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Numer: 11064
Dział: Języki obce

How to make your teaching of a foreign language to young pupils a blessing, not a course - some practical hints

Children are an exciting group of students to teach, but they can also present the teacher with many problems. If you want to avoid these problems you should first acquire with some tools of the trade and, what is more get busy with broadening your knowledge of how children learn languages and what their needs are. Knowing your students’ likes and dislikes, being familiar with their feelings and interests may be of great help to the teacher.
The most vital years in a child’s development are between the age of five and ten. There is a big difference between what children of five can do and what children of ten can do. For some children it takes longer to develop certain abilities, for others it is shorter. It is possible, however, to point out certain characteristics of young children which you should be aware of and take into account in your teaching. You, as a teacher, are the only one who can see how far up the ladder your pupils are.
According to W.A. Scott and L.H. Ytreberg five to seven year olds are capable of talking about the present, the past and the future, are able to express what they think and feel, can use logical reasoning and understand direct human interaction. They also have a vivid imagination. They know that the world is governed by rules which they have to obey but they mainly use their senses to understand the world around. They are very logical - what you say first happens first. Their attention and concentration span is very short and they do not divide clearly between the real and their imaginary worlds. Young children love to play but in the company of others. They do not like sharing. Young children are enthusiastic and positive about learning.(1)
By comparison ten year olds are relatively mature. They can use their mother tongue quite competently, are able to understand abstract ideas, concepts and symbols. They can state what they like and do not like and make decisions about their own learning. ‘They have a developed sense of fairness about what happens in the classroom and begin to question the teacher’s decisions.’(2)
What this knowledge mean for your teaching? While working with younger learners try to include movement and involve the senses. Use plenty of visual aids and try to make full use of the school and your surroundings. Always remember to demonstrate what you want them to do. Let the children play with the language, just as they do while acquiring their mother tongue. Make up rhymes, sing songs, tell stories. ‘Since concentration and attention spans are short, variety is a must - variety of activity, variety of pace, variety of organisation, variety of voice’.(3) While teaching them reading and writing bear in mind that it is something extremely demanding so you need to be very patient and you should give them time.
It is obvious that a primary concern of a foreign language teacher should be creating as many ways as possible to encourage and motivate the pupils to learn.
‘...learning cannot lead to genuine acquisition, if there is no element of pleasure whatsoever’.(4) Children have an amazing ability to absorb languages through play and other activities that they find enjoyable. In your teaching try to include the barest minimum of grammar taught as grammar and if it happens that the older students ask you for an explanation do it, but try to explain the difference in very simple terms. Concentrate rather on the element of fun.
‘Children have an enormous capacity for finding and making fun’.(5) They have a great deal of imagination and are very creative. They are able to produce ‘...meaningful language from very limited resources’.(6) If you are a teacher of children you must know that above all they take a great delight in talking! A noisy class does not mean a bad class. ‘The instinct for interaction and talk ...is probably the most important for the language teacher ... It is one of the most powerful motivators for using the language’.(7) Children need to talk. Without talking they cannot become good at it. They not only learn about the language but also how to use it.
‘Foreign language learning in primary school should always be seen as a satisfying experience in a relaxed atmosphere...’(8) Children cannot always be expected to understand every word, they must be allowed to make mistakes while communicating with others. Your students have this strong, initial motivation so ‘...they need to be given opportunities to speak English as soon and as much as possible, so as to be made to feel that they are making progress and fullfilling their expectations, thus avoiding disappointment’.(9) Teach them a few songs, rhymes or poems at the beginning of the course and that will give them the impression that they are learning to speak English quickly. They will not loose their motivation and so your job will be much easier. For speaking activities put them into groups or pairs. Then they will feel more involved in the lesson and will learn to work together.
Try to be creative and well organised. Apart from using the coursebook, try using various visual aids, games, action songs, riddles, graded and authentic storybooks, activity books, wall charts, cassettes, videos or music. Children enjoy especially games and music – these activities provide a link between home and school life and are often lively and fun. If the game needs some kind of grouping this should be organised quickly. Make sure that you give clear instructions before and during the game. ‘Bear in mind that it may be wise to vary the choice of games so there is not always a competitive element; communication games focus on co-operation and are more likely to give every child a chance to have a turn to speak in an unthreatening atmosphere... an overly competitive atmosphere in the classroom can be demoralizing for some children’.(10)
As I stated at the beginnig children are an exciting group to teach. How much pleasure or pain you find in teaching them depends mostly on the methods you choose and the way you organise your work as well as the teaching conditions. While being with your pupils you should always be yourself, you should set rules that should be obeyed not only by your students but also by yourself. Only then can you be accepted and trusted. Show them your approval – praise them whenever they do something correctly, but do not forget to enforce the established rules when they misbehave. For young children you are the leader, but the leader has to act fairly.
Even though children are inspired by mere curiosity and are very eager to learn, they need encouragement and praise. Teaching children can be an exciting and intriguing experience giving the teacher a lot of satisfaction. However, when you enter the classroom you should always bear in mind that your role is to be their friend and to laugh and play with them. Knowing that they really like you, that they trust you and want to be friends with you is the highest praise a teacher can imagine, and the one that can be considered only in the category of a blessing, not a curse.

opracowała mgr Izabela Mucha


1. Scott, W.A., and L.H. Ytreberg. Teaching English to Children. Longman, 1993.
2. Brewster, Jean, Gail Ellis, and Denis Girard. The Primary English Teacher’s Guide. Penguin English, 1992.
3. Halliwell, S. Teaching English in the Primary Classrom. Longman, 1992.

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