If I need to teach a child English without the use of any other language, how and where should I start?

  1. Alphabets*
  2. Words
  3. Pronunciation?
  4. Nouns?
  5. Tenses?
  6. Sentences?
  7. Repeat 2-6?

I need an order that would perfectly flow downwards with each element in the order not depending on anything that comes next to it the ordered list, such that executing the list (including repeat steps) on a machine would make the machine have the whole of that language.

This question is strongly linked with programming and is based on my assumption that it is possible to learn a language without a base language possible, at least after assuming the learner has the capability to see, hear, mimic (and most other basic things that a child can do) what teacher does. If this is wrong, directly refute it

Maybe you can see the question in this way, "How does a child first learns a language?" and if that is partially supported using signs, then question would be "How does a child learn the sign language?". I can't think of how exactly I did, all I know is that I have just learn it.

I'm after how exactly we learn the very first language without any base; knowing this would help me understand why animals couldn't do it the way we can, and more importantly it helps me build a machine that can possibly build the language within itself without the need for seed vocabulary and rules.

* From most real-world examples we can see that the child learns the words much before it actually learns the alphabets, so words come first? or is there anything that it learn even before learning words? Correct the order and include whatever I missed.

EDIT: Since the order seems to differ for different languages, consider the language to be taught as English.

  • How old is the child? Does the child know how to read its native language?
    – Xanne
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 0:10
  • @Xanne Assume it can't; Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 3:25
  • The baby/child acquires speech (language) through intense and direct interaction with other human beings, from whom it wants food, comfort, warmth, etc. First words are reportedly Mama, Papa. It hears language all day--interactively.
    – Xanne
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 4:42

2 Answers 2


The idea that you should teach a language by "building up" from the alphabet to sentences is—to put it politely—strange. It is strange for two reasons:

  • It does not match the language learning process of children learning their native language.
  • It is not motivating for a child to learn in this way.

What I recommend instead is a more direct method where you teach meaningful statements from the start. A good example is James Asher's Total Physical Response (TPR). (This would be an example of a comprehension approach. Comprehension-based approaches can be very effective in the early phase of language learning, though not necessarily in the long run, as I have discussed elsewhere.)

The concepts of words, parts of speech, phrases and sentences can be added at a later stage, after laying a foundation of meaningful oral communication. (It is not necessary to teach those concepts before you start teaching reading and writing. Reading and writing don't need to be taught from the start.)


There is really no order. Why? It all depends on how you are learning the subject. In my answer to What are the main foreign language teaching methods, I listed 12 different methods all with their description from the sources I got from. Also, it also depends on the language you are learning. Though the order of courses may be similar, they will still be different.

For example, take the Grammar-Translation method. This method:

... actually uses mainly the learner's native language rather than the target language. Grammar is of immense importance, which is seen as elaborate explanations of grammar are readily available. Reading of difficult texts is usually done early in the learning process and the contents of text are primarily used for grammatical analysis. Pronunciation is of little importance and translations between the languages are the common exercises.

So learning the alphabet may not be so important since you are more worried about grammar and translating the word from your own native language to the language you are learning currently. Sure, it might help in languages like Chinese or Korean, where writing out the letters will definitely help you along the learning process.

Therefore, there should be no specific order for learning a language unless you specify the language you want to learn. The method you are learning your target language is also critical to be sure that the order in which you learn satisfy the method (i.e you can't translate if you're using the direct method).

  • "Unless you specify the language": What about English? Can you make an edit to your answer assuming that's English? Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 3:33
  • "It all depends on how you are learning the subject" -> Remember, my target is not a child which can learn. Nonetheless, it's a machine that can be built however we need, so essentially, if I clearly know what needs to be there with the learner in addition to how exactly the teacher needs to teach (and in which order), it will take me closer to what I'm after... Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 3:36
  • Language learning goes about the same for children and adults actually. It may differ slightly but there is really no significant difference in learning... Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 16:24
  • Language learning goes about the same for children and adults actually - But I believe the language that is acquired first is built without a base language while consequent learning gets based upon the first acquired language; so shouldn't the way the child learn its first language differ a lot from how we learn languages as adults? Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 9:19
  • @ZekeDran Do you want to teach a child or a machine? Children aren't machines. The cognitive aspect of learning is not the only decisive aspect; there are also social and emotional aspects that are not relevant to machines.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 13:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.