Questions that wink in my mind [Archives:2003/661/Education]

August 21 2003

By Hafedh Al-Kerdi
I often confront a question: Which of the different age groups of students would you like to teach? Why?
The response that has very often cropped up in my mind is: most certainly young children. I would like to mention here some factors which drive me to arrive at this conclusion.
As we know, childhood is an important stage because it is considered as the threshold of learning. So Wordsworth says “Child is the father of the man.” It means that childhood is the seed-time for human development. Although, I am teaching teenagers in the school and adults in the college of Alturba, but I enjoy teaching young children much more than I do to teenagers.
I would like to teach children for many reasons. One of the reasons concerns the age of the learners. Some theorists claim that only young learners can successfully learn a new language. These people suggest that the child's brain is like the a special computer which is biologically pre-programmed for learning languages. They also suggest that this innate capablility is minimized when the child begins to reach adulthood. They say this in view of the fact that adults are less successful than children at learning a language. But there is no real evidence to support their theory.
In addition, the human child has a more powerful memory than adults, and this is why I am emphasizing on learning English at younger age. As a teacher I observe that the young children have a desire to learn a second language. They are more active than adults. The young child is like the receiver, he hears words, phrases and sentences from the teacher and enthusiastically tries to memorize them quickly.
Furthermore, the human child's tongue is flexible whereas the adult's tongue “get stiff” to pronounce the words in the foreign language. Some some psycholinguists point out that we can predict that people who start learning their L2 before the age of seven will have native like L2 speech and that people who start learning after fourteen or eighteen will probably have non native like speech. But the results of people who start learning between the ages of seven and fourteen are much more varied- some end up with acquiring the foreign language accent and some do not.

Learning strategies of young children:
(a) they respond to meaning even if they do not understand individual words;
(b) they can learn from everything around them, that is they learn indirectly rather than directly;
(c) Their comprehension comes not so much from explanation, as from what they see and hear – that is they learn better from concrete things than from abstract things;
(d) They like to listen to a song, repeat sentences, memorize words;
(e) They don't like to use language rules and explanations;
(f) They learn better by actually doing things with the language like acting and repeating than by the teacher explaining the grammatical rules to them;
(g) They need special care and attention from the teacher and to help them learn from their peers;
(h) They prefer to be encouraged by the teacher through remarks such as 'good', 'excellent', 'well done', 'thank you' etc.;
(i) They have very limited concentration which means that the teacher can not expect them to do one thing for long. They need a lot of variety and the teacher has to be careful to decide on a variety of activities right for the group;

The above discussion meakes it clear that the good teachers at this level need to provide a rich diet of learning experiences to young children, which would encourage their students to enable them to confidently navigate the learning route. They need to work with their students individually and in-groups developing good relationships. They need to prepare different activities so that they will not feel broad. The teachers should give them some songs, get them to repeat, act, and talk about themselves and their interests and life.