Improve Your Child’s English with ESL Techniques

My first baby was slow to start speaking. She was clearly learning, but her verbalization was slow. We talked to her pediatrician and took he

r to speech therapy when she was two. She took about six months, and then her therapist and pediatrician were no longer worried, and she graduated with a recommendation that she start pre-school as soon as possible. It wasn’t possible for us. We couldn’t afford it, and the local district wouldn’t accept her right away.

I tried reading to her, but she was so energetic that it didn’t do much. When I started working with VIPKID, it was a revelation! I started using the skills I was learning on my daughter. Like with any student, not every technique worked, but we saw almost immediate improvements.

The Five Most Helpful Techniques

  1. TPR: I wrote an article about TPR (total physical response) here, but basically it’s acting out a word and getting your student or child to repeat the action. Nouns are generally the easiest, followed by verbs – hold up your nose and make snorting sounds for pig, fold your hands on your head, stick your tongue out and *woof* for dog, pretend to run for run. My daughter loves the animals and it helped her learn the sounds each animal made. We started doing it with food and that was so helpful when she was very young. The trick is to make sure that your child is saying the words as best they can with the TPR. If they’re clearly biting into an apple, that’s great and helpful, but getting them to speak is the goal.
  2. Repeat new words 3 times: This is a common technique at VIPKID. Repeating just the word helps the student retain the pronunciation. They’ll still need regular review, but it’s easier if they’ve said the word more than once or twice. You can make it fun! Sing the word. Shout the word. Whisper the word.
  3. Break down multiple syllable words: Multiple syllable words can be difficult. If you break them down by syllable, you child will be able to reproduce the sounds more easily. We’re currently doing this with my 1 year old. It’s great to hear him making little words. When you’re breaking down syllables, be sure to eventually make the complete word. Bed………time, bed….time, bedtime.
  4. Start working on reading by matching big and small letters: You can get magnets, you can find foam letters, you could even do the activity with something as simple as a whiteboard or piece of paper. It doesn’t have to get crazy. Lay out or write the uppercase and lower case letters and show your child how to match them together. /A/ goes with /a/, and so forth. I was blown away when my three-year-old was able to easily do this activity. I thought reading must be right around the corner. It wasn’t, but she can almost write her name! As they’re matching, start teaching the sound each letter makes. You can find many recommendations on which letters to teach first, but if they’re not in preschool, or just beginning, I’d go with the letters in their name.
  5. When the letter matching is easy, start with CVC words: CVC or consonant-vowel-consonant words are a great learning tool. Ask them the sound each letter makes, and show them how to blend the sounds together. For example, if I were teaching the word “bug”, I would ask my student or child what sound each letter makes. Then we’d work on putting /b/-/u/-/g/ together while pointing to each letter.

Activity Ideas for Your Toddler


  • TPR Activity: Gather your child’s favorite toys. Hold one up, say the word, and do an action that accompanies the word. For example, my daughter loves elephants. I
    would hold up one of her elephants, say “elephant” and make a trunk with my arm. Teach your child how to make a trunk, and attempt the word. Keep practicing as their pronunciation gets better.
  • Repetition Activity: Turn words your child struggles with into songs! Sing them in the car, or at home. Give them movement or dancing to include a little TPR. Sing them loudly or softly. Sometimes it’s easier for a child to pronounce words in song form. I have taught many 6-year-olds the word “parallelogram” this way.
  • Letter Recognition: There are tons of letter recognition activities, but my daughter’s favorite is coloring. We started with the letters in her name. I used a coloring book like this one. As she got through the letters, we sang about what sound each letter made, and hung them on a big bulletin board in the kitchen. My husband and I would talk with her about them as we ate dinner. This is an activity we’re still using a lot. This can be turned into a CVC activity as well. After they’ve colored their pictures, line them up in short words. Start working on the sounds and blending the words together.
  • TPR/Identification Activity: Hold up a finger puppet and ask your child if it’s one of two animals (i.e. hold up the dog, is it a dog or a duck?). Use TPR, and see how your child answers. Correct whatever they say into a grammatically correct sentence: “this is a dog”.
  • Identification/CVC Activity: There are lots of products that you can use for word building. Our speech therapist used something like this. She would hold up a card,
    Hold your arm up to your nose to imitate an elephant.
    Elephant TPR is a sure way to get a laugh from your kiddo.

    and have my daughter identify the picture. Now that my daughter has advanced a little, I’m using these to start working on spelling. I use these, and my alphabet cards to spell the word as she says it. You could do the same thing with a whiteboard.


There are lots of ways to combine these techniques in one activity, and they’re often more effective combined. Did you find an activity that worked particularly well for your

child? I want to know!

My daughter’s speaking abilities were a great source of frustration and concern for my husband and I. While her speech is still imperfect, it’s much better, and we work on it regularly. We know what to do now, and we can see that it’s working. Having these tools and a plan make it easier to avoid comparing her to other kids her age. We know she’ll get there eventually.

Speech delays are different for every child. I am absolutely not a medical or speech expert, and I highly recommend taking recommendations from your doctor.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *