Teach English in Wenxing Zhen - Yueyang Shi

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Children are born without language, without an understanding of the world around them, without knowing that other people are people just like them and of course, without knowing how to tell a story. At first, babies can only communicate by crying but as they grow, they observe the people around them and begin to develop different communication techniques such as gesturing or mimicking sounds. One of the main roles of the parents (or parental figures) is to introduce language to the child. They can do so in many ways such as presenting an object and sounding out its name, by constantly narrating what they are doing or by telling stories, whether fictitious or reminiscences. It is however, important to note that initiating language doesn’t always come from a parental figure’s desire to teach the child, it may also be used instinctually as a soothing technique or out of a personal desire to communicate. When telling stories to children, not only do the words appeal to the child but the tone, the rhythm and musicality of the language. Even before children develop productive language skills, they are familiar with other forms of storytelling such as toy play: they give life to their toys and through their actions tell a story (e.g. the bunny was bouncing around happily but fell and hurt its knee and cried, luckily mommy was near and made it all better with a bandaid and a kiss) it is then up to the adult to introduce language that matches the action to teach language skills. As they grow, through attentive listening and repetition, children learn how to produce language and by age two or three most know the basic patterns of storytelling (who, when, what). Stories organize our experiences and narrate our inner lives, they often help children develop a sense of identity and a way to communicating that identity to others. Once children are able to tell a story by themselves they notice that it causes an emotional reaction in the listener such as laughter, shock, etc. which encourages them to communicate more through storytelling. Early childhood is the best time to introduce a foreign language as children tend to be much faster learners than adults. Since stories are such a huge part of a child’s language development they should be a part of learning English as a second language. It makes learning something new rather familiar and approachable. While using techniques such as flash cards and drilling to teach new words is essential, they lack the context and substance for young learners who famously get easily bored. Through the lens of a story, a child will be able to relate to characters and subconsciously understand that the sounds these characters are making are how they communicate therefore encouraging them to emulate the language. There are many ways both teachers and parents can use storytelling for English learning: read-out-loud picture books with inviting imagery to grab students interest and encourage attentive listening, read-out-loud poetry from which the students may not grasp the meaning but can enjoy the rhythm and have fun repeating, or using toys and narrate their action. Choosing stories that are repetitive and follow patterns of storytelling known to the students will encourage them to participate and practice their speaking skills. Teachers and parents alike should keep in mind that children tend to like hearing the same story over and over, and, while this may be tiresome from the adult perspective, it allows young learners to understand new vocabulary and/or reinforce what they already know. Tone, voice placement and the energy level of the storyteller are as important as the repetition, children can easily loose interest in a story if it isn’t presented in an appealing way. As they grow, the use of stories will also develop other key learning skills such as predicting, guessing meaning and hypothesizing, which will be needed while learning to read. Teaching English through stories that are interesting to young students will engage them, stimulate their imagination and curiosity and enable them to learn the foreign language as easily as they learned their own all while having fun! The importance of stories and storytelling doesn’t become obsolete once a child reaches adulthood. Stories constantly broaden our word, expose us to different cultures through an empathic lens and enable us to come up with new ideas. We are all learners when faced with a new story and we need them to help us make sense of our lives from early childhood to the twilight of our days.