Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Bilingual Babble from a Children's EFL Teacher

I am very proud to introduce our first interview on Bilingual Babble! In the interview, an EFL children's teacher in Japan will give us some tips not only for teaching a foreign language to children, but tips on how parents who don't speak that foreign language can become more involved in their child's learning. Here is the interview:

Could you introduce yourself and tell us about your job?
My name is Cutenekko, and I am a Children's EFL teacher. I teach children from the age of 1 to elementary school, 6th grade. The students I teach only attend one 50 minute lesson per week.

What are your key points for teaching English to children?
Phonics are very important. I use phonics as a warm-up; this skill practiced weekly, eases students into reading, writing and spelling English better.

Children like to be stimulated in a variety of ways, so I think using pictures, CDs, videos and realia are all very important in the classroom.

The final key point is not to speak "baby talk" nor simplify your English too much. You should treat the child as if they understand you, and also present ways for the child to respond to you. At first, it will be in their native language, but soon, your efforts will shine through. No matter what age or level my students are, I always take the first 5-10 minutes of every lesson just to talk--about school/kindergarten, holidays that passed by, or some small news. Students seem very excited about discussing things they know about and want to share with you.

What are some ideas you have for encouraging Japanese parents to reinforce the English their children learn in class?

This is where I am a bad teacher. I don't ask parents to reinforce English at home. But, if I were a GOOD teacher I would say these things:

-Watch an English language DVD at home with your child.

-Listen to English CDs in your car--perfect when you are driving to other classes or school!

-Talk to your child about what s/he learned in the English class. Ask your child to point out new words for you. One mother became very excited when her 3 year old son taught her "cucumber". The mother did not know this word in English, but was so happy her son did!

-Even if you don't like English, pretend you do. Children watch their parents carefully. If the parent has no interest in learning a language, why would your child be interested too? My mother couldn't figure skate, but she came and sat in a freezing cold rink every time I had a 2-hour practice as a child. She took an interest!

-If your child is older, why not ask your child to TEACH you? Children love to act older, so why not give them the opportunity to do so? This will also provide a perfect chance for your child to review what s/he learned in the class.

-Read a book to your child in English. Or if s/he is older, try to read and discuss it together.

-Learn a few phrases for use in the home: "Do your homework", "wash your hands", "brush your teeth", "pack up your things". Any simple, phrase that both parents and children often hear will do.

-If you are very keen, try to create an "English Time" or "English Zone" in the home. It could be just 30 mins. a week, but family members all do something, together, in English. Watch a movie without the subtitles, play a game, make a cake--try to communicate in English.

In addition to those ideas, what types of supplemental language resources would you recommend to parents?

  • In Japan, there are several English shows for children: Eigorian, Eigo de Asobu, Sesame Street and also Shirojiro-kun.

  • I like "Wee Sing" Children's Songs and Fingerplays (CD), and anything by the Wiggles.

  • For books, I use Dr. Suess, and some graded readers--Let's Go series published by Oxford is great. Flash cards, posters, and spelling games are fun.

  • I like Junior Boggle and Scrabble.

  • Picture Dictionaries are very useful, and can be used for review or mini-lessons at home.

  • My older students all seem to love Harry Potter and comic books....perhaps you could try to read simplified versions?

  • I have always wanted to try a field trip in English to the zoo or an aquarium. Children and adults loves these places...why not have fun and learn animal names in English? Scavenger hunts are great fun, and why not try a sporting event in English?

  • My kindergarten students loved learning and playing "Hide-and-Seek"!

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

Children have very different needs when it comes to learning. Some enjoy singing songs, others enjoy writing or reading. It's best to find out what style your child enjoys, and incorporate that into his/ her learning. Finally, patience and reinforcement are keys to your child's success.

Thanks, Cutenekko, for taking the time to share your experiences and ideas with us! You have some great ideas for parents, teachers, and kids!


Erika Cruvinel said...

Hello Mary
I really enjoyed reading the interview. I am not raising a bilingual child, but I would really like my son to learn English. He is an 8-year-old boy and he has been studying English at school since he was 4. He knows a lot of vocabulary, but he doesn't know any structure. I'm sure many suggestions Cutenekko mentions would be helpful to make him learn faster!
Hope to learn more from you!

pab said...

Hello Bilingual Babble (BB) bloggers and readers:

Congratulations to the BB team on a fine new Blogger blog!

The most impressive part of Mary's interview with CuteNekko was a "final key point" regarding avoidance of "'baby talk'" and oversimplification.

CuteNekko advises, "You should treat the child as if they understand you, and also present ways for the child to repond to you" (February 6, 2007).

Perhaps there are lessons in those few key words for teachers of all ages to learn.

Cheers, Paul

Mary H said...

Erika and Paul,

I was happy to hear that you enjoyed the interview! Cutenekko has taught me so much about teaching English to children.

One of my favorite parts of the interview was "If your child is older, why not ask your child to TEACH you?" Just as we can learn from our students at school, we can learn from our children at home. We don't need to have all the answers all the time; sometimes it is better to let others take the lead!

The other favorite part was when Cutenekko reminisced, "My mother couldn't figure skate, but she came and sat in a freezing cold rink every time I had a 2-hour practice as a child. She took an interest!" It is such an encouraging point for those parents who may not speak the L2 or who have low proficiency levels. Just being involved and interested in what children are doing will go a long way towards making the experience of becoming bilingual/bicultural a positive one!

Thanks agian, Cutenekko!!

Gladys Baya said...

Excellent interview! In future posts, might Cutenekko tell us more about how she(?) teaches children who are 1 or 2 years old, and with just one lesson a week?
As for the rest of the text, she might have been talking about Argentina instead of Japan, it all applies so well!
Kudos to this blog's contributors!


Linda Rhinehart Neas said...

Very nice, Mary!

My daughter is teaching my granddaughter Spanish along with her English. She is only 15 months, but she says "hola" for 'hi'! She also tries to count uno, dos, tres...it is very cute. I am working on learning more Spanish so I can help her.

I am sending this link to my daughter so she can take advantage of all your experiences.

Peace, Linda

Carla Arena said...

Well, I'm just going through this experience right now!!! My kids, 4 and 6, know Portuguese. Now that we moved to the US they are learning English. They are going to school and it's impressive how much they've learned in two weeks!

My 4-year-old loves to watch a cartoon with a character called Diego (Go Diego Go!). From this cartooon, he's learning English and Spanish!

Also, they find their own strategies to communicate. So, when we go out for dinner they know that when the waiter comes and asks, "what would you like to drink tonight? or can I get you something to drink?", they've realized the meaning, so they say "Coke, please!". I just love to see my kids learning so much...

Another thing I do is playing with cards with them. There are some cards with colors, shapes, letters...We love to invent family games with those.

My oldest son loves to draw, so he's keeping a diary with everything he's experiencing here. I'm sure he's acquiring a lot from this practice!

Great job, Mary!


Dorinda said...

I loved so much about what Cutenekko had to share. I loved the idea of children teaching us : ) What a cool idea...What a confidence builder and self-esteem booster : ) I love it! Go Cutenekko Go! Hugs ~Dorinda~

Pat said...

Hi Mary,

Congratulations on the interview, I’ve really enjoyed reading it! As an English primary teacher I couldn’t agree more with CuteNekko statements about the uniqueness of every student and the banishment of baby talk.

Being aware every child has its own way of learning and its own rhythm really helps to engage students and helps us teachers to understand why some activities work and others don’t and why some student learn faster than others.

Teaching English in primary schools aims at preparing the ground for a successful learning in secondary school and onwards, so baby talking is absolutely out of the question. Young learners are sponges and one most take advantage of this.

Concerning parent’s involvement I can’t say much because here in Portugal English in primary public schools is still quite new. English is seen as an extra activity :-(

Nevertheless, I usually advise parents to sing songs in English, play the computer games from the adopted book and to play the games my students make and take home after each topic.