Children are naturally inquisitive. When children start studying English, they will no doubt have questions about how the language works; how it fits together. Understanding how and why English works the way it does is important, but allowing children to explore the language for themselves is equally important. Then, how do we help children understand English grammar without weighing them down with grammar rules?
DEFINING THE ISSUE
Recently, one of my students asked me, “How do I know the difference between their, there, and they’re?”.
This young girl had just started to learn English and was already thinking about grammar and asking difficult questions. Although I’m happy to hear that she is thinking about English outside of school, I’m not happy that she was, at the age of 8, thinking about finite English grammar rules.
I explained the difference to her in the simplest English I could: “’Their’ is his or hers, ‘there’ is over there (I pointed to the far end of the classroom), and ‘they’re’ is ‘they are’!”
She nodded but was still unsure.
“I think what you need to do,” I said gently, “is to watch some cartoons!”
Her eyes lit up like lights on a Christmas tree. “Cartoons?”
“Sure! I’ll show you some now.”
We found some Peppa Pig videos on YouTube for her to watch at home.
ENGLISH IN CONTEXT
My student’s problem was not only that she couldn’t understand the difference between “there”, “their”, and “they’re”, but that she had only heard the words used in class and never in the context of the “outside world”. Because her access to the English language was limited (the most exposure she got was in the classroom), English language cartoons were essential for her to put all of the pieces together.
Using natural, simple English in its context was necessary for my student to improve her understanding of English grammar. Hearing short, simple sentences would help my student hear English in its native context. Children’s cartoons were her answer. By simply listening to the words spoken in the cartoon, my student could start to cement pieces of grammar together in her head without her memorizing grammar rules or drilling complex sentences.
English grammar is important, no matter at what age you start to learn English. Watching cartoons that use simple English, cartoons that are intended for young English native speakers, are a good start.
Learning a second language is difficult. There are always new rules to learn. To use the language effectively, those rules need to be obeyed. However, grammar rules are only one part of learning a language. Understanding a sentence perfectly, especially for children, shouldn’t be the only goal. Picking up little bits and pieces of the language and coming to an understanding is just as good as knowing every part of the sentence and why it works the way it does. Simple English language cartoons are especially helpful for children who are learning English and don’t have access to the language outside of the classroom.
English language cartoons where the characters speak simple English in context will help children to understand English grammar without weighing them down in rules. By applying these tips on how to help children understand English grammar, you’ll soon discover that they’ll be learning it quicker than you can say Peppa Pig.
TRY IT OUT
So now it’s your turn: go show a fun cartoon to your children. Afterwards, repeat with them some English phrases that they heard. Talk to them about what happened to who. Let us know in the comments below what how you got on.
Interested in taking English classes to improve further? Check out these online English classes.