English Hints

First Steps for helping young children to learn a new language

(see links to more helpful websites at the bottom of the page)


If the children are younger than third grade, I use only listening and speaking at first, and then I  introduce reading and writing later, because I don’t want to interfere with their learning to read their native language.

If the children are in fourth grade or higher, I use reading along with speaking right from the first day. However, I first write the words for them according to how they actually sound, and I teach the real spelling later and separately. For example, pear, pair, and pare all spell the same, so I would write all of them this way: pAr, and use capital A consistently to sound like “long A.” I use small a always to mean the a in cat. The feature of this system is that it uses only the letters found on the computer keyboard. You may want to make up your own system, but as an example here is the system I use: alfubet.

During the class time, I say many sentences that do not need translating, because the meaning can be shown by my gestures. For example: “come in. sit down. Stand up. Raise your hand.” My purpose is not to teach the words, but to let the children hear the sounds of the language. I repeat these sentences each day, and gradually add more sentences. After several days, I ask students to say these sentences, and they enjoy seeing others respond to their commands.

I give lots of praise and encouragement.  “Good. Great.  Nice job.   Excellent.”

I hope the suggestions below will help you, no matter which printed curriculum you are using.

II. Introducing New Words

I let them hear a new word in many situations. (Examples: sit on the chair. Sit on the stool. Sit on the floor)

Use pictures and objects. (Example: This is a tree)

Introduce only one new piece of information at a time (Examples:
1. Sit (new information)
2. Sit on chair (on is new; chair is new)
3. Sit on the chair (the is new)
4. Sit on this chair (this is new)

Introduce a new word by comparing it to another word: (Examples:
1. sit / stand
2. sit on the chair /  stand on the chair
3. sit on this chair / sit on that chair
[as you add more words in later days, compare them to old words.]


Some children have difficulty with knowing where words begin and end, so put clear pauses in between words, use them in context: (Examples: The dogs run.  The girls run.   GH. Capital letters are the initials of the teacher who provided the idea to me.)

III. Practicing Known Words

I spend lots of time on review each day before teaching new words.

I involve the students in actions:  For example:
1. After teacher gives commands, let students give commands.  (sit down.  Stand up)
2. Let students practice actions in groups of two. Students can say “Please give me the …  ”  “Please pick up the … ”

I often have students speak alone in sequence, not only in unison. Example:
when saying numbers, one student says “one,” the next student says “two,” and continue.

I page though picture books and magazines, asking “what do you see,” and “where is the blue cup,” and also have them ask the same questions to me, and also point to items and say “what is this?”

I use role playing games, such as ordering food at a restaurant: one child is customer, one child is waiter. (Other ideas are buying toys.  buying fruit))

I use numbers to help students gain confidence.

Here are some ways to practice numbers:

Entire Class: You can involve all students in counting by forming a circle and asking each student to say the number that comes next

Groups of two: Here are some activities that two students can do together:
1. Students take turns saying the number that comes next
2. one student opens a book and the other says the page number
3 one student opens a phone book and the other says the phone number
4.Use a Calendar to practice months and years, days of the week
5. one student writes a  math problem and the other student reads it
6. counting money  “How much money is this?”
7. Telling time “what time is it”
8. Telling age “How old are you?”


Anytime I put words into familiar tunes, the children recall them much more easily.  GH June 10, 2014

It has been my experience that languages cannot be taught, but they can be “caught”. Language is a means of communicating ideas and teachers do not know what students want to say.  When the student wants to say something, it should be an idea that he wants to share and thus he generates, from his own understanding of language, a “sentence” to share that idea.  If the listener understands the idea, even if pronunciation and grammar are “incorrect,” then the speaker has communicated his idea.  That is the purpose, to communicate the idea. No one should tell the speaker how to say it “correctly.” He will make his own corrections as he continues to experience ideas that are shared with him.  MGG June 11, 2014

Kids love games so try to teach or review in games, such as running to find objects or colors you call out.  Lining up in various orders can teach comparison words.  MEU June 16 2014

Here are more ways to  reinforce words that have been taught. I use matching games ( paper and the item). You can get small sized items; like monopoly money, figures like the iron and ship. Childrens toys, like plastic fruits and vegetables are great to work with. You mentioned treasure hunt( physically and hidden picture puzzles) to find the items. I also like to find books that use that sound or new word so they hear the concept used in different conversation. BM


When I teach reading, I think about these things:

Introduce words that the student already knows how to say, and already knows the meaning.

At first, give only one sound to each letter.  Example, if you are using c as in cat, don’t also use c as in city.  Introduce the second way later.

Be careful about different printing styles. (like hand-written a and g). l teach them separately

When a letter has many sounds, (like “a” does), practice one way thoroughly before introducing the next way. (For example, learn to read the a in cat, can, tan, mat, and then later, learn to read the a in mate, fate, , and then later, learn to read the a in father, pa, ma,    etc.

To aid in differentiating the English sounds, I have devised an alphabet in which every English letter represents only ONE English sound. Go to Alfubet.


I would also encourage picture labeling–even drawing lines to match pictures with words  GH

After teaching short vowels first, name them vowels  a,e,i,o,u. But then teach vowels that need helpers. The helpers make the vowel say it’s own name. Not only vowel-consonant-vowel (ake,ame) but ai,ay. This makes it easier to teach ea, ei, and so on. because they already understand the concept.  BM Feb 2015

All grade levels have a “High Frequency Sight Words” list. These are words they must know how to say and spell by the end of that school year. For example; kindergarten; a,the,he,she,I) . After introducing the words a few at a time, flash cards, partners, timed tests are excellent ways to allow students to work independently on learning how to say and spell the words.  BM 2015

The writers

This page has been put together by Jim Found,  Published on web site June 12, 2014.  Thanks to the many teachers who have given me ideas to add — their names are shown in capital letters.  You may email me if you have more suggestions to add. Also see:
ideas for teaching English overseas
and for schools overseas
    and for classroom teaching in general


ESL Resource Guide. This resource includes links to many additional websites that will help you teach English. Thanks to SH for suggesting it.

USING EMOJIS:  Thanks to Olivia’s ESL class for recommending this resource about using emojis for teaching a new language: Wizard Pins added May 11 2023.

Here is a list of things to learn from Minneapolis (USA) schools. Go to the filename on that page.

Contributor KZ suggests these websites. Her favorite is  http://www.englishteachermelanie.com/

She says the next one is one of the best websites out there. Unfortunately, a lot of people use it and sometimes it’s VERY slow loading. They are trying to move to a different server, but this site has lots of videos with pronunciation as well as games and interactive activities for students.  http://www.manythings.org/

She also provides some current links for ESL with kids. There is all kinds of stuff on the internet. Simply search for ESL-Kids. Here are some samples:

Go to this website’s home menu page
Go to this website’s Chinese Language menu
Go to this website’s Learning Chinese menu