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Understanding Your Au Pair as an English Language Learner

Last Updated on : 12th July 2018

It’s a huge decision and takes a great deal of courage to leave family and friends to come and live abroad. But for those who do, it means a whole new world of language and culture along with a number of life changing experiences. Learning a second language is always a huge skill to have under your belt. It facilitates socialising, enables you to be more competitive on the job market and provides you with confidence in most situations when travelling around the world.

Helping your au pair with English skills 

One of the most effective ways of learning a second language is, of course, being immersed in the language and surrounded by the culture of that country. The opportunity for au pairs in London, therefore, is tremendous. Not only are they gaining work experience abroad, but they are also placed in an English speaking family surrounded by native speakers and introduced to the English way of daily life. The opportunity to practice their knowledge of English and gain confidence is facilitated by looking after children who are themselves constantly learning and improving their English. The host family plays a major part in the au pair’s input of English. Time spent around the dining table and trips out of London with the family are all ways in which the English host family can help to promote their au pair’s understanding of both English and the English culture.

As time passes the au pair’s level of English will progress as they tune in their ear and then get accustomed to conversing on a daily basis with the host family. Varying conversation topics can also help to give au pairs confidence to express themselves and asking for their opinion on subjects will also help them to try to express themselves in a more complex manner. Many language students like to be corrected and this is something that a host family can help with. Done in an encouraging manner with examples and help, it is usually appreciated greatly. Showing interest in their class work and homework is also a way to show support and encouragement. If you are lucky enough to be a bi-lingual family, of course keeping predominantly in English rather than slipping into your first language will also help your au pair to immerse herself more quickly into English and the culture.

Advantages of English lessons in a small class

Au Pairs Learning English

Learning English grammar

This daily use is a great immediate boost to an au pair arriving in London, however to push herself out of her comfort zone of conversation revolving around the same topics, and to expand her grammar and vocabulary in different fields of conversation, some hours of class-time with a native teacher can also help to achieve that next level. A class will allow for all four basic skills of the language learning process to be activated: Speaking and pronunciation, reading comprehension, listening and writing. Unless practiced, these skills can be neglected and a learner’s ability to progress is limited as sentence structure, vocabulary and grammar are not exploited to the full or do not keep a balanced pace with each other. More than just a language class, an au pair can also socialise and meet up with many other au pairs of a similar age; making long lasting friendships with others from different cultures.

Understanding the class level grading structure

Au Pairs Learning English

Class Levels with IELTS grading and Cambridge exams

TheEnglish language classes are normally set according to the Common European Framework for References (CEFR) from A1 (Elementary) through to C2 Proficiency.  It is always advisable for au pairs to undertake a level test, which should not take more than an hour to complete.  This test ensures the language school can group the au pairs into the most suitable classlevel. This may seem unnecessary if your au pair says she’s already B1 but getting the groups aligned as closely together as possible makes a significant difference to the rate of improvement.  It’s a reasonable aim to progress to the next class level at the next term. This does rely on full attendance and consistently completing the homework along withactively contributing to the classes.

Study time and exams

Au pairs hard at work

Au pairs hard at work

Au pairs are most unlikely to want or to be able to study full time.  Ten hours a week of study split between lessons and self-study homework is the minimum that au pairs should aim for.Of course it is useful if host families appreciate this and allow au pairs to schedule study time into their diary.  In fact, the German system of Kindergeld(child support) specifies thatau pairs must undertake ten hours of study per week on a part-time course.

So realistically within the weekly timetable,an au pair has plenty of free time to study.Some may wish to have a goal to work towards while they are here on their gap year. The Cambridge exams PET*, FCE*, CAE* and CPE* are the most common and are an attainable achievement as well as being internationally recognised for CV’s and job prospects.

A language school will be keen to help to prepare students for these exams and not only advise on the exam content but how and when to register for them.  Obviously, if an au pair is comfortable and feels settled in the UK, then a university course here may also be possible at a future date. A certain level of English and a certificate (IELTS) is required for this university study. A year as an au pair can be the deciding factor providing the level of English learning required to attain this goal. Your au pair may also benefit from focused additional Conversation and IELTS classes.

What level of improvement should we expect

 Obviously we are all different and have different capabilities for language learning. However, with full attendance in class, completed homework and guidance from a teacher, along with the added value of residing in an English speaking family, au pairs should be able progress through a level per term. This sometimes takes more time for the lower levels and a course book might need to be covered over two terms with extra materials being supplied by the teacher.  A language school should try to maintain a steady progression in all the four major language skills; reading, listening, speaking and writing. It is important for a student to keep a balanced improvement in all these areas and not just to be able to improve their speaking skills.

It’s all about having fun and making friends

Happy Students - Au Pairs Learning English

Happy Students

Most of all, learning a foreign language should be fun and rewarding. The au pairs who spend their year speaking and learning English, meeting new people and travelling around the UK, are usually people who grow in character by living abroad.  A young, shy person with little English, often turns into a mature, confident adult with a good command of English by the end of the year.

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