Teaching English in Early Childhood Through The ICTs
Roxana Perea Romero is English Language Professor at Foreign Language Department from University of Oriente, Santiago de Cuba Province, Cuba. She is interested in the study of the Neurosciences and its influence in the learning of a foreign language at early years, she has written about the importance of Bilingualism and its benefits for children and also about the importance of Neuroplasticity in learning a second language at early years. She is doing a PhD on teaching English as a foreign language at early years.She enjoys working with children and also with her College students. Email: email@example.com
Although there are several points of view about the best time to begin English language learning and minor differences in student age and program categories, the fact is that in most countries, children are learning English at younger and younger ages. In many countries, English is a compulsory subject in the early primary grades (Nikolov, 2009; Pinter, 2006). The growing demand for English, plus parents’ belief that English skills provide their children with a better education and better employment opportunities, have led to an increase in the number of EYL programs (Enever & Moon, 2009; Gimenez, 2009)
The earlier someone learns languages, the more successful she/he will be. It based on the Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) theories believed that children (estimated 2-13 years of age) are easier to learn foreign or second language. It is apparent that children are likely to acquire a second language more successful than older learners (Baker, 2010). Some scholars believe that the earlier people learn languages, the easier they master about the language, particularly for pronunciation, people who learn English in young age, they are near to like native-speakers.
In Santiago de Cuba Province it has been developed a very interesting project called: Infantoflex, wich has as main target to initiate children from 3 to 5 years old in learning a second language, in this case English language.
This project uses different methods to teach, one of them is the audio-lingual-communicative which consists on listening the songs, and then reproduce them with an exact or similar pronunciation. So far the results have been really amazing, children love watching the videos with the English songs, and as these are so funny, interesting and amusing children really enjoy what they are learning.
The ICTs have played a key role in the development of this project, since the specialists have used all kind of electronic devices in order to provide children the materials in English for their learning. The results have been really remarkable, children have learned new vocabulary and they enjoy and repeat and imitate the sounds of the songs and play with the videos they watch. For example, with the song: head, shoulders, knees and toes, children watch the video, listen to the song and imitate the movements and also learn the parts of the body through a very amusing way. And all this can be possible thanks to the magic of technology.
That is why the objective of this paper is to highlight the importance of the ICTs at the time of teaching a second language, also to explain some theories about it and to give some perspectives of the importance of beginning a new language at early childhood.
Learning a second language could very complex and teachers have obligation to teach the complexity of the language becomes simpler and easier to be understood, especially for teaching English for children from early ages. Information and Communication Technology (ITC) can be applied in teaching and learning language. Most children enjoy internet, television, radio, YouTube, or another mobile learning, particularly for learning English. ICT can play a crucial role in development of language or second language. Using ICT, the classroom will be more flexible and communicative. We can find many ways to attract students’ motivation to learn English with technology involving internet, song, YouTube, and other media. Utilizing the technology in teaching and learning process, cultures and other values can be imbedded. Because, learning English or other languages not only for mastering the language but also introducing the culture either the local culture or the culture of other countries.
One reason for starting English in early childhood is the amount of time that children will have to learn the language. Although some researchers believe that adolescents are more efficient language learners, younger learners simply have more time to learn the language, and time is an important factor in overall attainment (Carroll, 1975), as any adult who has tried to learn another language has discovered. As (Curtain and Dahlberg 2010) state, “When language learning begins earlier, it can go on longer and provide more practice and experience, leading ultimately to greater fluency and effectiveness” However, duration is not enough. Intensity also matters. Children need the opportunity to learn English for more than two 30-minute periods a week.
Besides, some researchers have concluded that children are more likely to attain native-like pronunciation (Scovel, 1988), greater confidence in speaking the language, and better oral proficiency (Harley, 1998). These studies do not refute the possibility that older language learners can achieve native-like pronunciation or proficiency, but they suggest that younger learners may have an advantage. If children begin learning another language before age 11 or 12, and they are given appropriate instruction and input, they “are more likely to acquire English to native levels without an accent” (Pinter, 2006). “Appropriate instruction” requires well-trained teachers with good English proficiency who can foster the creativity and imagination of young learners, taking advantage of children’s willingness to imitate or mimic what they hear and to repeat the language, especially if the activity is fun.
The main goal of English language learning is the development of communication skills, as well as maintaining interest and motivation for learning English. In order to accomplish these goals, it is necessary for the content to be closely related to learners’ real life and materials need to be adjusted to different learning styles. This means that the lessons should abound in versatile activities. Songs are examples of such activities which due to their nature, fun content, and relaxing features influence the development of language in children. For young learners, songs, such as popular pop-rock songs, traditional and educational songs, rhymes and chants, present an excellent source of language. Students can not only learn and practice different segments of English through songs, but also satisfy the specific characteristics of their age.
Children, in general, like songs, and if songs are used for learning a language, then children enthusiastically accept them. One key factor is that children are not aware of the fact that they are learning through songs, and therefore they see them as a pleasant and fun part of English lessons. Apart from this, songs serve as a good source of pronunciation, intonation, and accent practice, but also as a practice of listening skills and vocabulary development.
As the world gets smaller and more interconnected through the Internet and international travel, children have the opportunity to become global citizens. Through learning another language, children can gain an appreciation for other languages and cultures. The experience can also make them more aware and reflective of their own language and culture.
Being bilingual provides many cognitive advantages. Even when children are only using one of their two (or more) languages, they have access to the other language(s) and to those neural networks (Bialystok, 1999). For young learners, especially, being able to speak another language provides a number of advantages such as mental flexibility, the ability to see a problem from different perspectives. It can also increase a child’s self-awareness.
As Marsh (2000) explains, “What we need to realize is that the ability to use different languages, even to a modest extent, can have a positive impact on the youngster’s thinking processes. Being able to see the same phenomenon from different angles, as though looking through different language ‘manifestations’ can have a very interesting impact on our ability to think and understand” .
Language development among the learners will be different, depended on age, cognitive, social, and motivation. The second-language learning success is influenced by those factors; in particular, one of the main factors is age. The enthusiasm of the quotation “the younger, the better” and CPH theory becomes reference for scholars, educators and teachers, to propose second language especially English to be taught earlier. There are several advantages of an early start (Paradis, 2004): Young learners acquire languages with greater ease, especially the sound system, and develop implicit competence since they can rely on natural acquisition processes. They are undeniably better at acquiring the sounds and rhythms of the target language. Then, they have lower affective filter than older learners do and they are also more intuitive and less anxious. Moreover, they have more time to learn the target language and larger capacity to gain awareness about the potential intercultural identity.
The aims of teaching English for children are not merely to involve the language itself but also for giving them knowledge of their potential cultural identity. It is better to introduce the culture (local culture) and other cultures to young people in order to their awareness of local cultures and other districts and countries’ cultures appear earlier. The earlier they know the culture, the better they aware of their identity. To promote their culture and encourage their motivation in learning English, the teachers can use technologies. Several technologies that are used for facilitating communication such as Cellular Phones, radio, video, television, computers, and satellite systems among others (Sharndama, 2013) and television becomes increasingly interested in people everyday life and relationship (Hartley, 1999).
Many scholars and educators believe that ICT can encourage students to be more creative, communicative, and motivated. It is very useful and helpful in teaching and learning language.
ICT also can elicit students’ creativity and proficiency related to their knowledge and cultures either local cultures or national and international cultures. “ICT provides productive teaching and learning in order to increase people’s creativity and intellectual resources especially in today’s information society” (Aduwa-Ogiegbaen , 2005). “The word ‘culture’ itself now appears in so many contexts and indeed ‘culture’ almost replaces ‘context’ in much discourse in education and social sciences” (Alred, 2013). The materials are imbedded with local cultures, national and international cultures and values by using the ICT.
Teaching and learning process and the materials that incorporated by cultures will be more effective and contextual. Johnson stated that Education, several challenges for teacher education including English teachers. He mentioned one of the first challenges is “to recognize that both the content and activities of L2 teacher education must take into account the social, political, economic, and cultural histories that are located in the contexts where L2 teachers live, learn, and work”. It means that the materials or activities should be based on their environment and based on the contexts of the students’ cultures and values and introduce other cultures in order to they can compare, learn, and respect to other people’s culture.
Hutchinson and Waters (2002) stated that the effective teaching materials must be contextualized; language development requires learners engagement in purposeful use of language; the language used should be realistic and authentic; classroom materials will usually seek to include an audio visual component; second language learners need to develop the ability to deal with the written as well as spoken genres; teaching materials foster learner autonomy; materials need to be flexible enough to cater to individual and contextual differences; and learning needs to engage learner both affectively and cognitively.
The students learn English in order to able to use the language in their daily life. The goals in learning language are not only the students be able to use the language but also understand about the culture and values. Both of the aspects should be imbeded in teaching and learning to encourage and motivate the student to know deeply of their cultures and culture of other countries. The input (materials) should be based on their environment, the issues or the topics should be based on the conditions or issues around them called authentic. An authentic input, particularly written and spoken, the materials should relate to inside classroom and the real world outside the classroom. Brosnan et.al, 1984 (in Nunan, 2004) offer the justifications for the use of the real-world recourses:
1. The language is natural.
2. It offers the students the chance to deal with small amounts of the print which, at the same time, contain complete meaningful messages.
3. It provides students with the opportunity to make use of non-linguistics clues (layout, pictures, colors, symbols, the physical setting in which it occurs) and so more easily to arrive at meaning from the printed word.
4. Students need to be able to see the immediate relevance of what they do in the classroom to what they need to do outside it, and real-life reading material treated realistically makes the connection obvious.
To create the classroom becomes in real life, we need to provide variety of activities from the real world outside the classroom. Using ICT we can create interesting of various activities that are like the real world outside the classroom, such as showing videos, watching YouTube, listening music, providing pictures, and the others. Internet, television, radio, and another mobile learning provide many materials and meaningful information of cultures throughout the world.
Teaching English becomes more challenging for teachers because young people now are more creative and up to date. If the educative agents apply and use traditional method and media in classroom, it will be boring. Thereby, they need to identify and find out other ways to elicit the children motivation and interaction in classroom.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) become one of the solutions to attract and motivate young learners. Because ITC including computers, internet, Cellular Phones, radio, video, television, computers, and satellite systems (Fu, 2013) widely used in various aspects involving education. Lafferiere also states that ICT in schools and classrooms tends to attract learner’s interest and motivation (Kaffash, et.al, 2010).
Based on the research, Florish (2014) stated that ICT has the potential important role in supporting and enhancing of learning language. Related to her interview with Dr.A. Gunawan Jati, a senior lecturer at Faculty of Arts and Design of Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), he stated that ICT, including the Internet, wireless networks, cell phones, and other communication mediums, has become very essential in teaching and learning language and it creates a classroom to be more interesting. Because language, culture, and technology cannot be separated. Those are like a coin that gives influences one and another. As mentioned by McKay (2003), it is a common practice that the culture of the native speaker is integrated into the classroom teaching materials to teach the English language in which this is recommended by Kachru which assumes that the understanding of learning language will be more successful.
Variety of cultures should be taught by teachers as mentioned by Department of Education and Science Guidelines on Traveller Education in Primary Schools (2002 cited Guideline for school) notes that “young people should be enable to appreciate the richness of a diversity of culture and be supported in practical ways to recognize and challenge prejudice and discrimination where they exist. That is why at is, it is better to incorporate the ICTs in teaching and learning a new language mainly at early ages.
This paper has demonstrated through definitions and theories the importance of teaching a second language in early childhood and also how important and necessary is the use of the technology in order to get better results at the time of learning the new language.
Teaching children is a beautiful task though challenging. It takes passion, expertise, patient, commitment and above all, a lot of creativity. It is important to recreate children´s world in the English classroom which means to design activities that will consider their interests, motivations, needs and the way they interact with the real world.
Language and cultures cannot be separated each other because when we learn language the culture is imbedded. To facilitate those elements covered in teaching and learning English, ICT has a big role. ICT also has a pivotal role to encourage the students’ motivation in learning English. Some scholars believe that using ICT has a positive effect to teaching and learning English and also for the students’ motivation.
The Infantoflex Project is a vivid evidence of the important use of the ICTs since without the use of computers, cellphones, laptops and TV would not be possible to teach children the video materials, songs ,flashcards and games which make learning the language a wonderful way to acquire culture and knowledge.
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