Teaching EFL in a kindergarten Although the benefits of learning
Although the benefits of learning foreign languages are undisputable, the implementation varies around the globe. When should we introduce it' Should we go for a bilingual education, foreign language classes or immersion schools ' Immersion elementary schools started to appear in Canada in the early sixties (CRAWFORD, 1989). In Europe, after a long tradition of a second language learning in secondary and high schools, the European Centre for Modern Languages conducted, in 2002-2003, a project called 'Janua Linguarum - the Gateway to Languages' in ten European countries to promote the introduction of language awakening at the end of primary schools.
There are a number of arguments in favor of early language learning. Noam Chomsky, a 20th century linguist, referred to a 'Language Acquisition Device' or LAD to explain that young students would 'absorb' language more easily than their adults' counterparts (JESNESS, 2004). While his theory has sometimes been contested, we cannot deny the fact that young children have a particular ability to reproduce sounds accurately. At the beginning of his life, a child can hear or recognize any phonemes but after a while, his ears become accustomed to his native tongue and they are going to 'close themselves' to any phonemes that do not belong to it. An early immersion in another language could thus ensure someone's ability to talk that language without an accent or syntactical errors. One last argument could be the low-level of what the linguist Krashen called the 'affective filter'. Krashen grouped under this term all the negative influences that could alter somebody's ability to express oneself: lack of confidence, anxiety, lack of motivation' He considered that children would not be hindered by these influences when time comes to speak (CRAWFORD, 1989). A child is always willing to talk and he is less afraid to do so in front of his peers. A child would feel less self-conscious about it than an adult would.
Teaching EFL in a Kindergarten looks thus more than promising but there are a number of issues we need to anticipate. Will we really be facing a public ready to listen to us and repeat everything we say' How can we make sure that our teaching is going to prove efficient' Should we use only English or can we allow them to speak in their native tongue'
In fact, depending on the country where we teach, the children may only be on their first and only year in kindergarten or it may be their second or third year of instruction before we come and teach them EFL. Some of them may have developed academic skills in their native language while others may not. Except for immersion programs, we are more than likely to teach for a short period of time every day if not every week. Besides, a child has a small attention span. If we want to keep our young learners motivated, we need to change our activities frequently and to make our teaching as fun, dynamic and lively as possible. Informal learning such as games, songs, dances, etc' would probably work better with the young ones than formal activities: a nursery rhyme like 'Happy and you know it (clap your hands)' would be a great way to learn about body parts. With young learners, the use of visuals, toys, mimes, etc' is even more important because it is the best way for them to infer some meaning in what they do not understand. Young students learn better if they can see and if they can handle an object (JESNESS, 2004). This would also rule in favor of an exclusive use of English in the classroom: constantly translating from English to their native language brings more confusion than help (CRAWFORD, 1989). Besides the students would be more motivated to try to understand and talk in English if they do not feel they only have to wait for the teacher to go back to their language. We need to be careful though not to force them to go mute because they do not feel comfortable enough to speak: patience and encouragement are the key words.
1.CRAWFORD, J. (1989). Bilingual Education: History, Politics, Theory and Practice. New Jersey
2.The European Centre for Modern Language website. www.eclm.at
3.JESNESS, J. (2004). TEACHING English Language Learners K-12. A Quick-Start Guide for the New Teacher. California.
4. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences website http://www.niehs.nih.gov/kids