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  • Writer's pictureGaila Cohen Morrison

Dear Gaila - How To Get Your Child To Speak More English (Part I)

Dear Gaila,

My oldest three children (out of five) just finished participating in the Readathon. It was really amazing, and I can tell already what a great boost it gave their reading and even to their English vocabulary. I myself am an English speaker, but my husband is a Hebrew speaker and we speak mainly Hebrew at home. I see now that my children really struggle with their English and have even expressed disappointment that I haven't spoken to them only in English. It's too late to change languages now, but I do want to help them speak and know more English. Any ideas of what I can do?

Mother of Three Awesome Readathon Participants

Reading enriches language

Dear M.o.T.A.R.P.,

Speaking English to your children is a wonderful gift. It's truly the simplest, most natural way to teach them English. Understandably, it's hard to make such a drastic change once you've been speaking Hebrew at home for over a decade. In this two part column, I'll share a few ideas and tips on how to easily expose your children to more English.

As you mentioned, reading for the Readathon is an excellent way to enrich their English. Now that the Readathon is over, keep the momentum! Encourage them to read books in English at their level. Reading different books in a variety of topics and ideas will open them up to different English concepts. Furthermore, vocabulary in books is often on a higher level than spoken vocabulary. This will give them a great boost. Here, here, here and here are some ideas on how to encourage your children to read.

Another way is to read to your children! If your child's reading is too weak, or if they aren't motivated enough - read to them! I used to read to my daughters until they were in 4th grade or so. I know parents who have even read out loud to their high school children! Then you can discuss the book together.

Read to your children of any age

Use picture books with your two younger non-readers. Children like to point to the dog or the tree in the picture. When they are older they might even ask you what it is. Make sure that they name the pictures in English - or at the very least you should name it in English. If they use Hebrew and insist on calling it kelev or etz, repeat the word in English - "yes, this is a dog". Say a few phrases about it and describe it - "this dog looks big", "look at all the oranges in tree." Then go on to the next picture they point to. Point out the nouns and adjectives (colors, the kids are having fun) in different pictures. The key here is for them to hear the phrases on a very repetitive basis.

Make it clear to your children that you will only read books in English. This maintains a mindset that you will only read to them in English.

Next week I will bring ways to easily sneak English into your conversation!


Gaila has almost 40 year of experience teaching and runs A.H.A.V.A., a non-profit to promote English literacy. Would you like to ask Gaila a question? Email us at or send us a message. Look out for more Dear Gaila columns

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