Teach English in SAnyang Zhen - Nantong Shi

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Ever since the dawning of mankind, stories have always played a fundamental role in the handing down of traditions and knowledge. Starting form rupestrian paintings and passing through oral telling of old and mythical tales to modern written literature, humans have always thought stories to be a bridge between the elderly and the young, between past and present and a wealth of wisdom to preserve. The main reason behind storytelling being widely appreciated in every culture, however diverse, is that it creates a deep connection between the people involved thus strengthening their sense of trust and positively affecting people's feel of appurtenance. This last aspect is due to the fact that stories encompass centuries of knowledge and culture that have been handed down over time, and they are, by consequence, deeply rooted in the history of the peoples they were born to, without exception of genre or of epoch of belonging. This deep connection with the most human and peaceful side of people transforms reading into a powerful tool for teaching foreign languages, and more specifically English, to children. The focus of this essay will be on two different learning environments The first group to be analyzed in this essay will be that of pre-schoolers whose experience with reading starts with their parents in an environment that can be deemed peaceful and relaxed. Reading in English to children at home enables the parents to make them experience the language in the most natural way possible, thus increasing their chances of feeling interested in and even eager to experiment with the new language without inhibitions. This is due to the fact that “[…] children learn to use the language to control their environment, satisfy their needs, achieve acceptance […]” (P. R. T. De’Ath – “The shared book experience and ESL”, Institute of Education, USP). Children who have been thoroughly exposed to the language in its written form will develop a natural desire to use it to understand what is being read to them and will be able to learn new words (and further in time, structures) through inference. The more times a book will be read to them, the more they will understand each time and the more they will learn to use the language through imitation. This approach was usually deemed appropriate for L1 acquisition but research carried out by P. R. T. De'Ath has proven that it brings great learning benefits for English learners as well. According to him, the natural acquisition of English as a second language gets a child “[...] payoff when he's right and nothing – not even a sense of failure – when he is wrong [...]”. Children will thus use the simplest words and structures until their experience extends further and allows them to comfortably employ more difficult vocabulary and grammar. Reading at home, for instance in the form of bedtime stories, can also implement a child's autonomy in reading and interpreting written language. This is due to the fact that children often ask to have the same story read to them for several times and they start repeating the parts of the story they remember and completing the missing parts with their own assumptions, thus displaying “[...] awareness of the author's intention [...]”. The last aspect implemented by at home reading sessions is the strengthening of the child's oral fluency which is a direct consequence of the interactions that follow storytelling. This first “home” stage is fundamental for children because it enables them to practice the language and making mistakes without peer pressure or fear of failure, which both make part of a child's life in any school environment. If children develop their reading abilities and implement their curiosity and desire for learning they will be less influenced by negative factors that might slow down their learning of English as a second language in school. The same sense of security and comfort should be recreated in class when using the “Shared book experience” in a school environment. The children should sit around the teacher in a position where they can all comfortably see the book that is being read to them. During the reading sessions, conversation and discussion should be implemented, in order for the children to fully grasp the story and its meaning as well as any complicated vocabulary or structures, which could also be discussed in the children's first language so as to clarify them. In a second session, which will still be focused on the same story, the children will join in the reading and the teacher will intervene whenever they deem it necessary so as to remove the “[...] threat of failure or embarrassment [...]”. These reading sessions are meant to replicate the natural learning of the children's mother tongue thus helping them consider English as a familiar language they can discover as they did their own. Through storytelling, children understand the meaning of words and how they are written and read through inference to then move their attention to the order of the words in a sentence, which enables them to understand how syntax works and what each word's function is. Lastly, they derive the semantic meaning of the words they read, thus understanding the written text as a whole. Reading to and with children both at home and in school also helps them develop their oral fluency because the teacher or parent will bestow speech patterns and correct examples of pronunciation during each of the reading sessions. It can thus be said that reading to young children is fundamental when teaching them English due to the fact that the sessions enable them to get acquainted and familiar with both the written and spoken language in a way that is both natural and relaxed because it imitates the method of acquisition of their mother tongue.