How to Teach a Child to Read English as a Second Language?

By Julia Solovieva – Language teacher with more than 10 years of experience in teaching English as a second language. You can follow her on FB on Random English.

If you are planning on teaching your children English then one of the key things you need to know is how to teach a child to read English as a second language. 

Reading is an essential language-learning and general life skill. To teach your child English successfully, teaching them to read is absolutely essential. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of reading for successful language learning.

We’ll also take a detailed look at different ways of teaching children to read in English.

Why is reading important?

What makes reading such an important skill for learners of the English language? Here are some of the main reasons:

  • It helps expand the learner’s vocabulary
  • It is a great way to practice English
  • It is a skill your child will need in the future for education and work
  • Through reading, learners can find out more about the language they are learning
  • Most of all – reading is simply fun!

There are also studies that demonstrate a correlation between good reading skills and academic success.

So, if you want your child to study successfully in the future, teaching them to read in English is essential.

Useful tips on how to teach a child to read English as a second language

Teaching your child to read in English is about much more than just opening a book and reading it to or with them.

Here are practical tips that will help you teach children to read in English more effectively.

Don’t neglect the alphabet

Before they can start reading in English, children need to be familiar with the alphabet: what the letters look like and what sounds they make.

Check out this article to find out what the best toys to learn the alphabet are.

Start with individual words

Reading texts, even just long sentences, can be overwhelming to young kids who are just learning to read in English.

Don’t rush things, start with the individual words first.

There are many different things you can do, for example:

  • Put labels on everyday objects and read them together with your child when you come across them
  • Make your own word cards together, with words and pictures
  • Play board games made for teaching reading or adapt existing games (for instance, you can play a bingo- or dominoes-like game, but with words and pictures instead of numbers)

Use appropriate materials

Don’t teach young children to read using books meant for adults or even teenagers. Even if there’s no inappropriate content in these books, it would be much harder – if not impossible – for a toddler to make any sense of them.

Take a look at these books for babies and books for toddlers – you can easily use them to teach your child to read English as a second language.

Play around with letter magnets or blocks

Letter magnets can be a fun way to teach both reading and writing.

Spell words and ask your child to read them, or ask them to spell a short word you have just said.

You can add pictures and toys to the letters, or spell out different verbs and act them out.

Read together regularly

Your child can pick up a lot of reading skills from simply being read to regularly. And if you engage them in the process every now and then, they will learn even faster. You can, for instance, ask your child to read some of the words or repeat them together with you.

Engage other skills

Communication skills – reading, writing, listening, and speaking – rarely occur in isolation.

In everyday life, we often have to do a couple at the same time, or one followed by another.

Add other skills to your reading sessions:

  • Listen to songs and nursery rhymes while reading the text
  • Role-play, retell, and/or discuss the stories you’ve read – using English whenever possible
  • Draw letters, spell words, make short sentences using word cards

Make it fun!

Remember: young children learn through play.

They learn much more effectively when they are having fun.

Don’t turn reading into a chore they have to do.

Make it an exciting activity – and have fun together with your kid while reading in English.

Don’t overuse technology

Adding some tech to teaching your child English can be a lot of fun: there are a lot of engaging apps and battery-operated toys out there.

However, they can be distracting as well, with all the sounds, buttons, and images distracting from the reading itself.

While technology can be good for language learning, don’t make it the only thing you use to teach your child to read English as a second language.

Be patient

Developing reading skills can take some time.

Do not push your child to learn reading faster than they can.

As long as they practice reading regularly, your child will gradually develop all the necessary skills. Just relax and enjoy the process – reading in English with your kid can be a lot of fun.

What books to read with your child?

Nowadays there are so many books for children available in English that trying to choose one for your child can be overwhelming. What should the criteria be?

We’ve already mentioned above that it is important for books to be age-appropriate. What else?

One of the most important tips here is to go with your child’s interests. Do they like animals? Trains?

Don’t be afraid to try out different books and simply move on if something doesn’t work – there are more than enough options for you to try.

When buying books, scan through them before making a decision.

Children’s books aren’t that long, it will just take you a couple of minutes tops – but you will be able to see if this is the kind of book your child might like.

With online shopping, there are often sample pages available for free for you to do the same.

Further reading


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