How to teach young children to be bilingual

MAHSA TAHERIAN
Child

The idea of raising bilingual children is both appealing and possible for more and more families these days and growing up with more than one language certainly has its advantages in today's global village. Yet bilingualism really is not something that simply happens. Raising kids to be successful in more than one language requires some careful planning and learning about bilingual language development. The reasons for choosing to raise kids with two or more languages are as varied as the families themselves. Even the word "bilingualism" has different meanings for different families. For some families, having the ability to listen in two languages but speak in just one may constitute bilingualism, while other parents expect their kids not only to be bilingual, but also literate in both languages. Whatever the goals for developing bilingualism in each family may be, success appears to depend on whether a "language plan" has been worked out in advance. (Marsha Rosenberg http://iteslj.org/ Community Magazine 1996)
 

 

·        The right age

 

Nowadays, though, research findings indicate something totally different. Studies by Harvard University confirm that the creativity, critical thinking skills, and flexibility of the mind are significantly enhanced if children learn a second language at a younger age. Preschool years, especially the first three years of life, are believed to be a vital period in a child’s life. This is when the foundations for attitudes, thinking, and learning, among others, are laid down. Based on the information we gain in our first few years, everything we have learned grows later in life. Research has shown that 50% of our ability to learn is developed by age 4 and another 30% by age 8. This is why three-year-olds are encouraged to learn a second language. However, this does not mean that 80% of one’s knowledge or intelligence is formed before they are 8 years old. It simply means that children develop their main learning pathways during their first few years of life. (www.parent.com , July 26, 2021)

 

·        Teaching young learners

 

Firstly, use learning tasks that help implicit learning. This means providing lots of exposure to meaningful language, with opportunities to learn such language by heart, play with it or use it to convey messages. Try not to use abstract explanations, language analysis, or exercises based on application of rules. Motivate the students through activities that will grab and maintain their interest. Do not rely on long-term motivation to learn English. Plan lessons with a variety of components, and make sure each activity does not last too long. Activities can vary in different ways: ‘stirring’ (more exciting) activities versus ‘settling’ (calmer) ones; tasks that demand physical activity versus ones sitting down; collaborative versus individual or teacher-led interaction. They also vary as to the skill being used: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. Some practical ways in which we can implement the principles listed above are through using pictures, stories, games and enjoyable ’language play’ activities. (A course in English Language Teaching book by Penny Ur.)

 

·        Relationship between teachers & students

 

Positive student relationships are fundamental to success. When students feel supported, they are more likely to engage in learning and have better academic outcomes. Plus, when students have positive interactions with teachers, they have fewer behavioral problems. These relationships are more important — and more challenging — than ever in uncertain times, like during the coronavirus pandemic. To build a positive relationship, you need to have more positive interactions than negative ones. More specifically, researchers recommend having five positive interactions for every one negative interaction. Positive interactions could include greeting students by name as they arrive, giving praise for working hard , or asking about a student’s pet. ( www.understood.org  , Trynia Kaufman )

 

·        Rewarding system

 

On the other hand, praising the young learners is known as the most predominant way to encourage them in order to learn thoroughly. If we create a reward system either for the online or in-person classes, it will motivate the young learners to pay attention during the lessons. For instance, we can provide the children some stickers for each task that they finish. Similarly, if it is an online class we can have diverse pictures as stickers on a white board behind us in order to inspire kids to be involved in the class. ( www.blogvipkid.com )

 

·         Cartoons

 

Undoubtedly, one of the most significant steps is to choose some cartoons for young children to watch every day. Children love cartoons. And you should not underestimate the power of having a language resource that is enjoyable. Children, particularly young children will happily watch the same cartoons over and over again – this is an amazing opportunity you can use to your advantage. This step can indirectly boost the children’s knowledge of English. These cartoons must be chosen wisely. This is because children are being educated by these cartoons. A good example is, (Caillou)

Although there are countless suitable cartoons for children to love and learn from, they must be age-appropriate. This is due to the fact that a young kid of a certain age will be able to connect with the right cartoon. For example, if a young boy is about three years old, he should watch cartoons which is about his peers, or cartoons that are much simpler to understand.

 (Shannon Kennedy, www.eurolinguiste.com )

·        Games

 

Playing various games plays a major and impressive role in teaching younger children. It is essential to play several games related to the lesson to exercise more effectively. Educators should choose different sorts of games based on children's interests and attitudes. We must act and play just like a child, and in this way, we can have a better understanding, and if we get ourselves involved with youngsters we can surely teach them anything through playing games.  

For Instance, (Simon Says Go To…), this is a great activity to get the children moving and talking. I use this lot in my English classes. I place the flashcards on the wall around the room. Either myself, or another child will be “Simon”. They say “Simon says go to…” and name a flashcard. All of the children then run and stand below the card. We do variations where we say, “All boys go to…” or name a certain person and tell them to go to a certain card. Each child has a turn at being Simon. I find that it motivates even the shy children to speak up.

 

Another example is, Flashcard Guessing Game . . . . Think of the game Celebrity Head but for kids, using flashcards. This activity can be played in pairs or in a group. Each child has a card stuck to or on their head, or even held in front of them, but they cannot see it. They take turns in asking questions about the card that they have.

E.g. “Am I a shape?” “Am I an animal?” Do I have four legs? ” etc. If they get the question right, they have another turn. Otherwise you go around asking questions until someone guesses which card they have correctly. It really motivates the use of language, because kids really want to know what is on their head. (www.bilingualkidspot.com )

·        Tips for teachers

 

First, keep the instructions clear and simple by using as few words as necessary and by gesturing when possible. For example, (Okay, No, Thank you, etc.).Do not pressure students into speaking before they have had a lot of opportunities to listen to you using the accurate form of language, and also they need lots of repetition and drilling. Another major factor is to avoid metalanguage, which means not mentioning the name of a specific grammar, such as (past simple, adverbs of frequency).Furthermore, never ask (DO you understand?) ,they may pretend that they understood when in fact they have not. Even though teaching beginners entails progressing slowly and recycling and repeating language many times, that does not mean recycling the same activities, especially not during one lesson. Ensure you have a range of activities to use, and do not go into class without having first carefully thought through how you are going to introduce new language, how you will check that the students have understood it, how you will practice it, and how you will deal with potential misunderstandings. The possibility for confusion at this level is much greater than at higher levels, and sometimes even harder to disentangle.

(By Michael Brand , 2017, www.english.com/blog/teaching-english-to-beginners )

·        How to deal with introverted children

 

Some children are introverted and do not tend to speak a word with their tutors. This is one of the most difficult situations. First, Identify why they do not want to speak up. There are as many different reasons for shyness as there are shy kids in the world.  Some students are afraid of being criticized, some are terrified of public speaking, some just need to get to know their classmates a little bit better, some do not understand a word that is being said in class, and some are just trying to get by without having to do any work. You cannot help them if you do not understand what it is that pushes them into their shell in the first place.

 1Do not put them on the spot

It is easy to get frustrated, and to try to force a quiet student to give an answer by putting them on the spot.  Having the whole class come to a standstill and wait for a student to give an answer can actually have the opposite effect that you intend. The student may eventually mutter an answer, but it can be a very traumatic experience for them, and can erode the trust that you need to build in order for the student to actually feel comfortable speaking up in class.

2Do not push them too much

In most cases, kids’ reasons for being quiet and withdrawn run deep.  Do not expect them to be jumping up to sing a song in front of the class in a few months.

Take things in baby steps, and try to get them to participate more in games or small group activities, or to feel comfortable coming up to the board to write an answer.

3Build a relationship

Trust and comfort are huge parts of helping shy kids come out of their shell, and it takes time and caring to build that foundation. Take a few minutes, before or after class, or during breaks, to chat one on one with the student. Ask them about their day, their interests, how they are doing. Sometimes all it takes to build that relationship is giving them a high-five and telling them “good job today.”  But make sure they know that you care and are there to encourage them when they do feel ready to speak up.

4Highlight small victories

If a child who is usually withdrawn does speak up in class, be sure to meet that with encouragement.  Tell them that you liked their idea or comment, or that you would love to hear more about what they brought up, or that you are very happy that they raised their hand today. Make them feel good about taking a little step forward, and you will find them taking more and more of those little steps.

5Be very delicate about correcting them

Quieter kids are often very sensitive to criticism.  Be careful about how or if you correct them, even if they give the wrong answer.  The important thing is that they are participating.

Meeting that participation with criticism or correction, even if it seems minor to you, can drive them back into their shell.

6Pay attention to their interactions with other students

Kids are kids, and sometimes they can be cruel.  Quieter students often feel they do not fit in and often that is because other students make fun of them or pick on them. If you do identify something, address it discreetly with the students involved.  No one wants it to be brought to the attention of the entire class that they are getting picked on, and that can be especially mortifying for a student who is already self-conscious and withdrawn. .

7Use small groups or partners

Shy children will usually be a lot more comfortable speaking and participating in a group of 3 or 4 than in front of the whole class.  Partner them up with peers they feel comfortable with, and who you trust to help them instead of just talking over them.

8Encourage their interests

If they have a chance to talk about something that they are interested in, a quiet student is much more likely to come out of their shell and get engaged in class. This goes along with building a relationship with the student; talk to them, find out what they like and are interested in, and then give them opportunities to pursue those topics.

9Use parents as resources

Parents can help you figure out what the student is interested in, what their reasons are for being shy, and what kinds of encouragement will work to get them to participate.

Do not be afraid to bring up to the parents that you would like to help their child get more involved in class, and would love some suggestions from them as to how.( www.reachtoteachrecruiting.com ,Stephanie Long , 2015 )

 

·        Parents

 

Families who take the time to consider how their kids will develop two languages, and who make the necessary commitments to bilingual language development, tend to be more successful in raising bilingual children. More importantly, what parents should do is to support their children’ language study within their power, for example, affording mobile phone to children as a study tool and providing language learning materials, such as target language newspaper and learning website. To learn foreign languages well, not only do children need to put effort in, but also the cooperation of parents and school is necessary. As long as children are using all the materials provided by parents and teachers effectively, including tools like mobile applications, they will learn foreign languages successfully ( www.iteslj.org ),( The influence of family on children’s second language learning article by Yahan Zhou ,2020 at university of Windsor, Canada)

 

·        Discussion

 

The result indicates that children are able to become bilingual or even multilingual. However, some argue that learning a language as a child id different than doing so later in life, and they believe that after adolescence, we cannot learn a language perfectly. But we now know that is not true, because there are many people who learn languages as adults, and they learn them very well. So this has led us to reexamine what it is about learning a language during childhood that makes it different from adulthood. Is your brain more ready and more flexible — what we call more “plastic” — when you are a child, and then it becomes more rigid and fixed as an adult? Or is it that the conditions of language-learning are different when you are a child, in terms of the amount and type of input you receive, and how much encouragement others give you? For example, An adult who is working two jobs and going to language classes at 7 o’clock at night has a different type of acquisition than a child constantly receiving input from the mother, grandmother, teacher or other primary caregiver.

Ultimately, the difference between language-learning in children and adults is probably some combination of the two: plasticity and conditions. There are also individual differences. If you put different people in the same situation, some people will flourish and others will struggle.

Future studies should take into account that the benefits of being bilingual may boost parts of the aging brain, or it could keep Alzheimer away from people .Also, we are not sure about the details. How much language experience is needed? Does it matter which languages you learn? Do you need to achieve a certain level of proficiency? ( www.knowablemagazine.org / by Ramin skibba,2018)

 

·        conclusion

 

To sum up, there are several approaches to teach young children to be bilingual. In my opinion, choosing the right and influential method such as cartoons, games, rewarding system are undoubtedly pivotal. Other main factors are parents’ co-operation, and realizing what kind of personality children have. Because being acknowledged about the different aspects of the situation while teaching has a substantial impact on children and the process of learning. It is essential for teachers to create an enjoyable environment for young children to attract their attentions. In fact, children are able to acquire anything automatically at a very young age, if they are interested in what they are learning.

 

 

·        References:

 

1a course in English Language Teaching book by Penny Ur.

2www.asha.org

3www.eurolinguiste.com

4www.bilingualkidspot.com

5www.parent.com

6www.reachtoteachrecruiting.com

7www.blogvipkid.com

8http://iteslj.org/

9www.understood.org

10www.english.com/blog/teaching-english-to-beginners

11The influence of family on children’s second language learning article by Yahan Zhou ,2020 at university of Windsor, Canada

12www.knowablemagazine.org

 

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