Mention the important principles that make young learners grasp a foreign language better than older ones, and how can you, as an EFLT, make use out of these principles?
During my experience in teaching English as a foreign language I had the chance to teach both young learners and adults. Definitely, the process of teaching the two levels was completely different. Every age period has its own characteristics and principles that shape and influence the way of teaching. As teachers we are supposed to be sensitive to these characteristics, differences and needs of different age groups. It has been considered that young learners are the best ones as they grasp language easily and show good results. I am of the same opinion as my teaching practice has shown that young learners have certain characteristics that form principles on which teachers should base their teaching.
The lack of self-consciousness is one feature that characterizes YLs. They do not feel afraid of making mistakes and in cases when they are made, no feeling of embarrassment is present. This thing makes them willing to speak a new language even without having full control of it. On the contrary, adults may know a lot of vocabulary and structures, but sometimes they are shy of speaking the language and making mistakes. Teachers should make use of this important feature. They should provide opportunities in which YLs can speak and develop their speaking skills. Using role plays, for example, may be very beneficial. This, also, may lead us to another important feature of YLs, they are not always willing to communicate. They are not interested in following the rules of the language and may find explaining them boring. On the other hand, they like to communicate using the new language even if they have limited vocabulary and cannot form long sentences. Teachers can provide activities that allow the students to communicate together. Also, the teacher should not be very strict by correcting every mistake because the children will start thinking about their mistakes and stop communicating. In order to teach them the correct structures, the teacher should work on increasing the time of their exposure to the language. This is the best way to support their language acquisition. Children care about enjoyment more than what they are going to learn from the activity. They learn more when they enjoy what they are doing. This point is very important for teachers. They should work hard preparing for an activity that would really interest their young students. They should use games, rhythms and songs to engage the students in the learning process and encourage them to continue their learning.
Another feature that may be very essential to make YLs quicker in learning the language is their level of proficiency in their first language. In other words, they know and operate a smaller number of vocabulary than adults. This may be helpful in making them learn the words of the second language. Pronunciation is another thing that distinguishes YLs. They are able to acquire the correct pronunciation better than adults.
Thus, I think that the above mentioned features play a vital role in the teaching of English as a foreign language. Teachers should do their best to pronounce the words in the same way native speakers do as they are the main source of the children’s knowledge.
At early stages of teaching English at your own school, what are the elements (language-wise) you concentrate on, and why?
I usually start with phonology. I find it the best way to acknowledge children with the language, to introduce the letters and the sounds. I am convinced that it is a good basis to learn spelling, as well as reading and writing. Then I move to teaching words and simple sentences. Great attention is concentrated on helping to learn how to pronounce the letters when they are put together. I think pronunciation is that what should be taught with great care and devotion. The chance to listen to the language will help them grasp the correct pronunciation. Another reason is that English is not a phonetic language and in many cases words are not pronounced as they are spelled. I think that teaching phonology cannot be completely separated from teaching morphology. Grammar and semantics, to my point of view, should not be taught directly to young learners.
In brief, how can you tell that pupils in your class are progressing well as the result of your performance?
I may answer this question from two sides, the learners’s and the teacher’s. Working with young learners a teacher cannot ask them if they understand or have any difficulties. When children hear such questions, they say that everything is clear as they may think that a negative answer to the question will upset their teacher or cause bulling or the laugh of the classmates. Based on a personal experience, I find that the ‘formative assessment’ is the solution. A teacher needs to plan each part of the activities for the lesson and for an activity for every part of the lesson. One of the techniques I like to use is the whiteboard. In teaching handwriting I make the students practice writing the new words on their board. This was very helpful for me to check their progress in writing. Teachers should reflect on their classes. Their notes will be helpful in tracing the strengths and weaknesses in their performance. A good teacher should always remember that students are different, as well as their abilities to learn and get new skills. It means that it is necessary to use different types of activities and plan the lesson in the way which will encourage and interest all students. I do my best to follow the principles which I believe increase the progress of my students.