Learning English

How we help to develop language for beginners of English in Early Years, using the 'parallel talk' strategy.


Self talk


 So, what is self-talk? It’s really very simple. It may sound silly and overly simple but you just talk about what you are doing. Talk about what you see. Talk about how you feel. Use short sentences.  Not difficult to do. May sound awkward at first but be aware of self-talk and then do it.

Here are a few examples of what you may say:


  • “I’m going to get some scissors to cut my green paper.”

  • “I’m opening the sack.”

  • “I am pouring the milk in my cup.”

  • “I feel so sad right now.”

  • “I am putting the red triangle down. I am putting the blue circle next to it. .”

  • “I’m putting the spoon here. I’m putting the cup there…”


Self-talk can help expand a child’s language when a parent/teacher uses it during lunch, greeting, nap time, outdoors, and really just anytime!


Parallel Talk


Parallel-talk is similar. With parallel-talk, the adult uses sentences to talk about the child, what they are doing, what they are seeing, label the feeling or action they are doing. Key concepts and vocabulary are targeted.


Here are some examples:

  • “You are pouring the water out. Your bottle is empty now.”

  • “You put your coat on by yourself.”

  • “You have three cars. You have 1 red one and 2 blue ones.”

  • “You are rolling the playdough with your hands. It looks like a long snake now.”

  • “You are building a tower with lots of bricks. You have put the blue brick on top. The tower is tall now.”

  • You are filling the bucket with sand. It is heavy now.”


This type of talk does not require answers but the child may respond.


Ensure that this ‘running commentary’ of self talk and parallel talk is not intrusive, inhibiting and dominating. Once a child can communicate a little in English, allow for their contribution and follow their line of interest and thought.


You can view examples of this in action in the classroom (using English, Arabic and Urdu) by clicking here. Remember, key concepts and language modelled in the home language will transfer to English!


Developing Language and Comprehension skills using a ‘Busy Picture.’


Look at the ‘Busy Picture’ below – here is a game you can play with your child to help develop language and comprehension skills by modelling good language and asking questions.


Can you find…

“Can you find a small, yellow duck?”

“Can you find some ladies talking on a bench?”

“Can you find a girl skipping?”

“Can you find a yellow hat next to a cat?”

“Can you find the small, blue ball in between two boys?”


(adjectives, nouns, verbs and prepositions are used deliberately)


“What do you think the girl and her dad are pointing to?”

“How do you think the dog is feeling?”

“Who do you think the red bag belongs to?”

“Why do you think the girl is crying?”

(Apart from the first question, the rest really challenge children’s

cognitive thinking, developing higher order comprehension skills)




You can try this strategy with other ‘busy pictures’ (including pictures from reading books) and even at home or outside. e.g. “Can you find the red, plastic cup?” “Can you see  a silver car?”

Remember, you can use any language to do this, as modelling in home language will allow skills to transfer to English.


Developing Early Reading Skills


Make sure you teach your child the sounds, not the letter names, of the alphabet. This is so that they can sound out words e.g. c a t > cat


Practising alliteration (words beginning with the same sound)  and rhyme is also very useful – not only will children be assessed on these aspects but they are also good practice for reading.



Developing Reading and Comprehension skills


Before hearing your child read, ‘walkthrough’ the book (after discussing the title and front cover) by using the pictures to tell the story, pointing out key characters, settings and events (using the language structure of the text to guide you, e.g. the past tense, but still focusing on the pictures)  

This strategy helps with both reading and comprehension skills later on as well as developing language.  


e.g ‘Look, (pointing to the girl) she’s saying ‘I found my pen.’(pointing to the pen.)


When you hear your child read, please use ‘Pause, Prompt, Praise’ – when they pause, instead of telling them the word, prompt them to use strategies (e.g. using letter sounds, the picture, what makes sense) to help them and then praise them for trying.

e.g. If a child is stuck on the word  ‘house’, You could say:  ‘What sound does this word (pointing to the word) begin with?  Can you think of what begins with that sound and is in the picture? ‘Let’s read the sentence again and see what makes sense. What is the mouse in?



Don’t forget to ask questions to develop thinking and comprehension skills – even during the walkthrough. e.g. “What do you think is going to happen next?”


After reading the book you can ask them simple questions  such as ‘Who was in the story?’ ‘What happened?’

Then higher order comprehension questions such as:  ‘How do you think…felt..?’ ‘Why do you think..?’  etc


Remember, you can use any language to ask questions, as questions asked in home language will allow skills to transfer to English.