English for Toddlers

How to teach toddlers English

Are you teaching English at a nursery, or to two year olds?

Maybe you would like to teach your own child, or you work in a nursery where you have been asked to teach the toddlers.

You may be wondering whether it is possible to teach a foreign language to children aged only two.

And you certainly may be wondering how to go about it!

Here, on this page, is the answer in the form of a 33 page report compiled from interviews with 250 teachers.

All the best ideas are in this report, including tips and tricks that teachers have been successful with.  There is enough in here for you to be a successful toddlers English teacher.

It's so motivating that it makes you want to jump right into the classroom to try out all the fun ideas.

If you are also teaching three year olds, or you would like some stories to accompany your lessons then I recommend you get my stories as well, ideal from aged 3 up, but OK with the twos.  First and foremost you need the ideas in English for Toddlers, and then if your budget allows add on the stories.

ALL of the teaching toddlers ideas are also fun with three to five year olds as well.

General characteristics of teaching English to toddlers

            This age group in the main do not really need a teacher to learn, they simply need a native speaker to play with for a considerable amount of time so that they build a relationship and find a motivation to communicate and learn the language. This is because they are still very focused on their own activities and get bored very easily unless they are pleasing themselves.  They might prefer to sit out on a story time session, and you can't make them join in. It's very hard to 'teach' English nor can you get a group of them to do what YOU want. So, you follow their lead and adapt to what they're doing. It's about playing with them rather than organising them and allowing them to draw you into their world. It's not what you do, but more that the child is exposed to free play in an environment where English is spoken.  Two-year-olds will do anything to get attention. Therefore just being there and focusing on them is enough to inspire thrills and learning extravaganzas. 

            Ideally you need a spacious room, lots of toys, real objects (failing having real objects, flashcards) and little songs with lyrics that are repetitive. It may be a while before they start singing along but they will be exposed to English words and potentially can mime with the teacher while listening.

            The thing I believe that makes all the difference is NOT TO EXPECT too much of them. I don't mean in terms of what they learn, more in terms of how they behave.  They won't concentrate all the time, so take lots of little breaks, change the tempo and give treats. Go for a walk...and name a few things when you are doing so even if it is nothing to do with your lesson. Do 'go to sleep' breaks…not really, just lie down and be quiet for a minute...it is amazing how it can help the children re focus.

            The one thing they do not like is rules ... a more open ended approach works best where they can come in and go out of an activity at their choice.

            Never insist that the child should speak English.  Language is a new thing to them and their sense of security is still strongly attached to their mother tongue.   It should be fun and if you try to force them to speak you may well put them off English for life.

            The activities and games that they find enjoyable can be repeated in every lesson because kids at that age feel secure with their routine. Activities are best kept short; say 5-8 minutes, because little kids get bored easily. It is beneficial to give a CD with words and songs to parents and ask them to play it at home or in the car so that the child listens to the target language daily (not only when he/she is class).  While two-year-olds most likely will not be able to concentrate and listen to a story read by a teacher, they can concentrate on real objects like props and actions, so tell the story using hands on real objects, movement, vivid pictures, dance and music and anything that is total physical response.

            Toddlers like to be in the middle of things... if you are sweeping they want to sweep, if you are cutting they want to cut, if you are dancing they want to dance.  Toddlers are fabulous.  They find wonder in everyday activities and are generally not afraid to try anything and they want to try everything at least once but probably more.

            Toddlers vary remarkably in their ability to produce words - the gap between boys and girls can be as great as six months but they are always soaking it up.  At 2 they will only have between 20 and 40 words in their own language (24mths, somewhere between 26 and 28 months, most children will have a language explosion...these are statistics, every child is very different).  It's also crucial to remember that children of this age will not be able to produce many sounds and native children cannot make them either.  Maturity allows sounds to be made, not teachers.  Blends are a good example, often 2 and 3 year old native kids will say "fy" instead of "fly", "dink" instead of "drink", "fink" instead of "think".  There are hundreds of examples, so a great deal of care should be taken not to over correct the child.  The language instructor should say the word/s clearly, allow the child time to practice the word, listening to the correct form repeated and leave it at that. At 2 the child will do much better with another language if they are happy, and feel secure and accepted by the listener.

            The "class" or "classes" should be short and frequent, which is not always convenient for parents, as it's a lot of work to get the child there for 30 or 45mins. However progress will be greater with three shorter classes per week rather than one long one.

            On the subject of parents it is highly recommended to have them present during class time, and it should be a necessity for at least the first few classes while the child or children build up a relationship with the teacher.  Parents can stop the tears, and it lets mum reinforce language at home and creates a terrific bond between mums, mums and their kids and is great for the teacher to see such a happy group.

            The main thing with little ones is to make learning fun and remember that even though we think they may not be learning, they are taking everything on board.  Little children have a far greater capacity to learn and remember than older students.  You may wonder whether any is going in because it will not look like it on the surface and then a parent will tell you that their child has been singing a song in English at home, or suddenly the child will name a word or say something that you were not even aware that you had "taught".

Download the complete English for Toddlers Report Here

Take a look at the table of contents below and be sure to email me with your questions.

TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR "ENGLISH FOR TODDLERS"

Introduction

Are toddlers really too young to learn a foreign language?

Actually it's easier for toddlers to learn English

General characteristics of teaching English to toddlers

Are immersion lessons better than using the native language?
    
How to teach toddlers English
    
Be concrete, not abstract

Getting Started

Toddler routines in class

Total physical response

Nursery rhymes and rhythm

Puppets

Popular Teaching Topics
    
Mystery bags and boxes

Songs

Stories

Making things

Things toddlers love

Things toddlers find funny

Teacher Tips - Motivation, Behaviour Management and Other Tips

Teaching reading and writing to toddlers

Summary

Acknowledgements

Other resources for Toddlers

 

Download the complete English for Toddlers Report Here

How to teach Toddlers English

Be concrete, not abstract

            At two children will not be interested in concepts such as days of the week, or even numbers and colours or the alphabet, as these are too abstract.   Animals, shopping, dressing up and THINGS are generally better.  That said there are good ideas for the alphabet, numbers and colours below. 

            New words are best introduced with real objects first.  If you show flashcards of vocabulary tape the pictures to the real objects the first few times you work with those words until you know the children understand them and have made the link between the picture and the real object.

            Use materials like 'play dough'.  At this age children cannot draw, but they love to squish!!  Tell stories where you pass round an item...an orange, a ball, a battery powered drill (without the drill bit or battery), or anything that has an interest of its own, i.e. can be bounced, eaten, sniffed, heard, felt or tasted.  Make noises and bring in items that make noises, jars, shakers, tins and so on.  Use music, movement and dance.  Use simple language and repeat it over and over.

Getting Started

           Before you start doing anything in class it helps to build up a rapport with the child or children first with the parents present, especially the mother, share a moment together perhaps have something to eat and drink, offer and let the child offer you food or drink as these are primal security building actions. Then proceed with confidence to play and communication activities. 

           All children are different, but generally, if you don't take this step you can expect the children to shy away from you and hide in their mother's arms, there may even be tears, and it will take a while before you can coax them out.  To prepare, decide on the overall structure of your class, making sure it includes physical movement, quiet time, hands on activities, music and songs with actions as well as some free play. 

           A sample class might look like this: Start with some movement and music followed by your class opener. Continue with a series of short activities, lasting about 5 minutes each.  You might start by drawing objects out of your magic box or bag of 5 key vocabulary words for the day then a picture book and a story that incorporates the new words and uses lots of noises and inflections.

           Follow this with some sort of art project that has them using crayons, finger paints, watercolours or 'play doe'. You may have to pre-cut things and assist with glue sticks. Immediately after they'll need to get up and MOVE. After organized games or play with movement, you can have "stations" with toy areas (stacking, house, balls, pillows, books) for 5 minutes of roaming play.  Regroup at a table or carpet mats for a puppet "show" where you tell a story with soft toys or puppets.  Finish up with another song and your closing ritual.

           Stay on their level, sit down and let them move around you, plenty of eye contact, exaggerate your facial expressions and put plenty of stress on the words you want to relate. Play with them and literally say what you are doing and what they are doing, putting stress on the words that are important.

           Throughout your time together use words more constantly and on a simpler level than you would with an English-speaking toddler. It is somewhat similar to what you would do with a baby. If building with blocks, repeat "block" and "blocks" over and over.  Say something like, "Let's build a tower" and "higher, higher" and "up" and "one more" and then, "Can you knock it down?" and "Yay! They all fall down!"

           This is very different from what you would do with older children and it is much more focused on passive understanding, rather than on speaking. A teacher reports; 'While I play, hold up objects and ask, "What is that?" I do this so often that it doesn't interrupt the play. It is just part of it after a while. The children don't always answer. The difficult part is actually convincing watching parents not to try to force the children to answer. They either know the answer or they don't. If they know it, they'll generally say it. If they don't, I'll provide it and move on.'

Download the complete English for Toddlers Report Here

Kind regards,

Shelley Ann Vernon