How to Motivate Your Child to Learn English: Positive Reinforcement Strategies for Second Language Acquisition

How to Motivate Your Child to Learn English: Positive Reinforcement Strategies for Second Language Acquisition

Read Time: 5 Minutes

As a parent, you play a crucial role in supporting your child’s learning journey. Keeping your child motivated, and helping them develop an optimistic outlook on their efforts, can help them learn English as a second language.

In our 37 years of experience teaching English to children, we have learned that children absorb knowledge best when they feel good about themselves. Empowering your child, giving them opportunities to take the lead and build confidence as English speakers, increases motivation and promotes a positive attitude towards English learning.

Pedagogic and phycology experts call this inspirational encouragement “Positive Reinforcement”. In this blog, we will explore the concept and offer you, as a parent, helpful tips on how to support your child throughout his or hers English-learning journey.

What is Positive Reinforcement?

Imagine you are walking around your home, happily singing to yourself. A guest overhears you and says: “Oh, dear, you are really off-key. Can’t you do any better?” You would surely lose confidence in your ability to sing. You may even be mortified enough that you would never want to sing out loud again! Now, imagine if that same person had said: “You have a lovely voice! You sound great!” Now how would you feel? Indeed, you would be happy and confident about your singing and feel encouraged to express yourself this way. In fact, if the next person said you didn’t sing well, you would be less inclined to believe them as you already had built up a certain confidence in this area.

This is what happens to young children learning. They need positive feedback to let them know they are doing well; it makes them feel successful. This motivates them to continue. It also gives them an emotional basis for learning. Creating a non-threatening, comfortable and pleasant environment is essential for keeping the child motivated and successful. Positive reinforcement gives the child the security to try more, participate more and, ultimately, learn more. Consistency is key when using positive reinforcement. Make your child feel successful. This will keep them motivated, and increase their chances of success.

The Benefits of Positive Reinforcement in Language Learning

Positive reinforcement encourages your child’s efforts to speak English. When your child tries to speak in English, praise him or her and reward them for their effort. This will motivate your child to continue speaking and practising English. You can do this verbally, like cheering her or him on with a “Wow! Well done!” or non-verbally, like giving them a high-five, a hug, or simply a big proud smile.

Positive reinforcement also helps build your child’s confidence in speaking English. When you praise and encourage your child, they feel empowered. Imagine how proud your child would be if you showcased their ability to family and friends, shining a spotlight on your child’s English by encouraging them to greet grandmother in English or speak to the flight attendant on your next family vacation and request orange juice for their younger sibling!

Promoting a positive attitude towards learning English will teach your child to associate it with positive feelings and rewards. They will crave praise and attention and try to learn more and demonstrate their skills before anyone listening. Your job as a parent is to smile proudly and encourage them. Give your child every opportunity you can to take the lead. Make them the household’s “Designated English Speaker” and watch them soar.

Here are some helpful tips on how to do that:

8 Tips for Using Positive Reinforcement to Help Your Child Learn English as a Foreign Language

  1. Praise Any Effort to Speak in English: One of the most effective ways to use positive reinforcement is to praise your child’s attempt to speak in English. Even if their English is not perfect, praise them for their effort and encourage them to keep practising.

  2. Be Spontaneous, Specific, and Sincere: Instead of gushing out generic words of encouragement, praise your child using descriptive and specific language. The less general the encouragement, the more likely it would suit the situation at hand; hence it will be perceived as sincere. Instead of just saying, “Wow! What an awesome story you wrote!” You can add: “I especially love how you used all these different words to describe your main character. I can really picture her in my mind!”

  3. Don’t Focus on Mistakes: When your child makes a mistake while speaking English, don’t point it out. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of what they said and praise them for their effort.

  4. Correct Them Indirectly: When your child makes a mistake, correct them indirectly by repeating what they said in question form. For example, if your child says, “I want to go to the libary,” you can respond with, “That’s a good idea. Let’s go to the library.”

  5. Reward Them for Their Effort: When your child speaks in English, reward them with praise and a physical reward, such as a high-five or a hug. If they complete their first English course, take them out to the park and have fun.

  6. Create Everyday Opportunities for Your Child to Use English:
    Use any chance you have to let your child take the lead and use their English to help out:
    • Ask your child to talk to a virtual assistant (like Siri, Alexa, Bixby, or Google Assist) and ask for the weather report, the time, or what they should make for dinner.
    • Ask for their help (even if you don’t need it) to read a product name on an online English shopping site (you can simply switch your Amazon to English…).
    • Encourage them to order their own food at a restaurant abroad or ask for directions when you’re out and about on vacation.
    • Pretend to have forgotten an English word. Describe the item you are trying to name, and let your child help. You can help them out if needed, but saying a similar sounding word or saying the word incorrectly and let them correct you. Their little chests will swell with pride!

  7. Use English as a “Secret Language”: Encourage your child to use English as a secret code language between the two of you. For example, you can agree to use English when you want to tell each other a secret or something special, like when you’re escorting your child to a school event, and they want to tell you something about their classmate they don’t want anyone to hear. This will make English feel like a fun and exciting language to use. It also gives your child a chance to practice English in a low-pressure environment where mistakes are okay and the emphasis is on communication and fun.

  8. Watch English-Language Media together with your child. Pick their favourite animated movie – one they have watched over a hundred times already – and watch it together in English. By watching something they already know and enjoy, they can focus on learning the language without feeling overwhelmed or frustrated. As they watch, you ask them questions about what’s going on because you are “struggling” to understand the language. This can be a helpful way to build confidence and motivation as they feel proud of their new language skills.

    At Helen Doron, we firmly believe that teaching English is about so much more than just language acquisition. Our approach focuses on creating a safe and nurturing environment that empowers children to become fluent and confident speakers. For us, children come first, and they feel comfortable taking the lead, even in a foreign language. While adults are terrified of making mistakes or sounding silly, children are uninhibited. They’re not afraid to show their emotions through speech, dance, song and play. By creating an atmosphere where there are no wrong answers and any attempt to speak is praised, children beam with confidence and take charge of their learning process. By giving children this level of autonomy, we help build their sense of ownership and responsibility for their learning.


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