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    • Join Date: Jan 2009
    • Posts: 2

    Question Helping 4-Year-Old Neighbor Learn English

    This is my first post to this forum. I appreciate the opportunity to participate.

    My wife and I live in a small town in Costa Rica. We're the only two native English-speakers here. I'm helping some people here learn English. It’s pro bono. We’ve lived here less than one year, can communicate effectively in English, and have many friends.

    One neighboring family of friends has a darling 4-year-old son who spends several hours most days in our house. My wife, who does not work outside our home...and who was a primary school teacher 30 years ago...spends more time with him than I do. She plays ball with him, he listens to songs on our computer, and they basically have a grandmother-grandson type of relationship.

    His parents speak hardly any English but very much want him to learn English from us as he continues to learn Spanish from the other people in his life. So far, my wife has taught him to count to 4 in English and has taught him only a couple of phrases in English. “Bye-bye” and “good morning.” The little boy is intelligent and is a lot of fun.

    One of the reasons he feels very comfortable here is that we’ve spoken Spanish to him during the entire time we've lived here. Now that his parents want us to help him learn English while he’s with us…which we’re happy to do…we’re not sure how to proceed. If we were to start speaking only English to him, that would likely disrupt our relationship with him. Seems far too extreme (to us). But teaching him only a few numbers and a couple of phrases during several months is far too little.

    We'll appreciate your suggestions on how we can help this terrific little boy learn English more effectively while maintaining a “fun” relationship with him. His older brother loves books; this little boy is all about fun!

    Thanks so much for your suggestions!


    • Join Date: Oct 2006
    • Posts: 19,434

    Re: Helping 4-Year-Old Neighbor Learn English

    Play games using English, sing nursery rhymes [preferably those where there are also actions, like "This little piggy went to market"], intermix English when doing things together [so when giving him a drink, use both languages]. Don't "teach" but just use the language wherever possible.

    • Join Date: Jan 2009
    • Posts: 2

    Re: Helping 4-Year-Old Neighbor Learn English

    Thank you!

  1. Ouisch's Avatar
    Key Member
    English Teacher
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Mar 2006
    • Posts: 4,142

    Re: Helping 4-Year-Old Neighbor Learn English

    Young children tend to pick up languages much faster than adults, because their minds tune in to specific words for specific items and actions and they don't worry about grammar - that will come later (just as any English speaking child starts out saying things like "Cookie - me want" rather than "I'd like a cookie, please.") Now is the time to immerse him in English. Point to objects, hand him objects and say in English "cup" or "milk" or "television" and then ask in Spanish "comprende?" Then repeat "cup" while letting him hold it.

    I remember my junior high school principal telling me once that he was three years old when his family immigrated to the US from Italy, and none of them spoke English. By the time he was five years old, he was fluent in English (just by virtue of hanging out with English-speaking kids on the playground and in the neighborhood) and had to translate for his parents.

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