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Why your native English-speaking child still needs to learn English

One of the wonderful things about living in Geneva is that our children can pick up French and most grow up with more than one language.

–If you speak English at home that is the English side of things taken care of!

Not necessarily, it seems….

The question is not as absurd as you may think, says Ruth Avison Dang, founder and director of PEP English. Ruth has been in the English learning world for the past 25 years running a school for both English native speakers & English learning as a foreign language, using distinct methods for the very different needs.

Ruth grew up in the UK and speaks three languages. As well as managing PEP English she is also a teacher trainer, speech specialist as well as a course book reviewer and examiner. She founded Pep English 14 years ago which is based in Geneva & Veyrier.

Below Ruth shares some of the lessons she has learned over the years along with some tips & advice, especially for those who speak English at home or are planning to study in an English-speaking country.


One of the things we often see at PEP English is that children who do not take structured English lessons frequently fall into fossilised habits. These fixed habits, involve using the same words and sentence structures. This is often the result of a shortage of grammar and lexical chunks indicating a lack of exposure to more varied forms of contemporary English”.

English is learned in an organic way, in English speaking countries, listening, reading, writing & speaking, are learned in a large variety of developing contexts. This is because really mastering English relies heavily on mastering the usage of a good range of vocabulary, structures and expressions both in a formal and informal register.


Children who are not exposed to everyday living English often do not use idiomatic expressions that native speakers take for granted, such as

Eat your words, burn your bridges or in a nutshell.

It may be enough to watch a good film, play or read a book in English to realise how colloquial a language it is. Eloquence in English relies on brevity as well as lexical precision which suits the nature of the language. This is why pop music works well in English: you can say a great deal with a few well-crafted words.


PEP ENGLISH shares idiomatic expressions on their Instagram & Facebook account every week.


We all have our specific cultural references that we apply to our language much of which stem from past & present literature & films and increasingly social media.

Many traditional idiomatic expressions and proverbs derive from Shakespearean drama or the Bible but remain active today. These connect people culturally. Similarly, ordinary language may borrow from more recent coinage such as George Orwell’s Animal Farm novel for example: “Everyone is equal but some are more equal than others.”

Even a joke could be lost on our children due to the lack of cultural linguistic connections from their parent’s cultural background.

It helps when our children understand where these expressions come from, what they mean in the context so they can integrate them into novel situations particularly at university level.


Children who speak English at home and go to Swiss schools often struggle with spelling and writing in English, which can make them appear less intelligent or competent than they actually are.

Ruth explains, “the problem is that the way you come across can be affected by an apparent gap between the way you speak & the way you write. You may sound native, but if your writing is not up to scratch your abilities may be unfairly doubted”.

False Friends

These are lovely things that can really trip us up when growing up outside an English-speaking country. Words like actually, meaning in fact while in French Actuellement means, now. Another popular one from French is Bio, meaning organic but as we know, in English Biological applies to all living things. If you talk about BO in spoken English, we assume you are struggling with body odours…


When growing up in a French milieu, young people sometimes run into problems with pronunciation. French has a very different set up of sounds and intonation to English. For example, the word, comfortable in French would be pronounced flat, sounding out all the letters while in English we use stress which emphasizes parts of a word & elides: COMFtble.

It is well known that phonemes like “th” can be tricky and we have observed many interesting ways children have managed to get out of pronouncing that sound by using /s/, /z/, /d/or /t/ depending on the word

-sing /thing togezer / together or dis /this or tree / three.

What is important is to be clear wherever you are to avoid potential misunderstanding. We have observed that pronunciation issues vary from child to child, some are natural parrots and can pick things up naturally, others need to really learn sounds through speech exercises such as oral gymnastics. This is why an interactive structured approach to learning English is essential to develop clarity naturally & properly.


It is easy to feel we can get by using a language in spite of the gaps, particularly when we are young & live in a country where English is not the national language. A young person may not even realise the existence of their linguistic gaps until exposed to a more testing environment. Our brains rely on habit when we are in a stressful situation, any self-doubt can quickly expose linguistic problems. When that happens, we may struggle to express ourselves in a way that reflects our true ability and trip over what we intend to say, for example in a formal university application or job interview.

Ruth explains: The most important things we can give our children are roots and wings.

“What your child needs is to develop a STRONG, FLEXIBLE BACKBONE of English which are our roots for life, and allow speech & thought to fly to new horizons on their strong wings of individuality”.


1. Encourage your children to keep up with what’s happening in English-speaking countries by reading English newspapers, such as Time or The Week magazines. The Week Junior – is aimed at younger children and is full of colloquial expressions. Moreover, Children benefit greatly from learning about what is going on in the world in English.

2. Watch Version Original English movies together

3. Reading, of course – anything from the classics to contemporary authors e.g. John Greene – PEP English can happily advise on a choice of suitable books for different ages. We have a great library for our students.

4. Listen to English audio books.

5. Encourage your child to join English theatre groups such as Simply Theatre or GAOS to practise their speaking skills & play with the language.

6. Take ENGLISH classes in language or literature – but be wary of English courses aimed at foreigners e.g. English as a Foreign Language (EFL) as their learning needs will be different. Your child needs to follow an English native curriculum taught by a native English teacher, where they will also be exposed to the culture, literature, idiomatic expressions and vocabulary.

7. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for our short lessons and Storytime for children or follow us on social media (add links)


Pep English follow the British curriculum as a backbone that we have adapted into an international programme to offer a broad range of cultural & language acquisition.

Dynamic Learning is also a very reputable school in Geneva offering support for English speaking children at primary school level.


PEP English – offers courses at primary school level and secondary school upwards, including preparation for all English worldwide recognized English exams, including GMAT (verbal exams) SATS, IGCSE, TSA, IELTS and Cambridge young learners up to Proficiency.

It is possible to choose between private classes to fill a specific gap such as to work on pronunciation or boost spelling or small group classes which include learning literature.

All classes are interactive, structured and fun. Groups are limited to between 4 and 8 children so it is possible to personalise and in so doing, maximise results in English. All classes are also offered virtually in our Online classroom.


Contact PEP English for a FREE initial needs analysis to assess your child’s needs.


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