Everyone agrees that it’s nice to know at least one foreign language. For travel, for work, for…. well, orders from Amazon or Ali-Express 🙂 English is quite useful for playing computer games, searching for information on the Internet, watching videos on YouTube and TikTok, and for making friends and networking. This list could go on and on. It goes without saying these days.
For adults and teens, maybe; but not for kids. Kids are not worried about landing a job, applying for university, or ordering from online stores. Kids can perfectly watch videos in their native language, or they might not even need any language skills to play some computer games. Everything is clear.
However, most parents want their kids to learn English from early childhood at any cost, by any means. Some kids fall victim to their parents’ ambitions, and they are forced to start learning…
But there are other kids who do not follow that pattern. Nothing helps: not pressure, like “you won’t get a good job”, not promises, just nothing. The kid may become motivated to get into learning English, but just for a short period of time, and then here they are again, not motivated to learn English.
Does that ring a bell? How often does your kid get mad about learning English, asking why they have to learn it at all? Or do they keep ignoring it in silence? What are the reasons for this? What’s wrong in these situations? We all know that it’s best to start learning language in childhood, as early as possible, when the human brain is most responsive to new things, the kid has no psychological barriers and is ready to learn and talk.
Do we need to motivate our kids to learn English, or not? That’s the question here…
Questions related to motivation to learn languages actually attract more attention than the language learning process itself. So one could easily deduce that motivation is everything, and once they master it, they automatically master a foreign language. Well, if only it were that simple…
But what does motivation actually mean? What does it mean to be motivated? To put it simply,
Motivation is our inner driving force that makes us achieve our goals.
A good question is how the kid—who has never thought about why they need English—will get this kind of inner force? The kid will be motivated, for example, to do the chores in order to be allowed to go to the cinema, go for a walk, or to eat up their supper in order to be allowed to watch cartoons. School-age kids can be motivated to learn to get better grades or to play on their phones or to do things they find meaningful for them.
To have English lessons and to actually learn English are completely different things. If the kid has problems with the school programmes, they may have tutoring… Maybe, now do we have this motivation thing? Maybe, motivation is just to get better grades? But when the grades improve, nothing changes—like a vicious cycle of having bad grades, tutoring, having better grades, etc. Maybe, this is not true motivation but a motive.
Let’s agree that motivation is a phenomenon that requires the actor’s awareness. Motivation is driven by our needs that grow within us: the more we need, the more we’re motivated.
But what about children?
Children seem to be driven by external forces like school requirements or their parents’ or elder siblings’ instructions or will (when elder children or children of friends start learning English, parents ask their child to do so, too).
But there are kids that study English just for pleasure, what about their motivation? No-no! Prior to motivation, let’s repeat here that motivation is associated with awareness not short-term wishes, there is an interest! And this interest, it is what governs the kid’s actions starting from their very birth.
The kid’s development is conditioned by their interest in the surrounding environment and their role in it. The child cannot stop developing, so the child cannot help being interested in different activities that make their world. Being interested in new activities is natural, that’s why the kid will get curious about English as if it’s a new toy or a cartoon.
Therefore, the parents and teachers should be focused on getting the kids interested rather than getting them motivated!
So, how can we get them interested in studying English?
It is not difficult! Ask yourselves why the kid stopped playing with puzzles they were so excited about that they were playing with all day long. Why is your kid asking you to download a new game on their phone? Why do kids read different books, watch different cartoons, and then start watching movies and not cartoons? Because everything known becomes, with time, a bit boring and less interesting. The kid has already learnt these things. The kid has learnt and understood. And now they want something new. They have moved onto a different level, like in a computer game:) In the case of children, on a new level of development.
The child’s psychological development is based on the leading activity. The leading activity participates in the formation of the child’s personal and age-related traits that, among other things, have an impact on the English learning process.
This means that, if the leading activity for the pre-school age is related to play, then everything should be learnt through playing activities. But playing activities can be different. As a rule, role games come after simpler ones—like playing with objects, games to develop memory and attention. At the age of 6, however, children start becoming interested in the real learning process, like ‘adults’; they find it boring to dance and to sing; they know about the alphabet and English letters, and they want the real thing.
On the other hand, if they start learning English in school, they find it interesting when the learning process is based on playing activities, in contrast to other learning activities. They find it interesting when they can play, sing, watch cartoons, and be physically active in lessons—instead of just reading and writing.
All this helps kids to be interested in learning English. But let’s not forget that the leading activity for schoolchildren is learning, and their interest in new things, including English, must be given in the form of the educational process in order to make children develop.
Have you heard about growth zones?
Apart from the leading activity, there is also a ‘growth zone’.
- The things already known to the child form a familiar zone, something they are not interested in anymore. In the process of teaching English, you could and should start from the ‘familiar zone’ because in this case the kid will not be afraid of doing these activities in English. For example, they repeat after the teacher. But once the child starts making phrases in English on their own, then it will be boring for them to just repeat after the teacher, and the kid will eventually lose interest.
- What the child can learn on his own, without any help— is the zone of actual growth. When the child has learnt to read in English, then there will be no need to keep on reading aloud. The child can do it on their own. But discussing things they read about and finding out if they understood it correctly is different, it’s interesting! So everyone who can read in English will be bored to death if they are forced to read aloud during the lesson…
- The immediate growth zone combines all that is of interest to a child, but the child cannot fully understand it as already developed skills are enough for the moment and others required are yet to be learnt. This is the zone that should be of primary attention for parents’ and teachers’ efforts to get children interested in English.
How does all this work to increase children’s interest in studying English?
- First, the child should learn something new every lesson. A long repetition of the same material kills interest, especially in children.
- Second, every lesson the child should learn to do something: in relation to English lessons these are: speaking, reading, writing, or listening, like ‘I can ask for help in English!’, ‘I can count in English!’, ‘I can talk about my journey!’, ‘I can read short words!’, etc.
- Third, the activity should help increase their interest. The activities should be different, the material should relate to children’s real-life experience and their age, it has to be interesting for the child to play in English, read in English, or to talk in English. Children are realists: if what they are being taught is not related to their real-life interests, then…
- Fourth, the child should be an active participant in the process of learning English. Language serves communication, so the lesson must be designed as a communication process. For younger kids, as a communication through play, for schoolchildren, based on ‘real-life’ things.
- Fifth, it is important to connect to the world outside the immediate classroom environment. If kids in pre-school and primary school are interested in watching cartoons, 9 year old children and older are interested in watching videos about real people. These might be videos about their favourite singers or sportsmen or just other schoolchildren from an English-speaking country.
- Sixth, children would love learning English if they realized that English is not for grammar exercises or reading long descriptive texts but for… real-life communication! There are a lot of possibilities now to find a pen friend and have chats in messengers, even video chats!
- Seventh, English is quite useful thanks to our phones! If the child likes vlogging or using TikTok, they can use all their knowledge to make video blogs in English! If the child doesn’t like recording themselves on camera, they can still make a video with voiceover narration.
Get interested in the things that your children are interested in. And support their interest by all means available. And then English will be natural for your kid—just like watching his or her favourite shows or hanging out with friends; then English will be something your kid really needs and he or she therefore can be motivated to learn it. Until then.. hang in there by all means, supporting your kid’s interest.
Keeping your kid interested, do not forget:
- Age-related psychology.
- Personal things about your kid.
- Interests by age groups and individual kids.
- Choose activities and study material based on the leading activity and zones of growth.
- Communicate with children verbally beyond textbooks and grammar rules.
- Surround the kids with ‘real-life’ English that helps them to understand that language is actually about real life.
- Give space to the kid to learn on their own, create ‘success’ situations where the kid can put their language skills to good use.
- Praise even for the smallest achievements and minimize negative assessments.
To get a sense of this kind of positive learning environment, you can register for a free lesson from Novakid online school of English. The programme is based on age-related psychology; during the lessons, our tutors use only English, and they can get every kid from 4 to 12 interested in learning English!