When Andrew was learning English people asked how we did it and they are asking again so I thought I would share. I will not pretend to be an expert in teaching English but I will share what worked for us. I have to say it is really exciting to watch language build. In many ways it isn't that different than your infant learning language. Aaron and Andrew were learning at the same time and they feed off each other. With Aaron it was just normal progression with Andrew it was survival.
I will first tell you what we don't do. I don't pick a word or two for the day and work on them. I put up with some incorrect identifications and language crossovers. Angela was at first identifying a zebra as a horse. We called Andrew - Sukhoon Andrew. It was and is his name. Eventually it switched to Andrew Sukhoon. Angela sometimes calls her shoes socks. We correct it but know what she is trying to say. This sometimes results in strange word connections. For example Angela knows the word finger and that she has to hold a finger/hand to walk out in the street. So she will say finger when she wants to hold a hand and I say finger when I want her to hold my hand. Is this exactly right no but it works.
What we do is we tend to have a running one sided conversation. It repeatedly identifies the objects around us. If we have the word in their language we use it together. For example, one of Angela's first words was shoes because she used the word zapatos to identify them. Perry and I know this is the Spanish word for shoes. So we would say Zapatos shoes whenever we put them on or took them off. We didn't get into the difference between sandals, flip flops and tennis shoes etc. Soon she was using the word shoes. We walk down the road and I identify the trees, the cows, the horses and so forth. In the car we talk about the colors we see. At the grocery store we talk about the food we are picking up. You get the idea. If we want a particular response, we use it when we do the action. For example, Up please. When Angela raised her arms. I would say up please. The result these are words she is using now.
We also sing many things. Both Andrew and Angela have sung before they completely understood what they were saying. I am told that children's songs and rhymes often teach basics in language. Take for example Old Mac Donald. What does he say E-I-E-I-O. Ever thought about the fact they are vowel sounds. We sing graces because it is distinguishable from our talking so they know it is a prayer. Angela almost has all the words to Thank you Father - tune of Father John. We sing the ABCs when we wash her hands. You get the idea.
We also build on what they know. One of my favorite stories was taking Andrew to get the car repaired. At this point he understood the word hospital because Perry works there and loved cars. He wanted to know where we were going which was and is very important to him. I said a car hospital because I knew that he didn't have the word repair shop yet. Then I said the name for a car hospital is a car repair shop.
We also used a lot of simple picture books like Kika and my first word book. I also let them watch a little more TV than I do now. Specifically the letter factory, Baby Einstein, Word World and Baby First/Color Crew. Your first thought maybe these are too easy for a 3 or 4 year old. They were great because they focused on one or two things and repeated them over and over. This was and is great for linking things.
We also ask the question Do you understand hundreds of time. The positive is that Andrew today still asks what words mean and will often say he doesn't understand. It sometimes required creative thinking to use words or actions in such a way that he could understand them but it was worth the effort. We are beginning this with Angela.
So that is how we build language at the Barbee house. It may be unconventional but it has worked for us.