Teaching EFL in KindergartenTeaching English as a foreign language is by no means an easy task, yet it is usually a necessary one. The globalized world we find ourselves in today demands and entices people to communicate in a broader sense than was anticipated only a few decades before. Children today have to have at least the basics in English because, whether we like it or not, it is the language that dominates most aspects of the global culture. In order to give individuals both the tools and skills they need to go out into the world they must start off at an early age. Kindergarten is an excellent time to begin introducing a new language, young children learn amazingly fast. They also develop their first experiences with learning, developing social skills, and, according to studies, basic, important life skills.
An interesting article was printed in the new york
Times on July of 2010 on the importance of Kindergarten. The article, written by David Leonhardt set out to answer a question: Just how important is kindergarten in the long run?
For years, economists and people in general were skeptical of the value that an early education could have on students. The testing system at schools pointed towards a ?fade-out effect? in which students who excelled in a good early education seemed to lose that head start as the years advanced. It is quite recently that economists such as Raj Chetty from Harvard delved deeper into the matter and discovered some surprising counter results.
Apparently, while everyone kept analyzing school records based on the test score system, some very important data was being ignored. What Dr. Chetty came to realize after reviewing 12,000 children who participated in what they call the Tennessee Project was that children who had gone through a good early education were more successful in life in general as children who did not. By the time the subjects from the experiment turned 30, a new revision was made and the results showed that these students, when compared to other students, were more likely to go to college, less likely to become single parents, and more likely to save for retirement.
What this study shows is that the value of early education is not about school test scores but about important qualities for life such as perseverance, discipline, patience, manners, etc. In light of this information, it is safe to say that the bases for an adult, including skills, values, abilities, etc. start off as early as kindergarten. It is because of this particular ability that it makes kindergarten the perfect age to learn a foreign language as well. In Age and the Acquisition of English as a Foreign Language, María del Pilar García Mayo and María Luisa García Lecumberri offer an interesting citation by Heighington.
They have no awkwardness or inhibitions with the new language and are not at all bothered about making mistakes. Most significant of all, they soak up new language and ideas rather as a sponge does water. (Heighington, 1996: 57)
The authors also show skepticism on early age learning yet support this point of view because they recognize that the younger the child is, the faster they will learn and develop other positive skills from the new language stimulus. They also make an important point concerning the differences between learning a second language and a foreign language. Foreign language learners usually don?t have native speaking teachers and find no need to communicate in that language outside the classroom. The positive aspects of foreign language teaching at an early age have to do more with the young children?s positive attitudes towards a new language than older students. Despite the fact that adult learners tend to seek the foreign language courses by their own will and therefore have a motive for learning, it turns out that pre- schoolers also have a very positive attitude towards learning.
Younger learners could be motivated because the teaching methodology used in kindergarten and primary school focuses on communicative skills rather than on the formal structures of the language. (García Mayo, García Lecumberri, 2003: 79)
Younger learners have famously short attention spans and require dynamic, entertaining activities in the classroom. A teacher must master the skill of being kind and motivating while at the same time being flexible yet in control. This, paired with the fact that the content to be learned is basic and oriented on communicative skills, makes kindergarten a great time to introduce a foreign language.
Lastly, some critics of teaching a foreign language in the kindergarten will argue thatº some children are already exposed to two or more different languages, depending on where they are from. In the case of spain, some are required to master two languages since they are in kindergarten (Catalan and Spanish - aka Castilian if the child is from Catalunya). The upside is that no research has found it to be confusing or overwhelming for students such as these to tackle a new, foreign language as well. In fact, it benefits young learners in more ways than were expected. According to Helena Curtain and the U.S. Department of Education,
Research has shown that through foreign language study, elementary school children receive the opportunity to expand their thinking, to acquire global awareness, to extend their understanding of language as a phenomenon, and to reach an advanced proficiency level in that foreign language. (Curtain, 2012)
Going back to Leonhardt?s article for The New York Times, he mentions how research that supported the idea that the quality and content taught in kindergarten tends to fade away as students develop is currently being proved false. It is important to keep in mind that because a foreign language is better received and quickly absorbed, it must also be considered the best time to address it. The younger a child is when he or she is exposed to English the better and the challenge of retaining it is better handled as early on as possible. The true problem that children face is not whether they learn in kindergarten or not, its whether teachers can continue to build up on the bases. When teaching English as a foreign language in the kindergarten it is important to teach the language well and it is most important that schools keep the learning up, even if the language is only available inside the school environment.
Leonhardt, David. The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers. The New York Times, 27 July 2010. Web. 24 April 2012.
Curtain, Helena. Foreign Language Learning: An Early Start. Education.com. U.S. Department of Education. 26 April 2012.
García Mayo, María Pilar, García Lecumberri, María Luisa. Age and the Acquisition of English As a Foreign Language. Multilingual Matters Ltd. 2003.