Teach English in Nanyang Zhen - Yancheng Shi

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Children in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) very likely have had no or hardly any exposure to the English language. We have to take into consideration that some of them may feel unsafe in class; they are still young, inexperienced and vulnerable. The first aim must be to make them feel safe when they come to class. As the learning environment is what they will first see, a dull and empty-looking classroom is not an option. It should be cosy and colourful, with features attractive to young children. Meaningful photos or objects from their home life that the children brought can make the room look livelier. Even if they can’t express yet what they brought, it will help them feel secure. As classes progress, depictions of vocabulary they learned will be added, preferably at the children’s eye level. It will encourage them to think and talk about. Feeling at home will help them want to communicate, usually first among peers, and later on with adults. Play is the work of a child (Maria Montessori), so learning English through games should be the central factor in class. The teacher must be sensitive to the child’s need and may never force them to participate or speak. It is important to have faith in their learning abilities: a child absorbs a lot of (passive) language before it starts to speak. While agreeing on English being the language spoken in class, it is easy to imagine how hard it is to make the transition to speaking an unknown language. For that reason, I understand a child sometimes needs to express itself in its own language. What I usually say in daily practice (Early Child teacher in a Dutch primary school with mostly second language achievers) when pupils fall back to their mother tongue is “Can you please say that again, but so that we can all understand?” They mostly know what is meant by that request and will help each other to respond to it. Once a lesson starts, the teacher must be aware of the child’s well-being. She will speak English, but in such a manner that understanding from the pupil’s part has a high chance of success. That will be through a clear pronunciation, slower pace of speech than usual, repetition, expression and gestures, maintaining eye-contact with the children and referring to them while speaking. It is important to immediately start using specific standard sentences to give the children some tools. For example: “stand up”, “sit down”, “join in” to begin with. If they do join in, make sure to positively stimulate them by praising them without making a big deal about it. Early Child classes usually work around a theme, so it is good to link to that. The children will be more prone to understand what is being said. As English classes will usually not be that long and frequent, it is also important to choose subjects wisely, for example by focussing on part of a theme. To engage the children, the teacher should be able to make an instant connection with them. If the theme is ‘Transport’, pictures can be shown, but in a meaningful way. For example, when the teacher acts mysterious while taking a picture out of a box, attention will be immediately drawn towards her. If pupils do speak some English already, they can make requests: is there a boat, train etc. in the box? This might encourage other children to do the same! Pictures used will get a place at the classroom wall at the pupil’s eye-level to help them memorise. Young children have lots of energy, so it is useful to have them enact what they learn: Riding a bike, or driving a car. This will help them remember and it offers the teacher an opportunity to give language to what the children are doing. She will participate in the activity in order to connect with the pupils, but also as a tool in managing the class. When she sits down, they will automatically too! For the study phase, there are plenty of songs about the subject to be found online. The teacher will need to make sure the desired vocabulary is used. My experience is, that songs in another language are very accessible for young children and can be considered a drill exercise. They love repetition and can easily listen to and sing along with it multiple times in a row. The teacher might have to adjust the speed of the song to make it easier to understand the lyrics and join in! Initially, the latter is more important than a correct pronunciation. To round off the class, the teacher must again be sensitive toward the emotional needs of the pupils: no pressure. As the children don’t have reading or writing skills, she is also limited in her choice of activities. It is important that the children get the opportunity to literally play with what they’ve learned. The teacher might pair them up according to language skills (stronger with weaker) and have them play games that will tempt them to put the language they learned into practice. If a lot of the pupils are not ready to speak just yet, there is also the possibility of having them colouring in a picture where a lot of the language taught is depicted. It offers the pupil some quiet time after a lot of input, and the teacher an opportunity to repeat the language once more. It is important not to use this as a test: the initiative should come from the child at this phase. The teacher can also write down language on the sheet, so the parents know what the child has learned in class. Encouragement from their part will also help greatly.