukien Secondary School Affiliated School(FSSAS), urged parents to seize the opportunity to tap into the brief window during early childhood when children find learning a second language comes naturally. “When children reach the age of 10 or so, and start to learn English, there is a need to take a more structured approach, for example, learning grammar rules,” Hsu explained.

In households where English is not widely spoken, a useful tip for parents would be letting their young children watch cartoons in Chinese until they are familiar with the storyline, and then switch to English with English subtitles.

When it comes to acquiring a second language, stumbling over grammatical and pronunciation mistakes is unavoidable. The important thing is to avoid breaking the children’s spirit and to bolster their confidence in speaking the language. Reading bedtime stories, for instance, should be a fun family-time activity and not an occasion for pointing out mistakes and correcting grammar.

Chris Chadwick, principal of the international section at the Korean International School, thinks that a key priority in soaking up a second language is to ensure that the students feel comfortable with the level they are learning at. Non-native English speaking students joining the school are assessed to make sure they will not be overwhelmed by the level of language they are exposed to.

Parents should, whenever possible, allow young children to play with other children whose first language is English. According to Anne Sawyer from International Montessori School, when a child learns English outside the home, parents should speak in their native language at home and in the second language whenever the opportunity arises. “Parents can try cooking together and use English to talk about what they are doing or use English on family outings,” she suggested. “This way children associate learning English with fun things and family experiences.”