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Read to my kid? In English?!

Updated: Jan 8

Children love listening to stories. Who doesn't right? Maybe I'm still just a big kid, but I enjoy reading a book just as much as my students! Stories spark imagination, and are a great way to get kids involved in their English learning, no matter how basic their level. It's also a great way to create positive memories around English that children will carry with them for a long time. I've got a few short anecdotes for you, and then I'll share a few tips on how to use illustrated storybooks at home to help your kids learn English!

I've got a student who is now in his first year of high school, and we started learning together when he was in 5th elementary. We were in the middle of Covid, so of course our lessons were online, and I needed something to keep him interested - he's a brilliant kid with a huge imagination. So we started reading stories. He loves all things horror and wizardry, so I tried to find kid appropriate books online that would interest him. And you know what? Today, his English is brilliant, and the best thing is we can still joke about some of the funny characters in those books that we read in his first year of lessons.

Here's another example for you: just the other day, another student who has been with me for the same amount of time surprised me with his memory. We were playing a Christmas vocabulary game, and a snowman popped up. He said, "hey, just like the snowman in that book - the cloud snowman, the leaf snowman, the pillow snowman and the puddle snowman!". If this isn't proof that reading stories gets kids interested in their learning, I don't know what is.


Using storybooks to teach English at home

  1. Establish a reading routine: like everything with kids, establishing a routine is a great way to introduce a new habit. If you already have "story time" in your child's native language, perhaps substitute 2 or 3 days a week with an English story. They might resist at first, but don't worry, the language of the story isn't as important as you might think! Don't make a big deal about the change, perhaps slip in some books in English to your child's bookshelf, and then casually choose one to start reading.

  2. Choose books together: after you've established an English storybook routine, allow your child to help you choose the book they want to read. If they want to read the same book you read the day before, let them! Kid's don't get bored of the same thing like us adults do, one of my friend's little girls has been carrying the same book around with her for the last 3 years! The important thing is that your child feels involved in the decision.

  3. Allow your child to help you read: don't worry about your pronunciation, or your child's for that matter! You can always use audiobooks or storybooks on YouTube if you really don't feel comfortable, but the simple text of children's books shouldn't pose too big of a problem for you. Let your child read the repeated phrases so that they get used to using different sounds, and if they want to read more, let them! Perfection isn't the goal here, the goal is to create a positive attitude towards English from a young age.

  4. Use the pictures to reinforce understanding: even if your child (and you, for that matter!) don't understand every little word, that doesn't matter! The pictures will help give them a sense of the story's plot, and you can also ask them what they can see in the pictures to make sure they are following the storyline (and if they aren't, it isn't a big deal, as long as they are interested in the pictures and not resisting listening to you in English!)

  5. Dramatize the reading by using gestures and different voices: reading sparks kids' imaginations, and by adding movements and different voices for the characters, you are helping the story to come alive for them, making them enjoy the story even more.

  6. Don't translate: resist the urge to translate the story for them. They can understand much more than you think just by following along with the pictures and using their imagination. If there are a few key words that are fundamental to understand the story, you can translate them, but don't make it a habit, because you will be teaching your child that whenever they don't understand something they can just ask you, without trying to figure it out from context (something they are very capable of doing).

  7. Ask extra questions: keep kids involved by asking them extra questions (in English) about the pictures in the story - you could ask them what colors or animals they can see, or perhaps ask them to identify specific characters or objects for you. With the youngest kids, this is a great way to keep them involved.

  8. Keep it fun and relaxed: we are creating a positive attitude towards English, so by keeping it a fun activity, you'll be teaching your child that English isn't horrible and difficult, but it's actually a way to read some beautiful stories. Don't stress your child out by asking too many "comprehension style" questions. Read them the story, allow them to help you, and keep it as fun and dynamic as possible, without overthinking things too much.


If this all sounds like way too much information, I'm here to help! My upcoming parent-child workshop is designed to show you and your child how much fun it can be to read (together) in English. So if you're curious, click this link to find out more!

If workshops aren't your thing, or you just want to relax and have an event free holiday, then sign up for my newsletter, where I will give you tips and resources on how to keep your child engaged and interested in their English learning!

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