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Why your native English-speaking child still needs to learn English

One of the great things about living in Geneva is that our children can pick up French and most grow up with more than one language. If you speak English at home, that means the English side of things is taken care of, or is it?

Not necessarily, it seems….


Does my child need English lessons if we already speak English at home?

The question is not as absurd as you may think, says Ruth Avison Dang, founder and director of PEP English, a language school based in Geneva and Veyrier. Ruth has been in the English learning world for more than 25 years, both with English speakers and English learning as a foreign language, using distinct methods for their very different needs.


Ruth grew up in the UK and speaks three languages. As well as managing PEP English she is also a teacher trainer, speech specialist and a course book reviewer and examiner. She founded PEP English in 2000 and PROPER Languages in 2023.

Below Ruth shares some of the lessons she’s learned over the years along with tips and advice for English-speaking families living in Geneva or another non-English speaking country. These tips are particularly valuable for those planning to study in an English-speaking country in the future.


Common issues your child may face if growing up with English at home and a different language at school:


FOSSILISED HABITS

One of the things we often see at PEP English is that children fall into fossilised language routines. These fixed habits can involve sticking to the same words and sentence structures. This is often the result of a shortage of grammar and lexical chunks indicating a lack of exposure to more varied forms of contemporary English”.

English is learned in an organic way, in English speaking countries. Listening, reading, writing and speaking, are learned in a large variety of developing contexts. This is because really mastering English relies heavily on mastering the usage of a good range of vocabulary, structures and expressions both in a formal and informal register.


IDIOMATIC EXPRESSIONS

Children who are not exposed to everyday living English often don’t use idiomatic expressions that native speakers take for granted, such as:

Eat your words or

burn your bridges or

in a nutshell.

It may be enough to watch a good film or play or read a book in English to realise how colloquial a language it is. Eloquence in English relies on brevity as well as precision which suits the nature of the language. This is why pop music works well in English: you can say a great deal with a few well-crafted words.

TOP TIP:

PEP English shares idiomatic expressions on Instagram, Facebook and You Tube every week.


FRAME OF REFERENCE

We all have our specific cultural references that we apply to our language, much of which stem from past and present literature and films and increasingly social media.

Many traditional idiomatic expressions and proverbs derive from Shakespearean drama or the Bible but remain active today. These connect people culturally. Similarly, ordinary language may borrow from more recent coinage such as George Orwell’s Animal Farm novel for example: “Everyone is equal but some are more equal than others.”

Even a joke could be lost on our children due to the lack of cultural linguistic connections from their parents’ cultural background.

It helps when our children understand where these expressions come from, what they meant in the original context so they can integrate them into novel situations, particularly at university level.


SPELLING AND WRITING

Children who speak English at home and go to Swiss schools often struggle with spelling and writing in English, which can make them appear less intelligent or competent than they are.

Ruth explains, « the way you come across can be affected by an apparent gap between the way you speak and the way you write. You may sound native, but if your writing is not up to scratch your abilities may be unfairly doubted”.

False Friends

These are lovely things that can really trip us up when growing up outside an English-speaking country. Words like actually, meaning in fact while in French actuellement means, now. Another popular one from French is Bio, meaning organic but as we know, in English Biological applies to all living things. If you talk about bio in spoken English (which sounds like B.O.), we assume you are struggling with body odours…


PRONUNCIATION

When growing up in a French milieu, young people sometimes run into problems with pronunciation. French has a very different set up of sounds and intonation to English. For example, the word, comfortable in French would be pronounced flat, sounding out all the letters while in English we use stress which emphasises parts of a word and elides: COMFtble.


It is well known that sounds like “th” can be tricky and we have observed many interesting ways children have managed to get out of pronouncing that by using /s/, /z/, /d/or /t/ depending on the word. For example:

-sing /thing

togezer / together or

dis /this or

tree / three.


What is important is to be clear wherever you are to avoid potential misunderstanding. We have observed that pronunciation issues vary from child to child, some are natural parrots and can pick things up naturally, others need to really learn sounds through speech exercises such as oral gymnastics. This is why an interactive structured approach is essential to develop clarity naturally and properly.


STRESSFUL SITUATIONS

It is easy to feel we can get by using a language in spite of the gaps, particularly when we are young and live in a country where English is not the national language. A young person may not even realise the existence of their linguistic gaps until exposed to a more testing environment, when stress can creep in. Our brains rely on habit when we’re in a stressful situation, when self-doubt can quickly expose any linguistic gaps. When that happens, we may struggle to express ourselves in a way that reflects our true ability and trip over what we intend to say, for example in a formal university application or job interview.


Ruth explains:

“The most important things we can give our children are roots and wings
What your child needs is to develop a STRONG, FLEXIBLE BACKBONE of English which are our roots for life, and allow speech and thought to fly on their strong wings of individuality”.
“This is why our motto at PEP English is, Be yourself in English: thanks to a personalised approach focusing on their specific needs, each student can express themselves confidently and accurately in English in any context.”

TIPS FOR HELPING TO KEEP YOUR CHILD’S ENGLISH UP TO SCRATCH

  1. Encourage them to keep up with what’s happening in English-speaking countries by reading English newspapers, or Time or The Week magazines. The Week Junior is aimed at younger children and is full of colloquial expressions. Moreover, children benefit greatly from learning about what is going on in the world in English.

  2. Watch films in English together

  3. Reading, of course – anything from the classics to contemporary authors e.g. John Green – PEP English can happily advise on a choice of suitable books for different ages. We have a great library for our students.

  4. Listen to English audio books.

  5. Encourage your child to join English theatre groups such as Simply Theatre or GAOS to practice their speaking skills and play with the language.

  6. Take English classes in language or literature – but be wary of English courses aimed at foreigners e.g. English as a Foreign Language (EFL) as their learning needs will be different. Your child needs to be with other English mother tongue speakers taught by a native English teacher, where they will also be exposed to the culture, literature, idiomatic expressions and vocabulary.

  7. Attend holiday camps in English: at PEP English, we offer full immersion camps for children and teenagers during Geneva public school holidays. Through a range of fun and dynamic activities adapted to their age and level, children develop their English skills in context with our team of qualified teachers.

  8. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for our short lessons and Storytime for children or follow us on social media.


FOR PRIMARY SCHOOL CHILDREN

PEP English follow the British curriculum as a backbone that we have adapted into an international programme to offer a broad range of cultural and language acquisition.


We also offer camps during Geneva public school holidays for a full immersion experience with fun and dynamic activities.


Dynamic Learning is also a very reputable school in Geneva offering support for English speaking children at primary school level, says Ruth.


FOR SECONDARY SCHOOL CHILDREN

PEP English – offers courses at primary school level and secondary school upwards, including preparation for all English worldwide recognised English exams, including GMAT SATS (verbal and maths), IGCSE, TSA, IELTS and Cambridge young learners up to Proficiency.


It is possible to choose between private classes (for example to fill a specific gap such as to boost spelling) or small group classes which include learning literature.

All classes are interactive, structured and fun. Groups are limited to between 4 and 8 children so it is possible to personalise and in so doing, maximise results.


Our teenager camps during public school holidays are ideal to fill in the gaps and develop eloquence and fluency.


All classes are also offered Virtually in our Online classroom.


WHAT DOES MY CHILD NEED?

Contact PEP English for a FREE initial needs analysis to assess what your child needs.

Click here to book a free needs assessment.


Discover all our classes and learn more about PEP English: www.pepenglish.ch


Follow PEP English on social media:


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