ITalki about teaching English young learners

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How to teach Young Learners English effectively

Throughout the ages, countless approaches and methods have been implemented, bearing in mind the purpose of teaching a second language. With all of these types of methods and approaches, we know that a recipe for success (in terms of language learning) is to start at a very young age!
How can we, as iTalki teachers, address this issue? What piece of advice can be shared that will allow us to become effective teachers of Young Learners of English?

The matter at hand

Children are like sponges! They absorb what they learn (that is if they’re interested in the topic). When we were children, we learned our first language through exposure. What I mean is that we spent an average of about 14 hours a day being bombarded with information in a specific language, and guess what? It worked! Our L1 started evolving, and after some time, we started babbling, and after that, well, you know what happened? We started talking! First, simple words, then sentences. The matter at hand lies in the following; it’s the one-million-dollar question: do we learn a second language as we learned our first? You be the judge. My experience tells me that children are like sponges, not because they have lived for just a few years, but because they likely don’t have other kinds of obligations or matters that concern adulthood, don’t you think? How can we handle the matter at hand? First, we should recognize this: children will eventually have more time to learn a second language.

Step 1 – TPR, Realia, Special effects programs, etc.

I’m going to share with you what has worked for me as an ESL/EFL/ELA teacher. TPR stands for “Total Physical Response.” I use gestures, and expressions, that facilitate learning. Depending on the level/age of the students, I will use TPR for very young learners of English.

For example, if I’m teaching “happy,” I will definitely smile and draw a “smiley” on the whiteboard. ☺ If I’m already teaching verbs, like “eat,” I will use a special effects program, display a picture of an apple, and simulate eating it; I disable the object to disappear from the screen; after I do this, I type “eat,” and repeat it three times. I can also use an apple and dare to eat it in class. (a word of advice: you might want to talk to the parents in this case just to make sure it’s not odd or strange doing it in a virtual classroom environment).

Step 2 – Using the whiteboard

Using a virtual/physical whiteboard (or blackboard) and being creative are two things that go well together. If you type everything you find appropriate and pedagogical for a young learner of English, that will probably benefit that student in the long run. Why? You are connecting words with things that they are (or they will) get used to emojis, smileys, objects, pictures, etc.

Step 3 – Engaging curriculum

Much has been published/said about the correct type of materials for Young Learners of English. There are a few websites that we can use to provide materials for young learners. If you’re looking for something, you probably want to look for engaging and interactive materials.

What should you be looking for? You are probably aware that literacy skills are in high demand. Why not fit literacy and language skills in our curriculum, whether custom-made or already done, and you can use it? I’m confident that this will help our young learners of English develop not just their language skills but also combine them with something dynamic and valuable. Connecting materials that approach science, for example, could be a good idea, especially if the young learner is learning science at school, don’t you think so?

What’s the outcome?

We live in a world of distress. We understand that language keeps evolving, but the needs remain the same – learning English is still very important. So, in this article, I have presented my two cents about effective learning (not teaching) of Young Learners of English: 1) Using visual resources is a powerful tool to get the learners engaged in class (we can use special effects, realia, and other elements to maximize the learning process); 2) Using a virtual/physical board can enhance comprehension; not just products; we should focus first on comprehension and then production. Young Learners should be aware of what an apple is before saying it out loud; even if they mispronounce the right word if the object is already retained in their minds, sooner or later, they will likely start producing. (producing = talking); 3) Blending curricular materials with language skills might be a good approach and probably satisfactory for the parents. I hope this information is helpful for everyone who is an ESL/EFL/ELA teacher. I wish you well in your endeavors!

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