How ESL Learners can teach their children to read

Last Updated on February 5, 2022 by Estrella

teaching your child to read
Teaching your child to read. Photo by Nicole De Khors from Burst

Is it possible for ESL learners to teach their children to read? Of course! Whether you are an advanced ESL learner or beginning, there are some principles to keep in mind. Obviously, the more advanced your English is, the more you can help your children improve their reading. So don’t feel discouraged if you are closer to the beginning end of the process. The principles are the same.

How to teach your children to read if you are an ESL learner

Introduce your children to phonics

One of the skills to teach your children is phonics. How to interpret what they see into sounds. For example, combine the sound “at” with certain consonants, and your child will be able to say a few more words. Bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, pat, rat, sat. Combine the sound “oil” with other consonants, and you’ll get the following. Boil, coil, foil, soil, toil. Or, try combining the sound “ot” with c, d, g, h, j, p, r, s, t. You’ll get cot, dot, God, hot, jot, pot, rot, sot (not used very often) and tot.

One tool you can use is Hooked on Phonics. You can buy the kit, or you can go on YouTube to watch some free videos. It was one of the popular learning tools that came out. Although it’s geared for children, adults learning English phonics can also benefit from it.

Show your children how to read for meaning instead of words

Another skill to teach your children is read for meaning instead of words. In many reading classes, students are often asked to read a paragraph or so aloud. If the purpose is to correct pronunciation, reading aloud has a purpose. Or if it’s to tell a story. However, reading out loud with the intent to understand the content is not effective. Our brain can think a lot faster than our mouth can make sounds. That means if we read quietly, we can move at a much faster pace. However, there is something to observe when you read silently.

Do you move your lips when you read silently?

When you read silently, do you move you lips? If so, the result is pretty much the same as reading aloud. When you read each word, it’s easy to miss the meaning of the sentence, or the phrase. In the same way, if you read each word, it’ll be hard to understand the meaning of the paragraph. And you’ll end up reading again because you don’t understand the meaning.

So how does this apply to teaching your children to read? If the purpose of the session is to teach pronunciation or phonics, then do so. If the intent is to read for meaning, and you want to read aloud to your children, then a whole phrase before you pause. This way, it’ll be easy to grasp the meaning of the story

Do you understand more when you read slower?

Reading speed also makes a difference in comprehension. You might think reading slowly will help you understand more. However, that’s not necessarily the case. I remember an English professor who read classic novels aloud in class. He read faster than anyone I’ve met. Over time, I saw why he did that. His reading speed matched more closely with the speed of my brain, therefore I could process the information more efficiently. If he had read slowly to match how fast I could speak, then it could have slowed down my processing of the information. Try this, and experiment for yourself.

So, it IS possible for ESL learners of various stages to teach their children to read. Phonics can help your children (and you) combine vowel sounds with consonants to build vocabulary. And this also helps with spelling. Reading entire phrases before you pause helps children to understand the story much better than if you read word by word.

If you find this article helpful, you might also enjoy reading How to pronounce the sounds r, p, v, and th for ESL learners.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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