What to Keep in Mind when Teaching a Foreign Language to Children

What to Keep in Mind When Teaching a Foreign Language to Children

It cannot be separated from other areas of learning

Young children learn how to speak holistically, rather than in neat, tidy compartments.

A child doing a playdough activity conducted in a foreign language is learning maths (shapes and solids), arts (texture, design, color), and building fine motor skills (physical development)

Concrete needs drive the language learning process

Activity drives the need to communicate.

It is impossible to emphasize enough the utilitarian aspect of language learning: children learn a language best when they can
make the connection between what they are doing and the speech ability needed for that activity.

This is true for adults too, by the way, but as adults, we tend to be less plastic, and have most of our daily needs solved one way or another. As popular wisdom tells, an adult suddenly transplanted to a foreign country and facing the prospect of starving, should learn how to order food rather quickly.

Similarly, young children will learn a language better when they see a genuine need for communication, which is often the language they are hearing or using while they are doing an activity they enjoy.

Children are motivated by activities that are meaningful to them

While adults can plan a range of activities to enhance the learning experience, not all of them will be motivating for every child.

Children are more likely to be motivated if the activity or experience is meaningful to them. Taking time to get to know the children and finding out what they are interested in is essential if you want to motivate them and help them learn.

Any activity that is interesting to a child can be used as an opportunity to develop language and communication.

Once you have spotted those areas of genuine interest, shamelessly use and abuse them. The
interactions you have with children while they are engaged in such activities will help better develop language and communication “in context”, making the language acquisition more durable and meaningful.

Rhymes, songs, and chants are always good

They are good ways for children to memorize language and practice pronunciation.
Singing and reciting help children memorize words, and unthinkingly acquire grammar and sentence structures; they also help with pronunciation, expression, and the overall “foreign
language rhythm”.

Children learn their first language by playing with language this way, and in that regard, a second language is no different.

Stories are a great way to provide a context for learning any second language

A good story takes children to an imaginary world filled with characters and events that will make them want to find out what happens next.

Engagingly tell your story; add images, enacting, and they will want to hear it again, even join you in retelling it or tell it in their own words.

Illustrations and acting also help children understand the verbal descriptions of characters and events because they can connect what they are seeing and doing with the language in the story. This physical reinforcement is extremely important for kids learning a second language.

Always pepper your games and activities with short, repetitive commands

Giving clear, simple instructions in the second language with accompanying actions, gestures or demonstrations is more likely to result in children’s understanding.

Children love copying – the teacher, their parents, older siblings, or friends – and will often join in after observing how something is done.

Including routines is also a useful way of helping young children understand what is expected of them (e.g. every time we sit on the mat we will hear a story or sing a song).

Children may not understand straight away, but giving instructions in the second language is an excellent way of reinforcing key language concepts, so in the long run, it is
always worth the extra effort.

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