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Keeping English real

Keep it real.

This is a slang expression that means to remain honest, genuine and authentic. It's generally applied to people, but today I'm going to apply it to kid's English. The more I get to know my students, the more I realize just how important it is for them to see the real life side of the English they are learning. Often times, English is taught (at school and not) in a sterile, abstract, and quite frankly, boring format. Kids are expected to memorize words and grammar structures, repeat them for a test, and essentially forget them. Trust me, if this is the only exposure to English that kids have, they will graduate from high school not having a clue how to actually communicate in English, making it much harder for them to learn for practical reasons like work or travel as they get older. I'm not blaming the school system, teachers, or even parents, I'm just giving you a hard truth. I've had to teach English in this way as well, but I decided that it didn't feel good, so I chose to open my own teaching business so I can help kids learn English in a way that makes sense for them. So, let me explain how and why keeping English real for kids is an absolute game changer!


Learning through experiences

Kids learn in many different ways, if you missed this post, go check it out to see what type of learner your child is. Independently of their learning style, I think we can all agree that kids learn best when they're able to apply what they're learning in some way to their every day lives. Many children find their own ways to do this, but others, especially smaller kids who don't yet have unlimited access to the Internet, need their family and teachers to help them find that practical application. Here's some ways I do it in my lessons:

  • Playing show n'tell: I often ask my students to show me their school supplies, toys, and my favorite - their stuffed animals - they come to class and we pretend that their favorite stuffed animal is another student (making my human student speak double, once for themselves and once for their peluche 😉).

  • Watching movies: I often take a movie, add questions to it, and have the kids watch 10 or 15 minutes every week, keeping them super excited to come back and see what happens the next week. Sneaky? Maybe, but it gets them happy to see me every time!

  • Using songs: For the kids that like music, we often listen to songs that they choose - rap, pop, rock, etc., and they ask questions about the lyrics because they want to know what they're singing!

  • Inviting English speaking guests: Every now and then I surprise them with a family member or a friend in my lessons, forcing them to use their English because that other person doesn't speak any Italian! They are so curious about my personal life that the chance to meet someone close to me gets them so happy!

  • Letting them in: Kids are always asking questions, so when they want to know things about me - where I live, who I live with, what I do in my free time, what I eat, etc., I gently remind them to ask me the question in English, and then show them that I'm more than happy to answer them. It makes them feel like they're having a real life "on the street" conversation.

  • Using video games: Many students play video games, and often they play in English! If I can get them talking about their favorite game, in English, they're super excited to answer my questions and they're happy to see that I'm interested in their hobbies.

  • Virtual visits: Every now and then we "visit" a new country, city, museum, etc., to show them where they can actually use their English when they get big enough to travel. Culture is such a big part of learning a language!

Here's how you can do it at home:

  • Movie nights: Most families watch movies together sometimes, so why not do it in English every now and then? Not all the time, but perhaps choose a movie that your kids have already seen in their first language and put it on in English - they might complain at first, but after a few minutes they'll forget it's even in a different language!

  • Story time: Same concept as movie time - you could choose one or two days a week to read a story in English instead of their first language. Just make sure it has pictures!

  • Travelling: Not all families can, but for those of you who have the opportunity to travel out of your country, this is so motivating for kids - they see you speaking to people in another language (it doesn't even have to be English), and they will see that learning languages has real, practical uses!

  • Watching sports: Many students are into sports, and many sporting events on TV are in English, or set in English speaking countries. Encourage your child to watch them with you, talk about where they are, what languages their favorite players may speak, what their routine may be like living in X country, etc. etc.

  • Cooking: I know us Anglo-Saxons don't have a good reputation in the kitchen, but that doesn't mean you can't read a recipe in English or watch a video recipe in English with your child to get them using English in the kitchen. And, if I do say so myself, we do have a good reputation for making awesome cakes and cookies!

  • Music: Most kids these days are exposed to music from all over the world, and many students have favorite singers or bands from the USA or the UK - use this to your advantage! Let them listen to this music, and perhaps even ask them if they can explain the lyrics to you!

  • English speaking friends: Have you got any? If so, use them to your advantage! Invite them to dinner, and even if they speak your first language, try to have them speak in English with you so that your child sees you using English, and they might even try to ask a question or 2 themselves!

  • Learning yourself: Kids often want to do everything that you do (which can be good or bad!). But seeing you even just playing around on Duo Lingo can be a great motivation for them to learn English as well.


None of this is anything new, but sometimes I feel like that with all the information out there on the internet, all the online courses, apps, and "get your child speaking fluent English in 3 months" gags, parents can often forget that sometimes the best way to get their kids exposed to English and excited about "learning" is just by showing them that they can do all the things they like in English as well. English then becomes something real, not just another test to study for. I'd love to hear your thoughts on my opinion, so go ahead and leave a comment with your ideas as well!


If you're curious about how I keep learning English online fun and dynamic, why not sign your child up to my upcoming Scavenger Hunt Workshop? It's free, and even if you can't make it in person, you'll get a free pack of printable scavenger hunts to do in English, at home with your child! Win win! Click the link below to find out more and sign up!

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