Today I want to talk about my experience teaching English to my children. I hope this can inspire you to speak English with your children, or even motivate you to improve your own English speaking skills.
Believe it or not, even though we teach English here at MEM, I actually speak in Bahasa Malaysia with my three boys. One of them is almost eight, the second is five and the third is two years old.
I know many of my friends speak English with their children, which is great. But I don’t know why I always found it awkward to speak in English with my own. Maybe I’ve always associated the Malay language to be the language of love. Our mother, who was a stay-at-home mum would converse with us in Malay. Our late father spoke both English and Malay with us, but he was a man of few words anyway. So growing up, at home I’d only speak English with my siblings.
I spent eight years of my childhood in Manchester.
I was five when we moved there–the same age that my second son, Ariq, is right now. As I recall, I didn’t speak at school for many months because it was a struggle for me at the beginning. Eventually, I did start speaking when I was more confident with the language.
Because I am aware of the importance of being fluent in English and Malay (I send my kids to public school), I use both languages at home, but primarily speak Malay. So even if I speak English, my children would always answer in Malay.
About two weeks ago on a Saturday morning, somehow, Arsyad, my first son, said he wanted to speak in English with us. So we conversed in English for the day. My second, Ariq, was mostly quiet. His quietness reminds me of myself when I was five and had to go to school in Manchester.
What I notice with Arsyad, the eight-year-old, is that he understands a lot of what I say in English. This is because he listens to us speak and he watches most cartoons in English. But he struggles in finding the right English words to complete his sentences. He uses a lot of “um” as he tries to look for the right words. It kind of reminds me of when he was just learning to speak as a preschooler several years ago.
So I told him that from now on, we’re going to speak in English every day. He wasn’t too happy with that, because he finds it difficult to fluently express himself. So I said, “Okay, we’re speaking English every day except for Saturday and Sunday.” He reluctantly agrees.
There are times when I see him getting frustrated when he’s trying to tell me something in Malay and I interrupt him with, “Speak English!” He finds it frustrating when he doesn’t know the English word of what he wants to say. But I tell him to stay patient. God willing, if he speaks the language every day, it’ll get easier. The hardest part is always the beginning.
The hardest part is always the beginning.
Now it’s been almost two weeks, and I see him getting more confident in speaking English with me. He doesn’t complain as much, and I find that I’m reminding him to speak in English less often. He still struggles to find words that he wants to say, so I help him fill in the gaps.
What I want you to take away from this is: the hardest part is always the beginning. If English is not your first language, you need a lot of practice to get better at it. It’s the same as learning any other skill such as playing tennis, cooking or drawing. It’s going to be hard at first, but it’ll get easier the more you practice and learn to overcome the difficult parts.
What do you find difficult in learning English? What can you do to practice and learn to overcome that difficulty? Perhaps you could join a class, speak English with your kids, or just read more English books. Let us know by leaving us a comment.