Teaching EFL in a Kindergarten in Hong KongTeaching EFL in a Kindergarten in Hong Kong is an exciting opportunity to introduce young learners to english.
Firstly, it is important to understand that in Hong Kong, local chinese children
usually start nursery school by the age of two years. Even in the pre-kindergarten years, the nursery school curriculum is generally quite structured, and includes bilingual lessons in both english and Putonghua (Mandarin or Cantonese). Outside of the school curriculum, parents also encourage their children to take further english tuition lessons, often in a one on one private setting.
By the time they reach kindergarten, most chinese children have been exposed to english at varying degrees, either through their former nursery schooling, private tuition, their parents’ own knowledge of the english language, or through exposure to popular culture such as television and books.
In Hong Kong, an EFL teacher should firstly be conscious of the cultural differences and pressures that local chinese parents may place on their children to become bilingual from a young age.
It is deeply ingrained in societal expectations that all children should excel academically from an early age, therefore they view the english language as an essential tool to ensuring that their children can have more opportunities in the future, not only to get placement in the most prestigious high schools
and universities, but also to open the door of opportunity for their future careers.
This pressure can be potentially damaging to a young learner, particularly of a kindergarten age, where they are also learning many other basic skills such as social skills, motor skills, arts and crafts, music and general knowledge, as well as other academic skills such as science and mathematics.
Conversely, teaching EFL in a kindergarten can be a rewarding and beneficial opportunity for young learners. In Ilisa Cohen’s article in parents.com, “Exposing your child to a second language will help him learn about other cultures. Research has shown that bilinguals tend to be more creative thinkers than those who speak one language, and one study suggests that their brain functions may stay sharper as they age”.
Children develop at a rapid rate, and are absorbing new information incredibly quickly. As they also do not have as much life experience or pre-existing reservations about learning and education, they can be viewed as ‘blank canvasses’ in which to teach languages easily. At the kindergarten age, they are also learning new vocabulary in their native tongue, and therefore are able to form new words and speech patterns much more easily. Cohen’s article also cites Erika Levy, Ph.D., assistant professor of speech and language pathology at Columbia University Teachers College, in New York City, "kids
this age are developing language skills rapidly, and they quickly absorb whatever they hear…They can learn to understand new words in two different languages at an incredibly fast rate."
The actual method of teaching EFL in kindergartens must be treated differently to that of an adult, or that of a specific area such as business english for example.
As mentioned above, we must bear in mind that children at a kindergarten age are also learning many other skills outside of academic subjects. This includes social skills, motor skills, and general knowledge.
As we have learnt during the TEFL course, utilizing these other skills that children are learning, and incorporating them with teaching english is a great way in which to engage and interest young learners.
For example, teaching basic vocabulary in topics such as food, clothing, the weather, animals, modes of transport, etc is all very relevant to kindergarten age children. Also, teaching grammar topics such as vowels and consonants are also applicable to kindergarten age children.
Methods such as role-plays with puppets, props such as toys, picture books, flashcards and art and craft activities are useful ways in which to help reinforce the english language to young learners.
Although we can reflect upon the positive and negative aspects of teaching EFL in a Kindergarten in Hong Kong, it is without doubt that the english language is an important and useful tool in modern society in which to communicate in an ever-increasing multilingual world. Therefore as teachers and advocates of the english language, we must combine our TEFL training, specific training for teaching young learners, as well as knowledge of the local culture in order to effectively and positively teach EFL to kindergarten children.