Learning English

5 Important Things Parents Should Know to Help Their Child Learn English
by Sandra Carpenter

At WYIS, our ELL (English Language Learners) are learning English while they are learning academic subject matter in English. Research shows that students whose parents are engaged with their education will earn better grades and test scores, have better social skills, and go on to be accepted into university.

Here are 5 ways you can engage with your child and work with the school to provide the best opportunities for your student.

  1. Know the difference between social and academic language.

Social Language is a set of vocabulary that allows us to communicate with others in the context of regular daily conversations.

Social language is...

  • Used in everyday situations both conversation and written
  • Used to write for social purpose like texting
  • Uses informal words and slang
  • Can be repetitive
  • May use phrases
  • Does not follow grammar conventions

Social language often increases at a faster pace than academic language. This can be deceiving as the child seems to have greater command of English than what they actually have for study purposes.

Academic Language is the set of specific terminology that pertains to subjects learned in an academic context.

Academic language is...

  • Used in reading textbooks, instructions and tests
  • Used in instruction, discussions and school conversations around specific subjects
  • Used for written papers, classwork, homework, and assessment
  • More formal and precise in its expression and does not use slang
  • Uses a variety of terms
  • Follows grammar conventions

The academic language can take up to 7 years to fully develop in children in the best of circumstances. If there are learning problems or extended absences from the academic language use, development can be stalled or extended. Read more here

  1. Ensure your child is still learning and growing in their native language. Extensive research from around the world has found that children who are learning to read in a second language are able to transfer skills and knowledge from their native language to help them learn skills in the second language. The best evidence of this comes from studies showing that students with strong reading skills in the home language also have strong reading skills in their second language. Read more here
    Your child will bridge cultures and languages through the support of a solid, working and growing use of their first language.

  2. Build foundations for educational connections by introducing topics and subjects in their native language. Talk about everything in your native language. Speak with your child about what is happening around you, encourage your child to ask questions, and take the time to answer them too. Remember, knowledge, skills and concepts that are learned in the first language can easily be transferred into English. However, if few concepts are learned in the native language, the vocabulary and literacy of the child will be limited in it and there will be fewer connections for them to make into English. Read more here

  3. Read books and watch media in both their native language and English together with your children. Choose a children’s story with which both you and your child are familiar. Although your child may not understand all of the words at first, your child should generally be able to follow the plot of the story and will pick up new vocabulary and grammar along the way. Asking questions about the story’s plot, characters, etc. can help with your child’s understanding. You can also try watching movies in both languages or even play games that involve language to practice and learn their native language at home. Read more here
    It is helpful for language learners to have both audio and visual materials simultaneously. It is not “cheating” to have an audio book to listen to while reading or to have subtitles while watching, on the contrary, it is supportive for learning.

  4. Understand the English Language Support (ELS) program at WYIS, how it works, and what to expect.

  • We have 5, full time, ELS (English Language Support) teachers. Each of these teachers is specifically trained to teach ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). This is different than teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) such as a weekend or after-school program might do. ELLs are learning all subjects in English and therefore are more immersed in use and practice.
  • Each ELS teacher works with a specific age group of students and focuses on the needs within the larger classroom as well as in small group lessons for their language level. Small group lessons connect to what is taught in the full classroom so that subjects are reinforced rather than extra lessons added on.
  • Students who receive ELS are assessed in 4 areas; reading, writing, speaking, and listening. These scores are combined to determine their language level. Growth in each area happens at a different pace for each student. There are also language standards that each student must master. We exit students from ELS when they demonstrate both assessment success and standards mastery. Formal assessment happens 2 times each school year.
  • How quickly a student moves through the ELS program has very little to do with raw intelligence. There are many factors that contribute to language development.

At WYIS, we want each child to have a solid language foundation, academic success, and a bright and healthy future. If we can help your family better support your child as they learn English at WYIS, contact Sandra Carpenter, Director of Student Services.

Written by Sandra Carpenter, Director of Student Services
Edited version originally posted on our WeChat feed July 29, 2020