MY APPROACH TO TEACHING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE TO VERY YOUNG LEARNERS
As we know, educational psychology theories that explain “how people learn” have changed through the years. In the 1950s, Behaviorism supported that people learned by trial and error and by building connections between stimuli and responses. In the field of language learning this led to the use of rewards, discouragement, immediate corrections and repetition as the basic techniques for language teaching. This type of teaching was known as the Audio-lingual method in which choral repetitions of key phrases and dialogs were the main activities. Now days this method is no longer considered as an efficient way of teaching L2.
In the l960s, Cognitivism, an opposite vision of learning, was introduced emphasizing that learning took place through internal mental activities as thinking, memorizing, knowing, and problem solving. The dominant model with regard to second language acquisition was the Computational model which saw practice as the as the key of language acquisition.
Then, in the 1980s, the theory of Constructivism gained wide acceptance. It makes emphasis in that learners social and cultural determiners, such as prior knowledge, skills, beliefs, concepts and experiences, have an influence in their learning outcomes. It also emphasizes the importance of helping students take control of their own learning.
Besides the above mentioned theories, there are other issues to take into consideration when we talk specifically of the second language acquisition processes. Among other factors, the natural ability of an individual to learn or acquire languages is more determinant than the methodologies and processes that are applied to achieve it. Of course there are also affective factors that will influence language learning like motivation, personality, environment and opportunities.
Since there is still much debate about how language is learnt, it is important to mention at this point one of the most important theories about second language acquisition, known as the Monitor model (Krashen 1970) which is based on five hypotheses. I think this is very valuable to take into account for my proposed approach.
Another aspect to consider is that the use of interlanguage in communication is normal until the speaker gains enough proficiency in the L2 language.
MY SUGGESTED APPROACH FOR TEACHING ESL TO VERY YOUNG LEARNERS (Ages 1 to 6)
Taking into account that second language acquisition can be accomplished through different approaches and methodologies with the use of a variety of techniques, the first important thing that must be considered is the target learner, which in this case is very young learners (1 to 6 years old).
I will use a combination of approaches and methods which I think are the best choice for this age group according to their characteristics.
Children are born with special language learning abilities, which they use to acquire their first language. The main idea behind this proposal is to take advantage of these abilities to help children learn a second language. For this purpose I want to incorporate three teaching methodologies: Immersion, which allows students to participate actively in an English-speaking environment; the Natural Approach, which holds that words are not learned in isolation but through interaction; and Total Physical Response (TPR), which allows children to move and react meaningfully to language.
The programmed activities will expose students to the second language and allow them to participate actively in an English-speaking environment. It is important to remember that language learning is a natural process that occurs in three different stages:
Stage 1: Preproduction – Children understand but do not verbalize language. They may respond non-verbally.
Stage 2: Early production – Children begin to produce familiar words or short phrases.
Stage 3: Speech Emergence – Children have a limited vocabulary and respond in short phrases or sentences.
Based on these natural stages, the program designed for this age group has to be fun, attractive and well-structured, with activities that can maintain their attention, motivation and engagement.
DESCRIPTION OF APPROACHES AND METHODOLOGIES SUGGESTED
1) Immersion - is a method of teaching a second language in which the learner’s second language (L2) is the medium of classroom instruction. Through this method learners will be exposed to the different topics presented in the classroom. This method is used in schools, where some topics are presented in L1 and others in L2 in order to foster bilingualism. Of course, different formats have to be used according to the learners’ age and the situation.
2) The Natural Approach - is aimed to promote naturalistic language acquisition in a classroom setting, emphasizing communication, and placing decreased importance on conscious grammar study and explicit correction of student error. The learning environment has to be as stress-free as possible. In the Natural Approach, language output is not forced, but allowed to emerge spontaneously after students have attended to large amounts of comprehensive language input.
Activities for this approach are focused on promoting subconscious language acquisition. They can be divided into four main areas: content activities, such as learning about some topic in the target language; activities which focus on personalizing language, such as students sharing their favorite songs; games; and problem solving activities.
3) The Total Physical Response (TPR) - is an example of the comprehensive approach to language speaking. With the use of this method, listening and responding (with actions) serves two purposes; it is a means of building a recognition of meaning in the language being learned, and a means of learning the structure of the language itself. Grammar is not taught explicitly, but can be learned from the language input. It is a very valuable way to learn vocabulary, especially difficult or idiomatic forms, e.g. phrasal verbs.
TPR is often used alongside other methods and techniques and it is popular with beginners and young learners. Two facts that support this combined proposal.
The Teachers’ role:
The teacher has to be a “controller/organizer”, he organizes the class time and controls the right execution of the activities. He also has to be a “facilitator” type of teacher, his only function is to be the manager of the students’ learning. At the same time, he has to be the “playmaker”, he has to know how to organize the class game so that everybody participates and learns under his or her guidance.
The students’ role:
A student has to be an “imitator”. He has to follow the teacher’s directions and respond as accurately as possible. For example, students are drilled in the use of grammatical sentences patterns with little interaction between each other. He also has to be a “communicator”. Students have to be actively engaged in negotiating meaning trying to make themselves understood. They learn to communicate by communicating. They are usually active and do most of the speaking in the classroom.
ORGANIZATION OF THE COURSE
For the organization of the course using this combined methodology the syllabus would be based on the following:
The vehicular language of the course is L2, as the immersion method sustains, to foster bilingualism.
Each class integrates a variety of skills, including visual and auditory discrimination as well as pre-reading and pre-writing. All this with the objetive of attracting and maintaining the attention of very young learners, while teaching English and developing the learning skills appropriate for the age level.
CLASS STRUCTURE AND MATERIALS USED
The structure of the class that I propose using the Total Physical Response method (TPR) is as follows:
Introduction: In this phase of the class I present the topic of the lesson. I ask questions to the children to know their previous knowledge about the topic. I can use many different activities like games, drills, stories, etc. that catch their attention.
Presentation: During this phase, I introduce the target language including the different structures and vocabulary that the children will learn in the lesson. I use different visual materials like posters, cutouts, images, etc. These materials are placed in different locations around the classroom. Then, the students are given commands for pointing to different objects. For example, I point to the schoolbag. Then, I place cutouts on the blackboard edge, point at them one by one and have students identify them. I mix them and I have students identify them again.
Production: In this part students participate in chants or songs that include the vocabulary introduced in the lesson, pointing at the objects again while saying the words. This will be repeated several times to promote memorization.
Other materials that can be used are story books and realia, as well as activities that involve role play.
Assessment has to be continuous. You don´t move on to the next step until you know that most of the students understand the current commands. In consequence, assessments will be made in group, but individual oral assessment is also necessary to determine their personal outcome.
Homework is not recommended, since the emphasis made on the use of the oral target language at all times will probably not be accomplished outside the classroom and without the teacher’s guidance.
To conclude I have to say that this choice has been based on my previous experience in teaching ESL to very young children in Venezuela, in which I personally used the techniques I mentioned before with results that I consider very satisfactory.