Language Learning for Young Learners

This was originally written as a guest post for the very lovely people over at 100 Toys. You can read it and check out their work here.

As a collective of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages, we’re often approached by parents keen to introduce their little ones to a language but unsure of how best to do so. This post is a whistle-stop tour of the whys, whens and hows of children’s language teaching from the perspective of our seasoned language tutors.

What’s the big deal about language learning anyway?

Many parents who contact us for help with their children’s language learning do so for practical reasons: while children all over the world now learn English to a serviceable level – often in addition to another language – proficiency in a second language is a vanishing skill among British children. In a post-Brexit, globalized world, however, those with the linguistic and cultural fluency gained from learning another language stand to do much better in the job market than their monolingual counterparts. On a holistic level, the ability to speak and think in a different language also opens the door to relationships, experiences and perspectives outside the norms of one’s home country, which may parents consider a valuable and enriching aim.

What age is best to introduce a language?

There’s some debate among linguists about when to introduce a foreign language. Whilst many assume that the earlier a child begins language learning the better, there is evidence to suggest that formal learning before the age of 5 may not be beneficial. This is because, in general, children don’t master their mother tongue until that age, so throwing another language into the mix can interfere with first-language acquisition. The main exception is when children are brought up bilingual from birth: in this case, it’s usual that either the parents speak one language each, or that everyone uses the second language in certain contexts only. Bilingual children thus acquire the languages in tandem, with a clear context for when to use each language and strong motivation for learning, whereas those studying formally sometimes struggle with when and why they should be speaking the second language.

With the above in mind, although we offer foreign-language playgroups and play-based individual sessions for younger children, we do more formal work with clients from around the age of 5. Some of the most important points we consider when doing so are listed below.

The Silent Period

Young Learners respond best to methods that mirror the natural pattern of language acquisition they’ve just come through. One of the most important stages in the process is known as the ‘Silent Period.’ Chances are, your baby didn’t say a recognisable word for about a year, but that they showed clear signs of understanding prior to this. Young Learners encountering a foreign language for the first time will go through the exact same process, often taking several lessons to drink in the new sounds before they feel safe and confident enough to actually produce the language.

Show Don’t Tell: Demonstrating understanding without speaking

This is a great way to help Young Learners through the Silent Period. For example, we’ll stick pictures of animals around the room and ask a child to run and touch the cat/dog/monkey etc. In a lesson on food, I once placed different pieces of fruit around the room and asked children to bring me each piece We then made a fruit salad. This showed me they understood the names of each fruit and also instructions such as ‘cut the banana’, etc., but removed any pressure to speak before they were ready. Games that operate on the same principle include ‘Simon Says’ and ‘Describe and Draw’, where the tutor describes a person or thing and the learner draws and colours it as per their instructions.

We always make sure to heap on the praise when children manage the task – it all goes into their confidence bank and brings them closer to speaking.

Routines and Repetition

As well as routine and repetition helping Young Learners feel secure, it’s another great way to ease them into speaking. For example, I use the same ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ song to bookmark each lesson, as well as a date, weather, and emotions chart. Children tend to find these routines a familiar, non-threatening setting in which to produce language as they’re used to hearing and responding with the same or similar phrases. By the same principle, it is helpful to model and repeat certain simple phrases in every lesson such as (when offering an object) ‘here you are’ and ‘thank you’: the clear context, simple language and regular repetition will again create a feeling of security which will lead to children feeling confident enough to speak

Keep it moving: We try and make sure that our sessions include activities to suit all learning styles, with each activity lasting around 10 minutes. We like to kick things off with a good physical warm-up like a song or chant with actions to burn off some of that fabled 5-year-old energy (!) and help children switch into the target language and the learning mindset. Sitting-down activities like colouring or stories are interspersed with more physical activities and games such as Simon Says, Escargot (French Hopscotch – great for practicing numbers!) or ‘what’s the time Mr Wolf?’ This keeps kids focused, energised and enjoying the session which is vital for their confidence and motivation.

Respect your learners

My old boss had a great saying that has now become a mantra when I train Young Learner tutors: “they’re small, not stupid”. I’m constantly amazed by my young learners’ ability to soak up language like sponges, but like all of us they have their off days – they’re tired, they fell out with a friend, they miss their mum. We try to always be respectful of their emotions and their lives outside our one hour a week with them, which means bringing extra patience and humour, leaving our own troubles at the door, and having a few extra-fun activities up our sleeves to whip out when they’re struggling.

Lucy McCormick is Head of Client Services at Struck Fluent, a community of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages and ESL. She has extensive experience as a teacher and tutor of French and ESL in the UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. When not teaching or language geeking, you can generally find her in the company of a book, a gin or (preferably) both.

Teaching Materials Series: Videos

People get tetchy at the mention of using videos in the classroom – and sure, there’s little educational value in learners zoning out in front of a cartoon with no context! But done right, video is a great way to engage learners, enlarge their horizons and – our crucial aim here at Struck Fluent – encourage them to produce language.

Here are a few of our fave video resources and how we use them:

TED talks

A language teacher’s manna from heaven, TED offer engaging material on a host of topics from social issues to environmental concerns; from philosophy to the latest scientific research. In other words, material to suit the needs and interests of every learner – this is great news for us as we’re all about tailoring our sessions to learners’ individual needs! TED talks are mainly in English which make them a go-to ESL resource but there are a few foreign-language talks too. The one above is a firm fave of mine addressing the status of English as a global language and the harm it may be doing – guaranteed to get even the most reticent second-language speakers talking!

Once I’ve selected a talk, I’ll use a range of techniques to approach the video. I might begin by discussing issues around the selected theme, then watch the video once in order to establish its gist. I’ll then do a second watch with some more detailed questions to answer, and end with sharing views on the speaker’s position or (if it’s a larger class) a debate. TED also include transcripts of all their talks, which are useful for detailed listening practice and language study. As an added bonus, you’ll find all kinds of accents and dialects in the talks, which is great for reinforcing the concept of World English and introducing learners to new sounds and expressions.

The News

We tend to use a mix of target-language clips like this one (ie those for and by speakers of the foreign language) and those specially created for language learners, like A la Une, above. Resources like these are great for leading engaging sessions around current affairs and present the opportunity to learn and practice grammar and vocabulary in a meaningful context. Research shows that this makes it much easier to remember, which is great news for our learners!

Infographics

Similarly to picture books, these are a great way to build confidence for lower-level learners as they tend to use minimal words and focus on visual images. For this reason, we often like to play the infographic with the sound off to begin with, allowing learners to glean and discuss the overall meaning of the clip, before adding the sound and moving onto a more detailed discussion of the information.

To state the obvious, infographics are particularly useful to quickly show learners concepts or processes that might be boring or time-heavy to explain in words, and will definitely not appeal to visual learners. To this end, I’ve used infographics to introduce learners to the difference between England, Britain and the UK (tricksy distinctions for non-Europeans in particular – my Korean students were surprised to learn they were not one and the same!) or to processes like the water cycle in the clip above.

Lucy McCormick is Head of Client Services at Struck Fluent, a community of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages and ESL. She has extensive experience as a teacher and tutor of French and ESL in the UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. When not teaching or language geeking, you can generally find her in the company of a book, a gin or (preferably) both.

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Teaching Materials Series: Songs

For Young Learners, it’s not a lesson if we haven’t raised the roof with at least one ridiculously catchy tune (accompanying actions obligatory). Songs are fantastic for raising kids’ energy, learning grammar passively, and getting in some Total Physical Response (co-ordination of language and movement to help cement words and meaning).

You can use foreign-language versions of English classics, such as this French version of ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’, which has the added bonus of covering other emotions too:

…a French classic like this one (great for parts of the body and future tense):

…or alternatively something utterly bonkers such as this (seriously, the bonkers-ness makes the vocab more memorable):

Songs are also a great tool for older children and adult learners. They can be used to teach grammar points in context, for example this beauty for the difference between the perfect and imperfect in French:

Or this, for ESL learners battling with the second conditional:

They’re also great for straight-up listening practice. I’ve used this fun rap with adult beginners as much as Young Learners, usually getting them to fill in the blanks in a copy of the lyrics to consolidate the sound of the word with its written form:

Hope you enjoy this selection of our musical faves – let us know what you think!

Lucy McCormick is Head of Client Services at Struck Fluent, a community of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages and ESL. She has extensive experience as a teacher and tutor of French and ESL in the UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. When not teaching or language geeking, you can generally find her in the company of a book, a gin or (preferably) both.

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Teaching Materials Series: Board Games

We love a board game at Struck Fluent. We all learn better when we’re enjoying ourselves and applying language in context, and board games are a great way to tick both these boxes. They’re enjoyed by adults and Young Learners alike, and can be adapted for all levels and to suit a whole range of learning objectives. Beginners reinforce numbers by rolling the dice and counting the spaces they move, and everyone gets to reinforce functional language such as checking and clarifying (‘is it my go?’) and requesting things (‘could you pass me the dice?’).

Here’s our pick of the crop:

Guess Who:

This is a Struck Fluent staple and is fantastic for practicing describing people in any language. For ESL learners, it also helps to practice English names and to reinforce gender pronouns (he/she): Chinese, for example, does not distinguish between ‘he’ and ‘she’ in the spoken form so many of our Chinese ESL students struggle to remember this in English, even at quite a high level.

Monopoly:

monopoly german

A brilliant choice for higher-level students and a chance to get super-competitive! Monopoly is great for introducing more advanced financial vocabulary, and I usually play entirely in the target language so players get the chance to interact in a ‘real’ but relaxed situation which usually boosts confidence. I also like to adapt the game to use local currency in order to reinforce larger numbers.

Snakes and Ladders

serpentes

A fab option for beginners, Snakes and Ladders allows learners to practice basic numbers and functional language such as ‘my turn’/’your turn’; ‘go up (the ladder)’/’go down (the snake)’. The version shown also has a verb on each square: to revise the verbs they’ve learnt, players have to make a sentence using the verbs when they land on each space.

Make your own!

I often make my own board games, and love to include features like question cards and tasks (making objects from plasticine, for example, or miming an action). I also like to include ‘go back’ and ‘go forward’ squares as a way of introducing this kind of useful vocabulary.

One of my favourite things to do though, is to get my students to make and play their own board games based on the topic we’re currently working on: they start by devising the rules, practicing instruction-giving language along the way, then move on to discussing and designing the board – all in the target language. Finally, they play the game together, reinforcing the original topic plus a lot of extras!

Lucy McCormick is Head of Client Services at Struck Fluent, a community of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages and ESL. She has extensive experience as a teacher and tutor of French and ESL in the UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. When not teaching or language geeking, you can generally find her in the company of a book, a gin or (preferably) both.

Teaching Materials Series: Picture Books

Welcome to our new blog series! Here we will be introducing some of our most commonly used teaching materials and how we use them. As always we welcome your feedback and – for the teachers among you – if you have any ideas to suggest, we’d love to hear them (and add them to our stash!)

This week we’re talking picture books. At Struck Fluent, these are an essential part of our repertoire with Young Learners. We use a mixture of classic English books in translation and original foreign-language texts, and both always go down a storm. As well as being fun, interactive and supportive of our students’ school learning, there are tons of benefits to using picture books when learning a foreign language. These include:

Visual cues

vhc

Even children with no former experience of a language can follow a story from the pictures, and learn to positively identify the new language with a fun activity. As the children progress, they begin to link word and image: one of my 5-year-old French students loves counting and naming the fruit in La Chenille qui fait des trous (The Very Hungry Caterpillar), for example. All along, they are developing listening skills: becoming used to the rhythm and flow of the language and later being able to pick out and identify words and phrases.

Motivation to speak

grass

A new language can feel overwhelming, and even at a young age children have often internalised a fear of ‘getting it wrong’ which causes them to hold back from speaking in sessions. In picture books, language is stripped back to its bare essentials and accompanied by bright, attractive pictures which enable children to follow the story (as discussed above). The language used also tends to be fun and enticing: children love making the different sounds of the grass, mud and snowstorm in foreign-langauge versions of We’re going on a Bear Hunt, or joining their tutor in shouting ‘Va-t’en!’ to the big green monster in Va-t’en, Grand Monstre Vert. Much like songs and chants – other mainstays of our Young Learner sessions – children need no encouragement to repeat the sounds, words and phrases they discover in picture books. Way more effective –  and most importantly way more fun – than drilling vocab!

Introducing and supporting new language

Once children are comfortable with their tutor and the new language, picture books can support a range of learning objectives: this week, for example, I have used La Surprise de Handa to focus on animals and fruit, and Je m’habille et je te croque (see video above) to introduce clothes. Linguists have long trumpeted the benefits of learning a language in context in order to help it stick in the mind, and stories are a perfect context for Young Learners.Often, if children are struggling to remember a word I can prompt them with a scene from the story we’ve read (what fruit did the ostrich steal from Handa?) and they will be delighted to find they can remember the French for guava after all!

Lucy McCormick is Head of Client Services at Struck Fluent, a community of tutors specialising in Modern Foreign Languages and ESL. She has extensive experience as a teacher and tutor of French and ESL in the UK, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. When not teaching or language geeking, you can generally find her in the company of a book, a gin or (preferably) both.

 

 

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Songs and story for Petits Perroquets, Monday 15/05/2017

After a great first week, we are very excited about our next meeting! Petits Perroquets runs on Mondays from 11 – 12 at Good Hope Cafe, Ladywell.

This week, playgroup leader and French tutor Lucy will be introducing Va t’en, Grand Monstre Vert! (Go away, Big Green Monster!). As well as being a great, imaginative picture book it is fantastic for learning colours and parts of the body. Take a look here for a preview:

We’ll be revisiting some of the nursery rhymes we looked at in the last session (especially Tête, épaules, genoux et pieds) and learning some new tunes around the theme of colours. You can get familiar with them here, and songsheets will of course be available on the day too:

These two are a nice simple intro to the colours

This one is completely barmy, which is great – the barmier the context, the more likely you are to remember and recall vocabulary!

Skip to 1.20 for the start of the song

If you have any suggestions or feedback, we would love to hear from you  – we are always seeking to improve! You can leave a comment below or drop us a line on enquiries@struckfluent.com.

A Lundi, tout le monde!

From the team at Struck Fluent, playgroup wizards and tutors of Modern Foreign Languages and ESL in London. Need a language tutor? Get in touch here.

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Petits Perroquets: songs from our first session!

We had a grand old time at the launch of our French-speaking playgroup Petits Perroquets this Monday.

The group is especially aimed at English speakers, perhaps with a rusty GCSE/A-Level in their back pocket that they’re keen to dust off whilst introducing their little ones to French in a friendly, relaxed environment.  We had a great turnout for songs, stories, free play, friendly chat and gallons of lovely coffee.

Take a look at the videos below for a taste what playgroup leader and French tutor Lucy covered in the session. Songsheets were also provided, and parents can sign up to the Whatsapp group each week to get the coming week’s songs and lyrics straight to their phones. Otherwise, you can find them on here!

 

Hope to see you at our next group! We’ll be welcoming parents and children aged 0 – 4 every Monday from 11 – 12 at Good Hope Cafe, Ladywell.

A la prochaine!

From the team at Struck Fluent, playgroup wizards and tutors of Modern Foreign Languages and ESL in London. Need a language tutor? Get in touch here.

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Songs for Kleine Katzen this week (10/05/2017)

Our German-speaking playgroup Kleine Katzen meets every Wednesday from 11am – 12 noon at Good Hope Cafe, Ladywell. Parents and small ones with all levels of German are welcome!

This week, Alice will be introducing songs about the weather. Song sheets will also be available on the day. Hope to see you there!

 

Bis Morgen, Eltern und Kinder!

From the team at Struck Fluent, playgroup wizards and tutors of Modern Foreign Languages and ESL in London. Need a language tutor? Get in touch here.

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Announcing our French playgroup Petits Perroquets!

After the success of our German-speaking playgroup Kleine, Katzen, we are very pleased to announce the launch of a brand-spanking new French playgroup!

Petits Perroquets (named for the chatty nature of the group but also in honour of Catford’s friendly neighbourhood green parrots!) will meet every Monday from 8th May,  11am – 12 noon at Good Hope Cafe, Ladywell.

Petits Perroquets ad social media photo

We’ll be welcoming parents and small ones with all levels of French, and the group is particularly aimed at first-language English speakers keen to give new lease of life that proud British tradition, the rusty French GCSE. As such, the group will be a friendly, stress-free introduction to French songs and stories with a dollop of free play and the option to chat to other French speakers of the same level with support from playgroup leader and Struck Fluent French tutor Lucy if needed. Songs and lyrics around a weekly theme will be uploaded to our blog ahead of time, and songsheets will be available on the day.

We also encourage further chat along with consumption of coffee, cake and lunch items in the uber-child-friendly cafe afterwards!

The session is £5 for adults with a child aged 0 – 4, and £2.50 for each additional child.

Hope to see you there, les grands et les petits!

From the team at Struck Fluent, playgroup wizards and tutors of Modern Foreign Languages and ESL in London. Need a language tutor? Get in touch here.

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Songs for Kleine Katzen: 26/04/2017

Our German-speaking playgroup Kleine Katzen meets every Wednesday from 11am – 12 noon at Good Hope Cafe, Ladywell. Parents and small ones with all levels of German are welcome!

This week, we’re singing well-known English nursery rhymes in German – take a look below for some classics that Alice will be introducing. Song sheets will also be available on the day. Hope to see you soon!

 

Bis Mittwoch, Eltern und Kinder!

From the team at Struck Fluent, playgroup wizards and tutors of Modern Foreign Languages and ESL in London. Need a language tutor? Get in touch here.

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