ESL language resources for a 7-year-old?
February 27, 2013 5:40 PM   Subscribe

My Bulgarian nephew speaks no English and just enrolled in the first grade of a public school in the United States. He will be staying here until June. So far, he is handling it well and is proactive about learning English. Everyone at home has become a makeshift, round-the-clock ESL tutor and he is constantly provided with opportunities to pick up grammar and vocabulary, but his teachers don't really know what to do with him before he can communicate. What additional resources can we provide for him to help him pick up the language faster? He already has a bunch of library books, so we're looking for apps for iPad, Android, Chrome, Nintendo 3DS and other things a computer-savvy 7-year-old might enjoy. Thanks!
posted by halogen to Education (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yeah, this was basically me when I came to the states (although I was six and only spoke Russian.) He's going to pick it up really, really fast at that age. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he's gone from zero to effectively fluent by age 9 -- I grew up in an Russian/Chinese immigrant community, and most of us were fluent by then. One thing my parents did was made sure I owned a bunch of English-language stuff -- magazines, puzzle books, comics -- that, unlike library books, were my own. It's hard to explain, but it de-alienates the language in a way library books and school books and parents' books can't. Also, you'd be surprised how much a television being on or a radio playing or any other sort of constant stream of ambient English language helps. Give him a cheap little radio or load up a bunch of music on a cheap MP3 player with some tinny speakers. Surround him with the active English language for as long as he's up and it'll greatly compliment any formal education.

Scribblenauts for DS would be a great thing for him to have once he gets some vocabulary down.
posted by griphus at 6:13 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

What state are you in? In Texas, it is a requirement that he receive instruction from a teacher trained in ESL instructional strategies. In general, any native speakers of his first language should use that language with him unless they are also fluent in English. Studies have shown that children can transfer grammar structures from one language to another if given good examples in the primary language. In other words, the native language will help him more than broken English. The more "realia" that can be used to demonstrate vocabulary the better. Use real objects or at least pictures.

There are many translator apps for iPad. Translator is one we use.

Academic language usually follows conversational language by about six months, which means he will talk to his peers and family long before he understands and speaks "school talk". So try to provide opportunities for interaction with peers, visits to the museum, the zoo, play dates, etc.
posted by tamitang at 6:15 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wait, is he going back to Bulgaria in June just for the summer and then back to school for second grade? Either way, definitely get him a little MP3 player loaded with English stuff to take back.
posted by griphus at 6:16 PM on February 27, 2013

Please clarify if he will be visiting or staying. It probably makes a difference.
posted by Nomyte at 6:21 PM on February 27, 2013

He is in Houston, TX and will be there only for a few months to satisfy a green card residence requirement. He will be coming to the US on a regular basis for the indefinite future, but we don't know whether it'll be during the school year or during vacations.

His school does have ESL instructors, but they're trained with Spanish-speaking students and he is not in an ESL class for the time being even though that might change, it's only been three days. He is otherwise very bright for his age, he can write and is an advanced reader in Bulgarian. He knows the Latin alphabet and can read simple English, but in a very rudimentary manner.

Again: his mother and my grandparents are doing a lot already by translating, encouraging him, keeping him busy and taking him places around town. They asked me to suggest things that he can do on his own – he loves playing computer & video games – that will help him build vocabulary, learn spelling, etc.
posted by halogen at 6:42 PM on February 27, 2013

I've said it before, but as an adult learning a new language, it was helpful to watch the same movie over and over. The first two times with subtitles, or someone explaining what was going on, and then just over and over on my own. I do not know why.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:17 PM on February 27, 2013

Children are very good at the immersion thing. It sounds like he will have at least intermittent exposure to English indefinitely. As long as he has a varied day and gets exposed to both written and spoken English in different settings, he really shouldn't need very much formal support. I'm pretty sure that being in a foreign-language environment is both exciting and extremely aggravating to a bright, curious child. It's probably best to let him work at his own pace, checking in periodically to see what he needs help with. He ought to be able to come up with lots of questions for you on his own.

It really does sound that your family is already doing a lot by taking the kid around town and showing him things he finds interesting. I imagine that places with lots of labels might be especially useful: supermarkets and produce markets, zoos, science museums, etc. But really, any kid who matches your description of your nephew is already throwing all his energy into understanding his surroundings. It takes time.
posted by Nomyte at 7:28 PM on February 27, 2013

Ok, in Texas, if it is a public school, they have 20 days to do an English fluency test. If he isn't deemed fluent in English, he must, by law, be placed with a teacher certified in ESL instructional strategies or in a bilingual program. This can be done through a pull-out program, or in the early grades will usually mean that the regular classroom teacher will have an ESL certification in addition to a regular teaching certificate.

It is likely that he has already been placed with such a teacher if they knew it was probable that he would need this service. Being certified in ESL has nothing to do with Spanish technically; it is English as a Second Language. They are supposed to be trained to support English language learners no matter what the native language. I would imagine that Houston has a huge variety of languages. Even our small town has students whose primary language is Spanish, Vietnamese, German, or Filipino. If the school stalls on this, take it on up the ladder. It doesn't matter if he only plans to be here for a few months, he deserves that support in the classroom and is entitled to it by state law. This is something that has very strict guidelines.
posted by tamitang at 9:51 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I teach English to kids this age and ability in Hong Kong and I cannot pry the books from our start-of-lesson book box out of their hands! I recommend as much fun reading as possible. Yes to libraries! And bookstore gift cards mean he gets to choose what he's into and practice navigating an anglophone-only space too! Any other enrichment you can provide would be awesome as well - science museums, aquariums, etc...
posted by mdonley at 11:52 PM on February 27, 2013

You are going to be AMAZED at how fast this little guy picks up the language. I worked with ESL teenagers and I could get them from FOB (Fresh off the Boat) to functional in a semester. The little ones, even faster.

Interactive is the way to go here, flash cards, numbers, songs, etc. Watch some simple cartoons and ask questions. Repeat and repeat the sames ones. (Little kids like repetition and predictibility.)

When reading books, ask questions about the pictures and have him point to things. "Show me the bear. Where is the bear's nose? What is red?"

Go over his school work with him. Be in constant communication with his teachers.

He may get fatigued easily. It's hard doing things all day in a new language. Give him time just to chill and refresh. Run him around outdoors for fresh air and the chance to just scream and burn off energy.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:54 AM on February 28, 2013

For a computer savy 7 year old, the three websites he might enjoy:

They all have a lot of educational games, spelling, counting etc. and will also expose him to kid pop culture.
posted by valoius at 12:27 PM on February 28, 2013

I just got to hang out with the kid for a few days. He is reading and writing English sentences better than many of the U.S.-born middle-schoolers I tutor, even if he can't understand every single word sometimes, and he is learning new vocabulary and grammar by the hour. Things are going quite all right!

And yes, I understand it's very easy for kids – my parents sent me to school in Germany for a few years following only half a summer of German lessons after I turned 8 – but we want to make it even easier for him. Either way, it's oh so remarkable to see it happen right before your eyes.
posted by halogen at 10:08 PM on March 16, 2013

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