Foreign Languages and Pre-Primary Students. Are We Overdoing It?

By Katherine Reilly, Author, Teacher Trainer

Originally Published in ELT NEWS Magazine.

It comes as no surprise that the demands of our ever-developing society would at some point leave its mark on the generations which will succeed us. The necessity to harness a young individual’s true potential with the purpose of integrating it into the global machine has already taken its effect, as schools constantly update and enrich their syllabuses. ELT is no exception as the proposed age to expose a child to a foreign language has drastically diminished. One though would wonder, if this approach is not only sound but also feasible, leading educators and parents alike to ponder whether a child will be able – or willing – to live up to these new standards.

Why the Rush?

Good question! We ourselves have admittedly had it easier. Why then should we strip our children of these carefree years and expose them to the hurdles and burdens of school as some would put it? This my dear friends, is a misconception many foster, associating education with a begrudging responsibility to attend classes and study, when in reality, our whole lifespan is that of a lifelong learner. Knowledge and experience continuously shape our being and there is no fixated age this should commence or come to a halt. Research has shown that since infancy, our minds process information at inconceivable rates, shaping our personalities and boosting our potential. What does this mean? If a child is exposed to the learning machine at a young age, its mind will adapt to the reception of info, stimulating its growth, acclimating it to the challenges not only met in education, but to those bestowed upon it when becoming an active member of society. As for ELT? Is it possible for a student at such an age to learn anything and will it eventually contribute to the formation of an individual with a well-rounded education? The answer to both is a wholehearted ‘yes’! However, what is the best approach to teaching kids at this tender age?

Don’t Worry… They’re Not Going to Write Any Tests

Another misconception floating around is that students should focus on writing and reading. Scholars, rightfully so, voice their concerns as regards the demands of these lessons, taking into consideration that students of this age haven’t even begun to master their own mother tongue. Reading and writing at this age is not the focus here; external stimulation via audio and visual implementation is. It’s a proven fact that learning through entertainment is the perfect recipe for proper integration of the key elements of any lesson. Songs, role-play, games, and a variety of activities are catalysts to achieving this. What better than to have your students smile when they utter their first words in English while at the same time, enjoy themselves in doing so? Not to mention that amazing boost to their self-esteem which will work wonders not only during their school years, but as future pillars of our society.

How Should I Prepare for Such a Lesson?

Admittedly, a preschool environment is a challenging one. Essential training is mostly required to live up to the demands of such a compelling lesson. In conjunction with English Language Specialists, there are seminars and training courses which cater to these needs, as ELT has made wondrous strides in integrating itself in the pre-primary learning process. Kudos to ELT publishers for playing a pivotal role in making this a reality, as educational material both in printed and electronic form can be easily implemented in class, offering students an experience which is by far enjoyable as well as accessible, rendering it easy for them to assimilate the language focal points.

Is It Just About Learning a Language?

It’s time to ask ourselves the million-dollar question, “What can pre-primary students gain by studying a foreign language?” Teaching a foreign language, and in our case ELT, will expose children to a whole new perspective of the world, igniting their critical thought and the realization that there is a multitude of cultures out there, with different customs, traditions and way of thinking. Why not let our students familiarize themselves with the concept of Halloween, or sing songs in English? Have their eyes opened to a whole new world of elements and broaden not only their horizons, but their general outlook on society.  All this will in turn lead to deferential human beings, aware of the value of diversity and inclusiveness, instilling respect for one another.

What Are We Waiting For?

Are we ready to take it to the next step? As educators, it is both our responsibility and privilege to bring out the best in our students. Their hungry little minds are just ripe to be exposed to the wonderful world of ELT. Just remember, it’s all about having fun, helping them outshine themselves and most importantly, coming to love the English Language.

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