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Language learning stages

Claire, I want [child's name] to SPEAK more, to respond with full, perfectly correct sentences!

Dear parent, don't worry! Let me explain a bit how the language learning process works, for kids. It's quite different than how it works for us adult dinosaurs. We have to understand everything. Remember everything. If it's not perfect it's no good. It's not like this for kids (thank goodness!). The problem is that often times, parents think that kids will start speaking as soon as they start taking English lessons (at school or privately). Sometimes this is the case, but more often than not, it isn't! There are so many factors that affect how a child interiorizes information, so please please don't compare your little munchkin with their classmates or friends. Every child is so different, and will affront the language learning process in their own way. Let me explain some of the steps that kids go through when learning, and hopefully it will help you understand where your child is on their English learning journey.


Language Learning Stages (for kids!)

  1. The Silent Phase: this sounds like some kind of horror film title, doesn't it? Hahaha, don't worry dear parent, this isn't a horror film! This period, explained simply, is when kids absorb sounds, concepts, information, words, etc. etc., like the little sponges that they are. They do this with their first language as well, but you don't worry too much about it because kids don't usually start talking until they're 2-3 years old, right? It's the same concept for a second language, but this process can take longer, especially if English exposure is limited to just a few hours a week. During this period, kids start to understand so many things, but they will still respond in their first language, and that's totally okay! In my lessons, the fact that my little students can follow a whole lesson in English without me having to explain things in Italian is so huge! Parents, be proud of your kids for being able to do this, and don't worry, they'll start speaking in due time!

  2. First Words: do you remember your child's first word in Italian? How old were they? 1, 2, 3? Now, think about your child's first word in English. Do you remember it? Was it at home, or did they only become exposed to English for the first time at school? If your child started learning English at school when they were 5 or 6 years old, don't expect them to start speaking it right away! They're going to need that silent phase time in order to absorb and process information. In their own time, they will start to repeat what they hear from their teachers, parents, films etc., and will start to respond to basic questions, in English. This phase can last for a long time, every child starts speaking more "fluently" at different points in their learning journey. The more they are exposed to English, the faster the process will go.

  3. First Expressions: ok, so now your child has had time to absorb and has started saying basic words in English. Now, they will naturally start forming longer sentences, phrases and learning and memorizing basic expressions, just as they did in their first language, with the difference that now they are old enough to understand that "I am Claire" = "Io sono Claire". This newfound understanding that in English we have the same expressions that they use in Italian (or their first language) is what starts the entire rest of their learning process. Some kids start trying to have more complex conversations in English when they are as young as 8 or 9 years old, others often need to wait until they are in middle school, so 11 or 12 years old. It all depends on how much exposure they have to English in their daily lives, and what their attitude is towards it. A positive attitude = faster learning, and a negative attitude, the opposite.


As you can see, it's not easy to say exactly when or how a child will start speaking in a second language. It depends on so many factors. As a parent, you can't force them to start speaking, but you can help them to have as many opportunities as possible and help them to foment a positive attitude towards learning English. If you want to stay updated on all the ways you can do this, sign up for my newsletter where I will share all kinds of fun things that you can do to help your child along this language learning journey! When you sign up, you'll get a free PDF on how to get English into your child's daily routine, from home!

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