For our new column, Ask an Educator, we turn to educators, whether teachers, tutors, or principals, to answer frequently asked questions from parents. To send in your question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, our question is:
“What age should I start to introduce English into my child’s education?”
As competition becomes more and more fierce each year, parents are trying to make their children more competitive from the earliest age possible. But how do you know if you’re pushing your child to the limit? What if you’re creating a life for them that their unique puzzle doesn’t fit in to? How do you know if the actions you take now will make or break their future?
Coming from a Western raised and cultured family (with 4 other siblings!), the overwhelming emphasis on education and children in China first baffled me…. Until I learned more about the culture and competitiveness behind it. I find that too often parents put their children in an environment that doesn’t fit their children’s needs, so here are a few common questions I get from parents from my years of experience first in teaching babies, then adults, and now all ages and language levels!
What age should I start to introduce English into my child’s education?
I’ll start by saying…. There is NO cookie cutter answer! There are many factors you need to consider when making this decision, based on your situation. One thing that is true is that when it comes to introducing a language to a child ‘the earlier, the better’. I need to stress that ‘introducing’ does not mean formal language classes; it could simply be an event that your child enjoys in English once a month.
But one question I’ve heard more recently is,
“I want my child to get a western education but I also want them to know Chinese and learn Chinese culture, what should I do?”
So if your child (2-5 years old) is being raised in a household where only Chinese is being spoken, perhaps Grandma and Grandpa take care of the child and don’t speak English, the child has a very established Chinese environment–including language and culture. Introducing English in a fun way at this age is vital to keep the association of learning interesting while balancing the want of knowing Chinese culture and the English language.
Nowadays in China, especially in Beijing, parents are very aware of the importance of English at a young age, but sometimes it’s a bit too early. If your child, younger than two, is resisting going to cultural activities, don’t push it and try to get them to go to activities where they will feel more confortable. Children younger than two haven’t fully developed spatial recognition, so putting them in an uncomfortable multicultural event might turn them away for good!
Remember, your child’s first language is still developing and introducing a second language (or L2) at the age of two might slow down the development of both language levels. Today, it’s very common to see a young adult with really good English and poor Chinese even though they were born in China to Chinese, but they were educated in a western setting. As your child grows, one language is bound to be a little stronger than another, but don’t worry. Evaluate the situation: what language do they speak at home, school, and with their friends? And take action to ensure the language gap doesn’t grow too big!
Now you might know how you’re going to introduce English into your child’s education but your child has resisted! They don’t want to go to class or speak English at all! There are some ways to introduce the language to your child in a fun way, and they’ll start wanting to speak more. Begin playing songs and movies in English only, and ask your school if there are common songs they sing or play at school that you can play at home. Try to attend fun activities with other classmates that are in English, like the Pingo Space Pingo Clubs where every weekend kids can participate in hands-on activities that are all in English! But the most important thing is to listen to you child, if they truly don’t want to go, don’t force them. Children need to be led by example, so if you set good examples for them, they are sure to follow!
Photo courtesy of Martha Walch