By: Miriam Schwartz
As long as there have been immigrants, or Olim, from English-speaking countries, the question of how to maintain children’s English speaking, reading, and writing levels has been pondered. Many parents are aware of the importance of studying English beyond what is covered in the Israeli school system. For some, enhancing English communication outside the school system can be an efficient way to maintain strong relationships with family abroad. For others, teaching their children to read and write in English stems from a general belief in cross cultural communication and opening future career options; we know that Israeli children who can read and write in English with proficiency find it easier to pursue higher education as many Israeli university texts are in English.
Within the Israeli school system, English is generally introduced by third grade. Students are often grouped by level of English proficiency and native English speakers often study in their own classroom. Reading and writing ability often varies even among native English-speaking children, and parents frequently resort to English instruction on a private level to ensure efficient progress for the individual student. Some parents hire a private tutor for their children. Other parents may send their children to a weekly or semiweekly workshop where a small group of children gather and cover a set amount of material each session. Some parents choose to teach their children independently at home.
Hiring a private tutor can prove very effective, as lessons are tailored to your child in your home and the child avoids the sometimes-stifling lockstep learning of a group setting. One must be aware that when a child is taught in his/her own home, it is clearly the child’s territory and the teacher’s authority might be somewhat hindered, affecting the lessons. Lessons outside the home may be more efficient in the long run. Private lessons can prove costly and can amount to as much as 150 NIS for a forty-five-minute session.
Sending to a workshop, or chug (חוג), as they are called in Israel, can be effective as well, and can run from 180-340 NIS a month for a once a week class. Workshops can serve as an excellent motivation for children as they introduce a social element to the children’s studies. It is important to be aware that a weekly English lesson may not suffice to see efficient progress without diligent attention to homework or parental supplementation.
If your schedule is flexible, teaching your children at home can be the cheapest and most rewarding method when part of a daily homework schedule. You can avoid the high cost of tutoring while tailoring the learning to the child’s needs and gain quality time with your child. There are many resources both in Israel and abroad to assist in this process. Please do not overlook homeschooling websites, Amazon.com, and support groups meant for Olim. These can prove to be extremely helpful when choosing and pursuing a learning plan for your child.
Whatever method you choose for your family, though, reading and writing fluency at a high level can only be achieved through home support, whether it is part of an official learning program or not. For Israeli-born children of English-speaking descent, English speaking on a social level is less of a value, as the Israeli child’s world is one where spoken and written Hebrew is the norm. One can maintain a high level of English literacy in native-born Israeli children with a combination of rich materials in the home and the insistence of English as the family language; however, parents need to allow for differences in children and their varying levels of interest in the English-speaking culture to which they do not necessarily relate.
Children who are more reluctant to answer parents’ questions in English often reply in Hebrew, frequently shifting an entire discussion to Hebrew. For these children, it may help to gently encourage “trying again” in English. Sometimes it helps to supply the child with the missing English words to ensure effective sharing and ongoing, accurate English communication. Maintaining your family’s English speaking culture can be additionally supported by retaining English speaking childcare for your household. Youngsters sent to English-speaking kindergartens until the age of three or four are more likely to rely on English as their mother tongue and in turn speak English to their siblings.
Because English is not Israel’s native language, parents should do their best to search for children’s readers and workbooks which encourage enthusiasm, lower frustration, and raise literacy levels in a systematic and predictable way. Illustrations that draw the reader in to a book or workbooks that are thorough and colorful are a definite plus when choosing texts for English instruction.
Thanks to modern technology and improved shipping, teaching your child to read and write English in Israel need not be complicated. Ideas for teaching English are readily found on the internet. Many parents download readers and children’s books from library systems of their host countries and children happily read English books from e-readers. Ordering children’s magazines on all sorts of topics has proven to be an effective motivator for young readers. Some book suppliers ship books to Israel free of charge.
English speaking Olim strive to maintain a delicate balance. While parents need their children to be well integrated in the Israeli culture, they want children to feel comfortable in the language and culture of their countries of origin, as well. English is a gift to children; with gentle persistence, one can successfully transmit the pleasures of reading and writing in English and transfer its practical benefits, as well.
Miriam Schwartz holds an MA in education from Teachers College Columbia University. In addition to homeschooling her own children for a number of years, Miriam currently resides in Jerusalem, where she developed an after-school English program in which hundreds of children learn English literacy. To contact Miriam, please email here at: firstname.lastname@example.org.