Learning languages is an essential part of education during the formative years of a child. Learning languages has a significant impact on the way an individual transacts through one’s life. We, as parents and teachers, need to have clarity on what language learning means and appropriately support language learning.
During the formative stages of a child’s learning, building capabilities in the child assumes primary importance. Knowledge-centric or information-centric approach to learning becomes relevant only during higher classes, more so in subjects like Science and Mathematics. Hence, learning languages should be facilitated with the objective of enhancing an individual’s ability to think, understand and express.
Ability to learn languages naturally, with seemingly no effort, is a gift which almost every child is bestowed during the early years. Ability of a child to learn a few tens of new words a day, associating words and meaning to abstract ideas, comprehending a variety of sentence structures, assimilating the rules of grammar through recognizing patterns, and putting all these to use in a nonchalant manner is nothing sort of a miracle. As adults, we play the role of a teacher and facilitate the child learn and we hardly break a sweat. A good language teaching methodology, hence, should leverage these natural abilities of a child and not alter the natural and intuitive process.
This article proposes an approach for helping children learn English, which is not our native tongue.
Helping a child with learning English should follow these four stages, spanning across the first 10 years of schooling starting from class 1: Familiarity, Fluency, Idea Interpretation and Expression, and Application.
There are a large number of families where adults speak to their children in their native tongue. Hence, English remains a reasonably unfamiliar language*. Familiarity with a language develops by listening to the language being spoken. With helping the child become familiar with the language the primary objective, by the end of this stage, a child is generally able to:
● converse in English to transact all day-to-day situations by framing correct sentences. Should be able to narrate stories and incidents with basic vocabulary in place.
● read and comprehend simple instructions, stories and similar material
● appreciate correct spellings of simple words encountered.
Listening, speaking, reading and writing are the opportunities to be provided in the order, with listening accorded the highest priority. It is needless to say that teaching Grammar when the child isn’t yet familiar with the language is far from being appropriate.
Fluency indicates flow or smoothness. In the Familiarity stage, the child might have to consciously expend effort to comprehend and put together words into a meaningful sentence. By the end of this stage, a child is generally able to
● comprehend stories and articles with relative ease
● use appropriate words from an enhanced vocabulary
● express thoughts in more ways than one
Reading, Speaking, Writing# and listening are the opportunities to be provided in order, with reading being the most important.
Ideas Interpretation and Expression
Information can be shared in simple sentences and are easy to comprehend. However expressing ideas needs higher capability. To help visualize a situation or evoke appropriate emotions, it is necessary to order the sentences suitably, choose appropriate words and to reflect the right tone and tenor. Comprehending abstract ideas presented thus needs a certain capability and the ability to present needs adequate practice.
Idea Interpretation and Expression, thus goes beyond basic presentation of information into the realm of effective communication of ideas. Introduction of poetry as a presentation form is most appropriate to be introduced at this stage.
Speaking, Writing and Reading are the opportunities to be provided in the order, with higher opportunities for speaking and writing.
Beyond basic communication essential for transaction, language needs to be appropriately adapted for effective use in various situations. Writing articles, debates, public speaking, making presentations, where language has to be cogently and effectively used are capabilities that needs to be enhanced.
Language learning is all about enhancing abilities. Assessment of language learning therefore is essentially an assessment of capabilities, which needs to be done consciously and with clarity.
* I strongly believe that parents should transact as well as bond with their children in their mother tongue. Language helps shape thinking, values, beliefs and culture.
# Ability to express one’s own ideas and thoughts through written words in Writing. Writing or reproducing ‘expected’ sentences should not be termed as Writing.