By Ian Kitching

14 April 2023 - 22.42

motiver son enfant à apprendre l'anglais

Marisa Howenstine (Unsplash)

Over the many years that I’ve been teaching children English, their parents always ask me the same question. How can they help their child improve and make faster progress in English? 

The answer to that question very much depends on the age and level of English that the child already has,  but there is one key element that makes all the difference. Motivation.

If a child is motivated to do something, then they will almost certainly learn faster and make more progress at it. This is the same with all subjects that they are learning at school, or outside of it. Our job as teachers is to find the best ways to motivate our students so that learning English is something they enjoy doing. We all know that look our children give us when they find a subject boring and demotivating. It is such a pain that we, as parents and teachers, have to go through, to find ways to encourage them to learn a subject when they are simply not motivated.

Research has proven over the years that teachers play such a huge role in motivating their students,  but parental engagement is also vital. Like most children, my own daughter is extremely good at some subjects at school, but less so at others. When I ask her why she struggles with Biology, for example, she always says the same thing. The teacher makes the lessons so boring. I remember that she felt the same way about Physics last year, but this year, she loves it because the teacher makes it interesting, so she is much more motivated to learn.

So, our goal as teachers is to find ways to motivate our students so that learning English is not a chore, but something they look forward to and willingly participate in. For this reason, our courses are built around projects and real-life tasks with communicative outcomes that allow the learners to use English for a specific reason but in a fun and dynamic way. Learning for the sake of it, or because parents tell them it’s important, doesn’t work with most children. So, we create situations in the classroom that allow the children to use the language in a real context and try to make it enjoyable. This, we know from experience, is very motivating. 

However, to come back to the original question from parents; How can we help our children improve and make faster progress outside the classroom?

At the British Council, we know that reading and literature play a vital role in developing vocabulary, grammar, reading and writing skills but can also be an extremely motivating tool with children especially younger ones. That’s why, this year, we decided to launch a series of ‘English Extra’ activities for children of all ages that are all linked to books, stories and reading. Earlier in the academic year, we launched the ‘Reading Challenge’.

The aim of this was to give all our students, no matter which age, access to age-appropriate books in English that they can take home to read on their own or with their parents if they are still pre-literate or developing. This was quite an academic and logistical challenge with almost 4000 children of different ages studying with us in 9 different locations in Ile de France. Nevertheless, this has proved very popular with teachers, children and parents alike throughout the year. 

In addition, we decided to launch a series of competitions (English Extra activities) that all tie in with the concept of reading, stories and books. Firstly, we launched a ‘Bookmark Design Competition’ where children were asked to choose their favourite character from a story, draw a picture of them and write a few words or sentences in English about why they liked them. Once again, this created a lot of interest and was very popular with teachers, children and parents. This type of activity gave the children a clear goal to motivate them to read and also write about a character from a story. The entries we received were stunning and it was so difficult to choose winners as the children obviously put so much effort into the entries that were submitted. The bookmarks were also distributed to all our young learner students and even my own children have copies and use them to mark their own books at home.

Later in the year, after many of the children had borrowed several books to take home and read, we launched the ‘Book Review Competition’. This time, the children had to write a review in English of a book they had read and for the younger ones also draw a scene from the story. The winning entries of this competition are being published in a magazine format and copies handed out to all our students. There is no prouder moment for parents than seeing your child’s work published and given out for others to read. For both competitions, we had hundreds of entries from children of different ages.

The winners also had the added motivation of being invited to a Winners Ceremony where they had their photos taken and received prizes which included book vouchers, free English courses, certificates and printed copies of their work to hand out family and friends. These types of activities were clearly very motivating for the children and also their parents. I’ve lost track of the number of times I had parents, teachers and children ask me about the competitions, tell me how much their child looked forward to them and how motivated they were to submit their entries. Their teachers and I were truly astounded by their interest and the amount of time and detail they put into their work.

The final competition which will be launched towards the end of the academic year is the global British Council Young Learner Art Competition. Each year, this is based on theme which is chosen by the headquarters in the UK. For the last two years, we’ve also received hundreds of entries and had two entries here in France who were worthy winners in the global competition. All these activities play a such big part in motivating our students to use their English and artistic talents for a specific purpose. So, when parents ask me the same question again, I’ll know what else to say next time. 

coucours d'arts 2023 enfants british council


Photo de Ian Kitching, Responsable pédagogique au British Council

Ian Kitching

Ian has a Trinity TESOL, Cambridge CELTYL, Cambridge DELTA and NILE teaching pre-primary children. He has also been an IELTS examiner and in management for many years. He has been teaching in language schools, universities and the British Council in Belgium, Spain, Vietnam and France for almost 20 years.  He loves teaching younger children, in particular, as they are so motivated and he enjoys using lots of songs, stories, role-plays and games to engage with these age groups.