Helping your teenager with English

Whether you are a home educator or your children go to school you are an integral part of your child’s education. Once they get to the teenage years, however, it can be difficult to know how best to help them with their learning. They may see teachers as the only source of knowledge, your own subject confidence may be shaky or feel a little rusty or you may just have run out of ideas.

English can be a difficult area to tackle. It is easy to see how those first steps in English, learning to read and write, can be of benefit in the real world, however what have the later skills got to do with the real world? How do plays written in the 1500s, in a language which seems only loosely connected to our own, have any point in today’s society? Why is picking a novel apart and deciphering the authorial choices something which has any bearing on the world of work? Where, other than in further English study are you going to need to know your metaphors from your similes or your personal pronouns from your transitive verbs?

Yet, just like you use complex maths each time you drive a car, wrap a present or cross a road (I’ll write that post soon, I promise!) you use many English skills, and not just basic reading and writing, everyday.  Helping your teenager to see this can help them engage more in their study of English, often making skills relevant and practical can make them resonate more than simply study for the sake of study.  Realizing how many practical and real life aspects there are to English can also help you to find everyday ways to improve your child’s English skills, often without them even noticing.

Here are three quick tips on areas in which you can help your teenager engage with English.

Tip one:

Analysis This is an area of English which might seem very academic and pointless, unless you intend to study the subject at a higher level, but the truth is we need these skills everyday. How do you successfully decide which products being advertised are worth buying? Advertisers are masters of disguise and unless you had a critical eye and skills of analysis you would be taken in by every advertisement.

Discuss advertising with your teenager whenever you see it. Who is it aimed at? What is it trying to make you buy? How is it suggesting the product will improve you life? How true are the claims it is making? Advertising surrounds us, from TV and billboards, to shop windows and the internet. Explore with your child how understanding what an author is trying to make a reader feel to draw them into a novel, is the same as how the advertisers are trying to make us think and feel certain things to get us to buy their product.

Tip two:

Grammar This is an area where many people feel at a loss. We may just about remember what the difference is between a verb (action word) and a noun (object), but what is the point of being able to label them when it comes to the real world?

The truth is that being able to label them alone is not a skill you need in many roles, however an innate knowledge of what they are and how they fit together is what allows you to speak and write with the correct level of formality. Knowing the rules is also what allows us to break them. Why were you taught at school not to start a sentence with ‘and’, and yet authors, journalists and advertisers it all the time? To grab your attention and it is only able to do that if you realise, even subconsciously, that there is something wrong.

Talk to your child about the grammar of headlines and why news editors chose to break the rules. Many headlines miss out verbs, “Reward for key information” should read “A reward is being offered for key information”, but the reader understands the implied verb and the short punchy sentence captures our attention much more successfully. Don’t worry too much about the correct grammar labels, the reasons behind the choices are much more important.

Tip three:

Formal language There are many types of language in the real world, but unless you speak, write or read for a living, it can seem that understanding formal language has little relevance. We all want our voices to be heard at some point, however, and it amazing how a grasp of formal language can, rightly or wrongly, get us noticed in the same way that colloquial, slang or grammatically incorrect writing can lead to us being ignored.

The easiest example of this to discuss with your teenager is getting a job.  There is a level of formality expected in CVs, covering letters and job interviews, no matter what career path you are following. A well written CV and covering letter will get you to the top of the pile and a well constructed interview will get you the job.

Also, what about when you want to make a complaint? Whether complaining about the shoes you bought which fell apart, the state of the road outside your house or the service you received on holiday, those who write and speak in formal language are taken much more seriously than those who do not.

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