Learning and Young Children

(Reading time: 3 - 6 minutes)

Young children are natural language acquirers; they are self-motivated to pick up language without conscious learning, unlike adolescents and adults. They have the ability to imitate pronunciation and work out the rules for themselves. Any idea that learning to talk in English is difficult does not occur to them unless it's suggested by adults, who themselves probably learned English academically at a later age through grammar-based text books.

It is very important to create optimal conditions for children’s learning. Carol Read  speaks about the C-Wheel.

That is about the child and the child’s learning, taking into account different aspects:

Context: That should be natural and real. The context can make them feel secure and if they feel secure they will involucrate themselves in the learning process.

Connections: To other areas. To everything. And more nowadays that life is about being connecting with everything. Showing many different things through a little content or activity.

Coherence: trying to ensure that the reasons for doing things are perceived as relevant and worthwhile we can have very good results with children; even with adults.

Challenge: creating needs to achieve a balance between linguistic and cognitive challenge. They need to have challenges to feel confident and see that they can achieve whatever they want.

Curiosity: Making the learning interesting. Trying to create intrigue in the class. Catching their attention with this.

Care: Achieving children’s confidence through positive language and treating them as individuals is very important to get what we need from them and a big part of the job is in adult’s hands.

Community: Children need to participate and feel as an active member of a community, we are socials and we are constantly  in relation with people. We need to create situations for relations and a good atmosphere. Children need to learn how important is to share and learn with people of your social group.

Creativity: We need to introduce activities for developing this skill in children. It is fundamental.


The advantages of beginning early

Young children are still using their individual, innate language-learning strategies to acquire their home language and soon find they can also use these strategies to pick up English.

Young children have more time to fit English into the daily programme. They may have little or no homework and are less stressed by having to achieve set standards.
Children who have the opportunity to pick up a second language while they are still young appear to use the same innate language-learning strategies throughout life when learning other languages. Picking up third, fourth, or even more languages is easier than picking up a second.

When monolingual children reach puberty and become more self-conscious, their ability to pick up language diminishes and they feel they have to consciously study English through grammar-based programmes. The age at which this change occurs depends greatly on the individual child’s developmental levels as well as the expectations of their society.

Silent period

When babies learn their mother tongue, there is a ‘silent period’, when they look and listen and communicate through facial expression or gestures before they begin to speak. When young children learn English, there may be a similar ‘silent period’ when communication and understanding may take place before they actually speak any English words.

After some time, depending on the frequency of English sessions, each child (girls often more quickly than boys) begins to say single words (‘cat’, ‘house’) or ready-made short phrases (‘What’s that?’, ‘It’s my book’, ‘I can’t’, ‘That’s a car’, ‘Time to go home’) in dialogues or as unexpected statements. This stage continues for some time as the child picks up more language using it as a short cut to dialogue before they are ready to create their own phrases.
Building up English language

Gradually children build up phrases consisting of a single memorised word to which they add words from their vocabulary (‘a dog’, ‘a brown dog’, ‘a brown and black dog’) or a single memorised language to which they add their own input (‘That’s my chair’, ‘Time to play’). Depending on the frequency of exposure to English and the quality of experience, children gradually begin to create whole sentences.


Understanding is always greater than speaking and young children’s ability to comprehend should not be underestimated, as they are used to understanding their home language from a variety of context clues. Though they may not understand everything they hear in their home language, children grasp the gist – that is they understand a few important words and decipher the rest using different clues to interpret the meaning. With encouragement they soon transfer their ‘gist’ understanding skills to interpret meaning in English.


Children should not be told they have made a mistake because any correction immediately demotivates. Mistakes may be part of the process of working out grammar rules of English or they may be a fault in pronunciation. ‘I goed’ soon becomes ‘went’ if the child hears the adult repeats back ‘yes, you went’. As in learning their mother tongue, if children have an opportunity to hear adults repeat the same piece of language correctly, they will self-correct in their own time.


Gender differences

Boys’ brains develop differently from girls’ and this affects how boys pick up language and use it. Sometimes mixed classes make little provision for boys, who may be overshadowed by girls’ natural ability to use language. If young boys are to reach their potential, they need some different language experiences. Their achievements should not be compared with those of girls.


Language-learning environments

Young children find it more difficult to pick up English if they are not provided with the right type of experiences. They also need to feel secure and know that there is some obvious reason for using English.
Activities need to be linked to some interesting everyday activities about which they already know, eg sharing an English picture book, saying a rhyme in English, having an ‘English’ snack.
English sessions should be fun and interesting, concentrating on concepts children have already understood in their home language. In this way children are not learning two things, a new concept as well as new language, but merely learning the English to talk about something they already know.
Activities are backed up by specific objects, where possible, as this helps understanding and increases general interest.

Parental Support

Children need to feel that they are making progress. They need continual encouragement as well as praise for good performance, as any success motivates. Parents are in an ideal position to motivate and so help their children learn, even if they have only basic English themselves and are learning alongside their young children.
By sharing, parents can not only bring their child’s language and activities into family life, but can also influence their young children’s attitudes to language learning and other cultures. It is now generally accepted that most lifelong attitudes are formed by the age of eight or nine. 



Washback effect: from assessment theory to teaching and learning practice

Washback effect: from assessment theory to teaching and learning practice

19 November 2019

The idea that testing holds a major role in language teaching and learning practices is nothing but knew. It can...

Mike Riley on Teaching, Managing and Leading

Mike Riley on Teaching, Managing and Leading

30 October 2019

Mike Riley is Global Teacher Training Manager at Macmillan Education. He spent over a decade at International House Milan. He...

Chris Roland talks about differentiated instruction

Chris Roland talks about differentiated instruction

30 October 2019

Chris is based in Seville at ELI language academy. He has also taught in Cádiz, Barcelona, Nottingham, Damascus and Aleppo....

© 2019 ELT NEWS. All Rights Reserved. Designed By ELT NEWS