How can I get my child to improve her grammar?
Most students we encounter are strong learners and have completed reams of grammar worksheets and practice materials. Regardless, in their speaking and writing, they are unable to use correct grammar.
This is because grammar is not so much a matter of knowing the rules, but of being in the habit of using them organically.
As such, we don’t spend a ton of time specifically on grammar. Instead, we teach writing, and then when students finish a draft, they have to rewrite the entire thing after a teacher has proofread and edited their work.
What students need is not more grammar practice; they need to see their own words compiled correctly and then write those words with the corrected grammar. What this does is chart neural pathways to get them used to seeing their writing with correct grammar patterns. This process works to undo the influence of their native language on their English sentence construction.
Another thing we are big on is English immersion – when students are at Englist, they are speaking English exclusively. This means with teachers, with friends, with anyone who isn’t their mom or dad. In English-only environments, student brains are able to saturate in the language and develop those same neural pathways – this is why language students improve so much when they travel to the place where everyone speaks the language they are learning.
Finally, we ask that all students read in English for 30 minutes per day. We have an article and video about the importance of developing this habit, so be sure to check it out. As it pertains to grammar though, reading is another way in which students can “immerse” themselves in the English language. If they are reading something casual that they are interested in – not textbooks from other schoolwork! – they organically are able to expose themselves to native English grammar patterns, which can work to reinforce proper usage.
So, in short, if you want your student to improve their grammar, our writing programs and immersive environment, along with independent reading, are exactly what they need.
How can my kid get into a top tier university?
The most important thing is for them to get good grades at school – as close to straight A’s as possible.
Next, if you are hoping to get your son or daughter into an American university, they are probably going to have to take one of the major college entrance tests like the SAT or ACT. This is changing a little bit – these tests have a history of being unfair and less than perfect indicators of student aptitude and readiness. Still, they are widespread and are seen as an important benchmark.
Students will also need to display a high level of autonomy, initiative, and interests that set them apart from other applicants. Many students display these features through an extracurricular activity. We have written about this on our blog, so be sure to check out that post.
Many students will also be asked to participate in a college interview, either with application officers or alumni of the university in question. Students who are articulate, engaged, and curious obviously do better than kids who are stiff and stilted in their interactions.
Finally, college applicants will need to put together a strong application, including the personal essay where students will need to display their enthusiasm for learning, what they have to contribute, how they stand apart, and how thoughtful they are and how developed their thinking is.
Being successful in all of these areas requires a ton of hard work along with critical thinking and communication skills. Getting into a top school also demands strong writing and overall English ability.
How can my child improve his critical thinking skills?
Critical thinking skills, meaning reasoning, clear communication, and independent and original thought, are perhaps the most important skillset gained through quality education, which is why college applications and tests like the SAT look first for them. The critical thinking skills needed to succeed in college, and during the application process, are best taught through exposure to advanced ideas and structures and then analysis of those ideas.
In other words, the best way to develop critical thinking skills is to learn to write analytically.
At Englist we start writers out in Level 1, where we teach students the elements of an essay and then the structure of those elements. This means we help students to develop their own thoughts about an idea, and then show young writers how to structure those ideas in a way that people will understand them and come to agree with them. Our Level 1 class is built around our own proprietary curriculum we have developed over years of experience working with young writers.
In Level 2, we build on the structure and elements and begin to engage more complex issues as well as more advanced forms of writing, forcing students to think on higher levels and analyze more deeply.
Englist continues to focus heavily on critical thinking skills through Level 3, as well as in Taipei Teen Tribune and our other programs. As far as we know, no other programs in Taiwan are focused specifically on critical thinking skills nor do many schools address academic writing skills.
If critical thinking skills are something you aim for your student to master, Englist is the place to do it.
My son has basketball practice / violin lessons / Model UN meetings at that time - can you adjust the class time?
Our classes have other students and we set up our schedule to best accommodate as many students as possible. We simply cannot shift the schedules of dozens of students based on the wants and needs of one.
Second, we strongly encourage parents to think hard about their kids’ priorities. We understand basketball is fun and your kid’s friends all do some type of music class, but are they going to grow up to be NBA players or concert violinists? The English skills we teach are foundational and eminently practical, and to miss out on a program so kids can do something of less academic import doesn’t make much sense. There are a ton of extracurricular sports, music, arts, and social programs available and all kinds of times. We ask that you consider changing those around before skipping out on something like communication and critical thinking skills.
Do you have book recommendations for my child?
We do. Just get in touch with us and we can send you a list and discuss what might be a good pick for your student based on their reading level and interests.
Keep in mind though – some of the books we recommend or assign are often considered “too easy” by parents. A common phenomena is kids reading books that are actually too hard for kids, then they blow through it, not having understood it as well as they report to their parents (who often can’t read the books either because of language abilities).
We recommend when kids read independently, they read a grade or two down in terms of level – independent reading shouldn’t be incredibly challenging, it should be a thought-provoking habit so students can build reading volume and immerse themselves in the language. In other words, reading should be fun, so telling a 13-year-old kid to read Truman Capote on their own is a bad idea. Save challenging books for in-class reading where a teacher can assist kids with comprehension and analysis.
Can you fix my kid's attitude problem? He doesn't listen to me and I don't know why.
Okay, actually, we could, but it wouldn’t really be us fixing the problem – it would be you following our advice.
When kids display what are commonly called “attitude problems” they are showing everyone that there have been some environmental factors which have allowed them to develop personality traits that can get in the way of their success.
For example, if your son constantly talks back, doesn’t help around the house, and shirks homework in favor of video games, it is because he has been allowed to behave this way in the past.
This is why discipline (the noun, not the verb) is so important. If you want to raise a strong student with a positive attitude, get them reading regularly, limit screen time, make getting homework done a priority, teach them how to help out around the house, show an interest in their school work and ideas, and model the behavior you wish them to display as early in life as you can. If you haven’t done this and now your teenager is becoming a “problem student”, you need to do the hard work of establishing these standards immediately and hold firm to them.
We are happy to talk about attitude and character development issues with parents – we have taught hundreds of kids over the years and know what traits, habits, and attitudes make successful students. However, unless you are willing to send your child to Englist all day, six days a week, we can only do so much – character issues usually need to be addressed at home.
My son needs special attention, can you please be extra nice and gentle with him?
The short answer is no, but not because we are mean!
This gets to the core of our educational philosophy. We believe it is the job of parents to make kids feel special and safe, where it is our job to push students to earn success. For us, a student is special when they put in the work and effort and have something tangible to show for it. Sometimes getting students to push themselves means we need to be stern and direct with students, as well as honest with them about weak work.
This requires some assistance from parents; we hold all students to the same high standards and conditions and ask that they learn to adjust to them and ultimately excel in our program. As such, we need parents to understand why we can’t treat certain students as special and support us in this process.
However, if your child has special needs, for example, they are on the autism spectrum or suffer from a learning disability, that is a different situation. Unfortunately, we are not currently equipped with the trained staff to provide these students with the environment they need to fully develop. However, we would be happy to work with you to find specialists who may be able to assist you.
My son says class isn't fun enough.
We have found that there is a culture at some English programs where teachers are asked to make class “fun”, which means, to them, lots of games and silliness and performances and costumes.
We have found that students actually enjoy classes not when they are merely fun, but when students are truly engaged. We accomplish this by using demanding material, providing dynamic and capable teachers, and challenging students to do their best. Then, when students succeed because of their own efforts, they feel a sense of accomplishment and gratification, and that class is “fun”.
Don’t get us wrong; our teachers love to do class parties, play games, listen to music, get to know students, and be silly sometimes. But that all comes after the work is done and students are on track.
So, if your son says class isn’t fun, it’s because they are used to being pandered to rather than actively engaged. Give it time – they will come to enjoy the work they do here, their teachers, and what they will be able to accomplish.
Who else is in the class?
For privacy purposes we do not tell other parents who other kids are or what schools they may go to. Your student can ask others directly when they get to class.
However, who the other students are in a class is not important. We keep our classes small so teachers can engage students and really get to know them and their work habits. Your student will be challenged, the teacher will get to know them, and the class will be good.
My child is so busy - I don’t think they have time for class.
We know, kids in Taiwan are busy.
If your child is too busy, we recommend taking a hard look at priorities. First priority, of course, should be their main school and getting good grades. After that, however, we think our program should be what they are busiest doing. As mentioned, the skills we foster – even beyond English – are foundational and increasingly important in a globalized, competitive world.
Also, we have many students in elementary, junior high, and high school as well as students who go to public, private, international, local, and bilingual schools. We have students who take IB, honors, and who still have to study for the Joint College Entrance Examination (大學聯考). If you genuinely want your child to develop the skills and aptitudes we develop in students, we can find the time.
My daughter says class is too easy.
We should probably ask a few follow-up questions about this statement. How far into the semester is your child? Is it the first day, or the first week? Things probably haven’t ramped up to full difficulty yet.
Is she saying this because there are other students who don’t have as much background in English as she does? Because if so, that doesn’t affect the quality or utility of the program as far as it concerns your daughter, and it isn’t really the point.
Class is too easy if a student already knows everything the teacher is saying and if they are never making any mistakes, but we have never had a student know everything on the first day of class or execute their assignments perfectly on the first try.
We have found that when students say a class is too easy it’s actually for a different issue, and the student in question still has a lot to learn in order to advance.
If you have concerns about your child’s level and class placement, we are happy to talk about it and figure out what that issue is, but keep an open mind to the idea that what we teach is a cumulative and unique process, and not merely a means to achieve a good score on a test.
My son says class is too hard.
This is a serious issue. If your student is having a hard time in class, we either need to figure out how to help them or move them to a course that is more approachable. If your child says class is too hard, don’t hesitate to get in touch and discuss your options.
My daughter has already read all of the books for this class.
Great! But we have a few questions.
Did she read these books in another class, or did she read them by herself? How long ago did she read them? To what degree did she analyze these books? Can she explain some of the themes and symbols presented in them?
The fact of the matter is, even if students have “read” a book before, it isn’t the same thing as reading with one of our teachers.
First, we rarely ask students to read our assigned books at home. We prefer to do our reading in class, where students have to read every word, teachers can correct mistakes and check for grammar, and students can respond to questions and listen to how the teacher reads and intones. In other words, even if your child has read a book before, they do not understand it on the level that they will after they have read it with us.
This process is extremely important to analytical writing as it is a precursor of literary analysis, and it is also something that students cannot do on their own, nor are most other programs aware of it.
Finally, there is value in repetition. Have you ever seen a movie a second time and remembered it differently, or gotten more out of it, or noticed things you had missed? Re-reading books is hardly a waste of time, and researchers even find it to be instrumental in developing strong reading skills.
So it’s great she has read a certain book before. Let’s do it again.
My son is ready for more advanced material.
If you think your child is ready for more advanced material or prepared to move up a level, let’s look over their work and assess their progress to see if it would be a good fit. Keep in mind, our classes become markedly more challenging in higher levels, and we expect full effort from our students. Even if your son seems to be comfortable with the pace of the class right now, it doesn’t necessarily mean moving up a level is the best course of action.
We place students in certain classes for a good reason, and take into consideration their English ability, learning curve and maturity. If adjustments need to be made, we review student performance on a case-by-case basis.
My daughter is younger than other kids in class.
Again, at Englist, we place students in classes mostly based on English language ability, so if your daughter is the youngest student in the class, there is a chance she is one of the most advanced as well.
Also, is she younger than all the students in the class? And by how much? If your daughter is a third grader sitting in a room with a bunch of 15-year-old boys, we can see how that would be a problem, but we also would never do that. However, there is nothing wrong with a sixth grade student being in the same room as an eighth grader if their ability levels are roughly equivalent.
My son is older than other kids in class.
This is essentially the same problem as a student being younger than others. If your son is older than the other students, it is either because the younger students are fairly advanced and have years of practice, or it is because your son should be at this level.
Again, we are not going to place students in classes where they are tremendous outliers in terms of age. If your son is in tenth grade and there are some eighth graders in class, it is because we think he will learn the most there.
We do our best to group students of similar ages in our classes, however, we always prioritize student level over their age.
English language programs vary widely in quality and rigor, and student backgrounds play a larger role than age level. We have seen 5th grade students who are essentially fluent excel in our writing classes, and also high school kids struggle with fundamental skills.
If your child is older (or younger) than other students in their class, know that we are aware, but we have found that putting students classes that best fit their level yields much better results than forcing them into groups where they might be of the same age range as their peers, but are not able to engage the material.
My daughter didn't finish her assignment, why didn't you make sure she completed it?
Oh no, this can be frustrating. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time nor the staff to chase every assignment from every student. We plan all of our classes prior to each semester and need to get on with the material. If a handful of students are turning in late work each week and asking the teacher to grade and check it, this would slow down the class and make it less productive for students who have done their work.
Beyond teaching students how to write well, we also believe in teaching students the ability to be independent and responsible for themselves. Students need to be aware of what their work is and when it is due. If students have a special assignment, we will notify parents that it needs to be done.
However, if there are extenuating circumstances at home for why your student has missed assignments, feel free to schedule time to talk with us.
My kid has been learning English as long as that other advanced student, why can't she be in that advanced class too?
We place students at the level that is going to work best for them. If your child has been learning for the same amount of time as another student but is in a lower level, it is because that other student will get the most out of the other class, and your student will get the most out of the class she is in.
The reasons for the difference between students is endless, but it is probably one of the following:
- The more advanced student has lived overseas, speaks English at home, or has been in a more immersive environment
- The more advanced student has spent more time studying overall, including homework, reading, vocabulary practice, and taken more classes in the same timeframe
- The more advanced student focused more on writing and reading, while your student comes from a program that was more grammar- or speaking-oriented
- The more advanced student is a little older, a little more mature, a little more developed, and thus was able to get more out of a given program than your student
Regardless of the reason, don’t worry! Your student will get there. Patience, attention to detail, following through, and consistency are the hallmarks of quality education. Rushing your student to keep up with another because of pride or competition is a catastrophically bad idea and something we are unwilling to do to students.