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Teaching EFL in a Kindergarten
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My experience as a bilingual kindergarten (Spanish/English) teacher has demonstrated the ability children have to learn two languages in an immersion program. Through a well-structured program including reading, journal writing and phonics (Aranjo) my students acquired a broad vocabulary and the ability to communicate with confidence to their peers and adults. The curriculum is presented to kids in a fun exciting way including storytelling, song, chants, games, rhymes, movement, dance, cultural lessons and holiday celebrations (Faust). It is essential to commit to the faithful implementation of the English learning program for the minimal 45 minutes a day to provide the consistency and practice needed for their success.
Brain research supports the belief that teaching a second language at an early age can be a key factor in language ability. There is a “critical period hypothesis” that says the cortex of a child’s brain is more plastic than that of an older learner and therefore a child has many more synapses taking place (Mac Laughlin). These synapses or connections occurring in the brain result in a greater ability to pronounce particular sounds due to the fact that a child’s facial muscles have not yet matured and he/she has not lost the sensitivity to phonetic distinctions (Faust).
In addition, there is a great natural incentive for a child to talk to his/her friends on the playground (Mac Laughlin). At a young age children are willing to take risks and usually have a low affective filter. They often enjoy the challenge of new words resulting in an extensive vocabulary. Whereas, older children are more inhibited and are afraid to make mistakes (Faust). At the younger age the acquisition of a new and unfamiliar language can be exciting and playful when it is meaningful.
Another reason to teach a second language at the start of a child’s academic career is that children who study a second language score higher on verbal standardized tests conducted in English (Faust). They are usually better at math, logic and problem solving as a result of creating more connections between their learning experiences and gaining the ability to think in diverse paths. Children in immersion programs do not experience any long-term delays in speaking English, although they may suffer an initial temporary lag in English achievement as measured by the standardized tests. It is important to note that this is only one tool to assess how a child has mastered language skills and doesn’t necessarily signify their ability to write a story or have an engaging conversation. Howard Gardner presents an alternative view to standardized testing, stating that the multiple intelligences are an important tool to examine when measuring an individuals learning ability, these abilities include: linguistic, logical mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist.
Teaching English as a fluent language (EFL) to kindergarteners can be key to a child’s success. The evidence is supported by brain research, social factors and the analysis of test results. But more than anything it is essential to be a world citizen and learner which entails the ability to respect other cultures and languages. The exposure to a second language provides the opportunity to network; ranging from friendships, family to business enterprises. Many European and Asian countries see the importance in speaking English in addition to a third language. They view this opportunity as an investment in the career of their children or for themselves. I hope to see this perspective grow in the culture of the United States.
Sandra Recoba Leal
Teaching EFL in a KindergartenClose
The role of a kindergarten teacher is very challenging yet highly rewarding. This is usually the first time that children have left the safety, comfort and familiarity of their own home and families, and it is often the first time that they have direct and regular contact with a language that is completely foreign to them. This new environment needs to ensure that the children are completely at ease and ready to begin their language learning journey.
“Many kindergarten teachers have made the miracle of learning languages possible with their effort, extra hours, smiles, care and numerous other positive features of their teaching.” (1)
Teachers make a huge impact on a child’s learning, and providing an encouraging a supportive environment is provided the language learning journey will begin in a positive manner. At this early stage in a child’s schooling it is essential that the teacher is of a caring, kind and warm nature, ensuring these tiny children feel safe, happy and at ease.
“Teaching EFL in kindergarten is much more than teaching colours and singing songs, it also includes the challenging task of gaining a child’s attention.” (1)
It is very difficult to gain and hold a child’s attention for long, so thorough planning, fun activities and endless energy are vital for a teacher to hold a captive and interactive audience.
“They have a very limited attention span; unless activities are extremely engaging they can easily get bored, losing interest after ten minutes or so….” (3)
With young children it is best to plan short bursts of themed activity using a variety of teaching materials. The same theme, e.g. colors, can be taught in numerous ways. There are picture books, felt story boards, colouring activities, singing songs with actions and so on. As the children are constantly processing from language one into language two, it is essential for this constant reinforcement of subject matter to occur.
“Children enter kindergarten as kinesthetic and tactual learners, moving and touching everything as they learn.” (2)
Activities need to keep children interactive and interested if the subject matter is to be absorbed. Keeping tasks fun and enjoyable will be rewarding for both child and teacher alike. Although kindergarten pupils are primarily kinesthetic learners, teaching should incorporate other learning styles into their teaching methods. Audio-lingual, visual and solitary learning are all vital too. Children have strengths and weaknesses in different areas, so it is essential that each child style is met.
“It is through play that much of a child’s learning is achieved. The physical, socio-emotional and intellectual development of children is dependant on activity. Therefore, opportunity for play is a key aspect of the kindergarten programme.” (5)
Whether the subject being taught is science, mathematics or a foreign language, learning through play is paramount. Phonics are also a vital part of a child’s language learning. ‘Jolly Phonics’ is a popular material source for this subject matter and is used in some kindergarten classes in Phuket.
“Jolly Phonics is a thorough foundation for reading and writing. It teaches the letter sounds in an enjoyable, multi-sensory way and enables children to use them to read and write words.” (4)
Teaching EFL at kindergarten level, could be a daunting prospect some individuals. However, with thorough preparation of a variety of fun and interactive activities, this could develop into a highly rewarding career. Having fun while learning, is very important to Thai adults, so it is highly essential in the language learning of kindergarten age children.
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Teaching English to young children has numerous significant and unique challenges which are absent in teaching English to older children and adults. Toddlers do not have the capability to sit down and give a teacher his/her full attention. This makes learning new vocabulary and grammar rules extremely difficult. It takes a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher to take on the dual task of educating and providing a healthy safe environment for young children. There are several methods teachers can adapt which may make teaching young children more fun, exciting and rewarding. Incorporating the following methods into every lesson plan will maximize learning and enjoyment potential for all.
One of the most imperative ways kindergarten teachers can achieve the maximum growth from each lesson is by becoming involved in and guiding children's play. By producing an environment in which the children are free to play with each other and with carefully selected materials, teachers facilitate children's development and learning. It’s important for the teacher to take advantage of the activities which maximize children’s focus on sounds, rhythms, and phonics. Playing music games and singing songs, rhymes and riddles can help the children learn the new sounds and phonics of English. Classic games such as “Simon says” can be used in lesson plans by utilizing different themes such as colors or body parts. Games should be varied, brief, and most importantly fun. By using games and keeping the classroom an educational playroom the teacher can better manage the difficult task of educating young toddlers.
Research has shown that the earlier children are exposed to a second language the easier they learn and retain the language. Literacy skills begin in kindergarten and it’s important to expose children not only to the sounds of a language but also to the grammatical structures and vocabulary of a language. This means we must not only speak English to young learners but we must read to them as well. Teaching children by sound and sight means introducing letters with fun shapes, sizes and textures. It’s important to remember that literacy is developed through seeing the letter and hearing the sound. When reading to the children, teachers should remember to give the students a visual text so they can follow along.
Most EFL teacher use visual aides in their lessons, however, kindergarten EFL teachers rely on them heavily. Young children are highly visual and interactive learners. Using visual aides in all lessons and having countless pictures, toys and materials around the classroom will instigate conversation. The teacher can than expand on the child’s words by making larger more complex sentences. For the greatest degree of effectiveness the teacher should make the visuals fun, bright, colorful and easy to see and understand. One of the most effective ways to use visuals is to hold up the visual, say and repeat the name and than have the students say the name. To ensure clarity it is often helpful to use several different visuals of the same item.
Teaching young children can be an exhausting and difficult task. By integrating the fundamental yet natural methods that children use to learn into every lesson can make each lesson enjoyable and beneficial for the child and the teacher. It’s important that young children have fun while learning and these methods can make teaching more fun, exciting and rewarding for the dedicated and enthusiastic teacher.
Michelle Shelli Swafford