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Helping Children Who Do Not Speak English


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I am a parent helper in my daughter's nursery and I find I am often asked to do activities with a small group of children, including a boy who speaks very little English. I would like to make any contact I have with this child to be as useful to him as possible.


Does anyone have any hints or tips about working with children whose first language is not English?

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:) Hi Anya,


I teach in a large multicultural Infant school.

Many of our children speak little or no English as they come into school.

We have found it useful to have bilingual support but we can not offer every language we have in our classrooms.

The children pick up English in much the same way as they learnt to speak their mother tongue and unless the little boy has other problems , he WILL be internalising the language that he hears around him. His progress will be much like an English child learning to speak so words- phrases-nonstop chatter!

All chidren progress at different rates, so encouragement and praise etc will give him the confidence he needs to speak English. His personality, whether he is shy or not may also determine his progress.

So model language and responses for him, give him him opportunities to learn vocab. etc. encourage him to join in and give him the confidence to talk. Accept his right to remain silent.


I'm sure you are doing that already. :)


Good luck.



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Thanks, Susan for your advice and thanks to too, Steve for directing me to the right place on the site.


The little boy we have does seem to be quite bright, I notice he is often one of the first to follow instructions, and it will be good to hear him, when he finally does start to use english.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Anya


Children tend to understand english before they speak or have the confidence to speak english. It is a very good sign that he is able to understand instructions. I'm sure the day is coming when he will astound you with his command of the english language!


I have had many experiences with children who had english as a second language, and english speaking children who had to learn a new European language.


Children seem to learn language quicker if they are totally immersed in it and if their mother tongue is kept to a minimum - that is my experience anyway. It helps the child if they are given lots of praise, encouragement and sympathy because it is a very tough situation for them to be in. I'm sure that you are doing that already.



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