What resources exist to quickly acquire the "everyday" English vocabulary needed to communicate with my preschooler child?

I am an immigrant IT professional who speaks fluent English, but who learned his English as an adult. My child was born in America. I can easily communicate on work-related topics. But when my child asks me "What is this?" or "What are you doing?", I often find myself at a loss. Instead of a single word, all I can offer is a lengthy explanation that relies on nerdy terms or ill-suited synonyms.

For example, I am playing a tune by drumming with my feet, the child asks "What are you doing?" -- and I say "Err.. I am making music by..." [Hitting? No; Knocking? No; Stepping? With? Ugh...] Asked about a milk carton, I say "a special container to hold milk" etc. This worked with other adults, but not with a preschooler.

A related problem is figuring out pronunciation while reading children's books aloud. I've never heard these words spoken, and can't look them up with a child on my lap. Is there some online resource, or a textbook, or a collection of text snippets that I can memorize? Something more efficient than writing out phrases by hand from hundreds of children's books? Thanks!

PS. (1) I do speak in the native tongue too, but unwilling to curtail the rest of my child's development for the sake of bilingualism. (2) I know the basics of studying English, but I wonder if there is a resource for my specific need: everyday/children's English for adult ESL nerds.

  • 1
    This may be off-topic, which is a shame because it's really a very useful question. Perhaps the best answer is: if you want child vocabulary, use child resources. Read children's books and watch children's TV shows, and learn what vocabulary they use. You can do this along with your child, and you can both learn the words together.
    – stangdon
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 0:06
  • 1
    As for "how do I figure out pronunciation of unknown words"...that's a tough one. Even native English speakers struggle with that. There are some basic patterns you can learn to recognize, but a lot of words just have to be memorized (bomb/comb/tomb, moon/door, etc.)
    – stangdon
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 0:14

3 Answers 3


1) Watch children’s TV shows with the English subtitles on.

2) Read for yourself books directed at 2 year olds. The ones with minimal or no plot but lots of words. Richard Scary wrote a few good ones


Your best resource is your child; she'll teach you.

Children at this age are absorbing language in ways that are not well understood. They are too young to tell us how to do it. Your child is picking up new words all the time and pretty soon you'll start learning through her.

One fear that ESL parents have (I'm not sure, perhaps you too) is that their English will somehow affect their child's English. Unless you are keeping her at home and never letting her mix with other children and adults, she will learn natural English in the local accent from her friends (and to a lesser extent from her teachers).

Soon you'll learn from her: she will bring her new words back home and just expect you to know them, and pretty soon you will. You won't learn as fast as she can (you probably could, but you've got other stuff to do, like go to work or keep house)

On the specific examples, all is fine. "I'm making music by hitting": sure that's not the most "natural" thing to say but it expresses what you're doing perfectly well... "A special box to keep milk in" is perfectly normal English. Perhaps she doesn't know what "container" means yet. No problem - you've just taught her that word. A container is a thing like box that you can keep things in. Perhaps tomorrow she'll ask for a "tainer" to put toys in and you'll give her a toy box and she'll learn some more.

Similarly, just enjoy reading to her. It won't be long before she's reading to you. If you get the words wrong, she won't be harmed. Pretty soon she'll tell you how to pronounce "Compsognathus" (if she is obsessed with dinosaurs) or "Gyarados" (if its Pokemon) and you'll be saying them too.


I think there should be a tag for resources, the only expectation to make the question on-topic being you provide us with enough info to better specify which resources are most appropriate. Which, frankly, you did.

Please visit Memrise (a play off the word, "memorize"). The site is quite a good user-contributed content site. Language study often comes with both pronunciation guides and actual vocalization. Topics range from very easy to very difficult to accommodate many learners. Its methods are, to me, quite impressive. I'm currently using the site to learn Northern Saami.

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