Education experts have noted that the three primary sources of motivation for elementary school students learning English are “interest, a sense of accomplishment, and goals.” These three pillars form the foundation of children’s willingness to learn by themselves. While every parent places a strong emphasis on all aspects of their children’s education—and rightfully so—learning languages in particular can be key to new avenues in a child’s future development. While there is no set formula for how parents can open these new paths for their children, there may be some strategies that can be gleaned from cases of successful parents and the recommendations of experts.

Focusing Only on Test Scores will Ruin Children’s Interest in Learning English

 “No one likes rote memorization,” said Wanda, who has lived in the US and Australia for many years, and who now works at an overseas company. She has a pair of twin daughters aged 6, who are both fluent and confident when it comes to speaking English. She does not want her children to simply memorize things to win the approval of their teachers. Instead, she wants her twins to be happy when learning, and to learn useful things. 

Li-Rong Yang, an expert in parenting and education, suggests parents should focus on developing their children’s “interest, sense of accomplishment, and goals.” In terms of interest, parents should try to create an interesting language learning environment in their everyday lives, such as encouraging their children to speak to their friends in English, or watching English television programs with their children. 

 “Don’t fixate on your children’s English grades, or their grammar, or spelling. If there’s too much negative emotion attached to learning English, then your kids will lose interest over time.”

-Li-Rong Yang, parenting and education expert

Ellen has traveled to the US and studied in the UK. Her 7-year-old son is exceedingly curious about the world, so she has made a special note of what her son is most interested in, and acquired English books on those subjects. For example, her son is a fan of the character Lightning McQueen from the Cars movie series, so she bought books about McQueen. When her son showed an interest in ants, she obtained English popular science books on ants for him. 

 “Start with subjects that your kids are interested in. If they’re interested in the content, then they’ll be very motivated to understand the text, and will learn naturally.” 

-Ellen, British Council Taiwan English for Young Learners student parent

Encouraging Improvement through Praise and a Sense of Accomplishment

To give children a “sense of accomplishment”, Li-Rong Yang noted that every child will excel at different things over the course of their English education. Some are particularly good at comprehension. Others have excellent pronunciation. Even if some children have not demonstrably excelled at something, they can still be praised for their efforts. Such encouragement will inject a sense of accomplishment in children, and help them make improvements in their weaker aspects.

Television presenter Yung-Kang Chen shared a story, in which his young daughter had to see a doctor during a trip overseas due to discomfort in her eye. The doctor’s British accent was too thick for Yung-Kang Chen to easily understand, but his daughter had no problems whatsoever. She was able to easily follow the doctor’s instructions, to walk into the examination room and understand how to undergo the procedure. 

“My daughter said she enjoyed my stunned expression very much! This was probably the most effective form of encouragement for a child.”

-Yung-Kang Chen, television presenter

Andrea Hales, Director English at the British Council Taiwan, has over fifteen years of experience in teaching English in Taiwan. She pointed out that establishing good “goals” is an essential foundation for children to learn proactively and speak English confidently. This may seem counter-intuitive for some people.

For example, UNESCO’s 21st Century Skills formed the basis for the goals set by the British Council for stimulating children’s imagination, critical thinking, and other skills. To this end, the British Council established several “everyday tasks” in the English classes for elementary school students, which allow learners to look for answers in an objective-oriented environment. Coupled with a fully English classroom environment, this teaching strategy helps strengthen children’s ability to use English in everyday life. 

Parents who want to help their children improve their language abilities should consider shifting their focus from vocabulary books and textbooks to some lighter English language reading. This would help children disassociate English from boring books and stressful tests, and increase their willingness to enjoy the learning process. This, in turn, will boost their eagerness to proactively and continually learn, which experts believe will enhance the results of their language education.

 (This article is also featured on United Daily News)

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