Considerations for Teaching Young Learners

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Considerations for Teaching Young Learners

Considerations for Teaching and Assessing Young LearnersLearning English as a Foreign Language

Yael Bejarano The Open UniversityClaire Gordon - The Open University

Yael_mb@netvision.net.ilclairgo@openu.ac.il

World globalization has sparked a growing interest in the teaching of English as a foreign language (EFL) to young learners all

over the world. In the last few years there has been an explosion of English classes for young learners both in state systems-

as part of the school curriculum- and in private language schools all over the world. This surge of interest in the area has led to

the publication of methodology books and theoretical research as well as teaching programs. Many of these programs emphasize

the importance of using authentic, experiential, motivating and cognitively appropriate language activities.

According to Wright (2002), using storybooks are the most appropriate content for young learner language teaching programs in that stories are motivating to young learners and are appropriate to their cognitive level. Stories serve as an authentic contextual framework through which children are introduced to vocabulary and language structures and through stories children develop literacy skills which help them later in reading and writing.

Since assessment is an integral part of teaching, this paper will focus on both dimensions of teaching and assessing young learners. It will emphasize that the initial foreign language learning experience as well as assessment experience have a strong impact on childrens future learning therefore assessment as well as learning should be enjoyable, confidence building and successful experiences for the learner.

The paper also suggests that since programs for teaching a foreign language to young learners are relatively new, it is important to design an evaluation plan to accompany program implementation and evaluate effectiveness

World globalization has sparked a growing interest in the teaching of English as a foreign language (EFL) to young learners all over the world. In the last few years there has been an explosion of English classes for young learners both in state systems- as part of the school curriculum- and in private language schools all over the world. This surge of interest in the teaching of English to young learners has led to growing research in the area from day to day. The debate of "how young is young?" is still on.

I. The Age Debate: How Young is Young?

In this presentation, Young Learners will refer to children of four to ten years of age. Increasingly, though, children as young as three are being formally introduced to English as a foreign language and it seems to us that in many countries the trend to 'go younger' is very much here to stay. Dr. Susan Curtiss, Professor of Linguistics at UCLA, who studies the way children learn languages, notes that the four- or five-year old learning a second language is a "perfect model for the idea of the critical period." According to Dr. Curtiss:...the power to learn language is so great in the young child that it doesn't seem to matter how many languages you seem to throw their way...Children can learn as many spoken languages as you can allow them to hear systematically and regularly at the same time. Children just have this capacity. Their brain is just ripe to do this...there doesn't seem to be any detriment to...develop(ing) several languages at the same time. ("Learning Languages,1"(2), 17., 1996 ).However, as any children's teachers will know, it is not only the children's age that counts in the classroom, but also how mature they are and what kind of practices they experience in the classroom.

II. Conditions Programs should fulfill for Successful Language Learning

The growing interest in the area of Teaching English to Young Learners has led to the publication of methodology books and theoretical research as well as teaching programs. Many of these programs emphasize the importance of using authentic, experiential, motivating and cognitively appropriate language activities, yet the question still remains:

What makes a good instructional program for young learners? We argue that a good EFL program for young learners needs to fulfill several conditions in order for successful language learning to take place.Tucker (2001) claims that the validity of the adage `earlier is better (in language instruction) would seem to depend. on the optimization of a number of factors. These include .. a framework that specifies, fairly explicitly, a set of language, content, cognitive, and affective objectives that are then tied to, or illustrated by exemplary techniques and supported by written materials.

I will therefore suggest a model for EFL program design for young learners, based on the essential conditions mentioned by Tucker and on the importance of the appropriate connection between the "WHAT" goes in the language teaching program and the "HOW" it should be taught (Bejarano 1994), taking into account the young learners' cognitive and affective needs.

Figure 1: A Model for EFL Program Design for Young Learners

IV. Designing an EFL Program for Young Learners

A. ObjectivesI will now refer to 2 sets of related objectives: 1. Objectives in the realm of Linguistic Competence

2. Objectives in the realm of the Affective Domain

Since the initial foreign language learning experiences have a strong impact on children's future learning, it is crucial that these experiences should be enjoyable, confidence building and successful for the learner.

1. Linguistic CompetenceWith regards to the objectives in the realm of the Linguistic Competence, it is our contention that since a child's ability to communicate orally in first language takes place prior to learning how to read and write, an effective EFL program for young learners, should also go through the natural stages of learning a language; namely from basic oral/aural competence development along with emergent literacy skills to reading and writing using those emergent literacy skills that he gained at the aural/oral stage. At the Reading and Writing Stage the learner will make the connection between the emergent Literacy skill that were gained at the Aural Oral Stage and the letters, words and sentences at the Reading and Writing Stage. Aural/Oral competencies will serve a firm basis upon which beginning reading and writing will be developed, Thus, the first stage in FL instruction for young learners should be developing lexical knowledge and oral communication skills along with oral/aural phonemic awareness and basic Emergent Literacy Skills through story books. Based on the above theoretical basis, following are the stages that should be reflected in the design of an EFL program for young learners:

Stage 1: The Oral /Aural Stage

- Exposing pupils to the language through natural discourse for authentic purposes- Developing a broad lexical and linguistic base - Familiarizing pupils with the sound system of the language (without letters and written words at this stage, just basing on what they hear and say)- Providing multiple means of language input and use (stories, songs, drama, arts and crafts etc.) - Providing opportunities for oral interaction in the foreign language to understand and convey meaning.

Emergent Literacy Skills and Phonemic Awareness

- (Adams, M.1995), to be developed along with oral/aural skills(Pre- reading and writing), building on the content through which instruction takes place (e.g. story books), and to be applied at the Beginning Reading and Writing Stage.- Understanding the conventions of print and the alphabetic principle.- Understanding the concept of What is a book?- Understanding directionality (left to right)- Understanding the Story Genre- Predicting and confirming predictions- Constructing meaning based on oral and visual clues- Fostering the Joy of Reading

Stage 2: The Beginning Reading and Writing Stage

- Sound/Letter correspondences and Phonemic Awareness; Familiarizing pupils with the sound system of the language and making the connection between sounds the learner is familiar with from the oral/aural stage and the written letters.- Segmenting sounds- Blending sounds- Manipulating sounds- Rhyming sounds - Decoding- Reading and writing short CVC words- Identifying site words- Reading and constructing meaning of simple sentences- Reading and constructing meaning of short texts- Reading a story and understanding its message.

2. Affective Domain- Positive initial experience with the foreign language- Creating a supportive classroom environment - Building pupils confidence in their knowledge and ability to understand and use the language- Promoting self esteem by providing successful experiences in learning EFL.- Allowing pupils to use the language in a non-threatening environment- Providing motivation for language learning by incorporating colorful, interesting and attractive materials and visuals.

B. Content

1. Authentic Childrens Literature

The literature on early childhood language instruction supports the use of childrens literature for child language development and learning. Using a story based approach in foreign language instruction for young learners is advantageous in that it develops the young learner's communicative, cognitive and social skills while taking into account young learners interests and affective needs.

Ghosn (2002) lays out four good reasons for using authentic literature with young learners:

a. Stories provide motivating, meaningful context for language learning since children are naturally drawn