View Full Version : Don't start too young!

11-Feb-2003, 17:38
Researchers commissioned by South Korea's ministry of education claim that teaching English to infants can be counterproductive because classes are too stressful. They also recommend tighter controls on pre-school English language education. The research team observed four and seven-year-olds and surveyed more than 1,000 teachers. According to the Korea Herald newspaper, a separate survey revealed that 64% of children attending kindergartens are being taught English, but lessons often are ineffectual because teachers lack proper training.

From: http://education.guardian.co.uk/tefl/story/0,5500,884812,00.html

13-Mar-2004, 14:38
Is teaching English to infants counterproductive? ;-)

13-Mar-2004, 17:18
Is teaching English to infants counterproductive? ;-)

Not the way it is usually done, no. But in a classroom setting, possibly.


13-Mar-2004, 17:30
Is teaching English to infants counterproductive? ;-)

"...can be counterproductive"

Yes. It can be. Given the fact that the majority of soon to be of EFL teachers answering the ads to teach English to children in Korea and Japan and other parts of Asia are matter 'o factly inexperienced--Hey, the majority of job ads clearly state "no experience necessary". Mind you, "Don't start too young" was published last year, and since then I have noticed the job ads are now stating "B.ed or experience teaching children require; there are even ads asking for M.A. degree holders wanted to teach kindergarten. The same is true for Japan. Recently schools and the BOE (boards of educations) are looking for experienced teachers to teach children under the age of 5.

One of the reason, albeit stemming from stressful situations, has nothing really to do with the children and more so do with their parents. They want their money's worth! English is not only a business, it's business: English gets your kids into the right schools, and the right schools get your kids into the better companies.

For years the Japanese battled over whether to offer English lessons in the primary schools. Parents were at war with each other. Some looked forward to the idea of their children getting 'a head start on English', whereas other parents felt their children would be burdened with having to learn yet another subject, especially one in which they the parents had studied (ahem, memorized umpteen lists of grammat points and a gazillion sentences in context) in junior high, senior high, and university and feel they have still yet to "know" how to speak English. These parents see English as a lost cause, and most importantly, a chore their children shouldn't have to be saddled with at such 'an early age'.

The children's homeroom teachers have a say, too. Some view English as a great experience, especially if it means learning about different cultures, wherein a lesson based on songs & dances & games are most appreciated whereas other teachers want nothing to do with English. They, like the parents, feel the students have enough to learn as it is, and moreover that the time allotted to teach it in must now accommodate English lessons, too. And yet other teachers see English as something to be taken quite seriously.

Children are stressed? Uhm, well, although it seems like an odd thing to say, there is some verity to that statement. A point in case, parents ask their children what they learned that day in their English class; homework is not rare, children have texts with CDs, which they are told to listen to at home. When I taught kindergarten classes in Junju, South Korea, the Korean language teachers who assisted me--or was it that I assisted them?--taught phonics with a stern face and strict commands. If the teachers view English as something one needs to approach seriously, then that is most likely what the children will learn from the experience. Couple that with the expectations of their parents, and one could see how children might be stressed and why teaching English could be counterproductive.

In terms of EFL teachers, teaching English to children, especially those under the age of 6, can be counterproductive if 1) there isn't a clearly defined plan of study or curriculum, and 2) the lessons are facilitated by an inexperienced teacher or an experienced teacher who lacks training in teaching young children.

Schools should hire and train experienced teachers, both native speakers of English as well as native speakers of Korean. What could be more counterproductive than hiring a kindergarten teacher, be s/he a native English speaker or a native Korean speaker, who doesn't know how to teach or for that matter know how to teach children? You betcha children are stressed. Wouldn't you be?

13-Mar-2004, 23:50
Wow! What a reply. Cas, you are really something! :-D

Ok, well, I'll let the other teachers and students comment on the points made in your post, but it has raised more questions with me which I feel I should ask you.

Do you think there is a minimum age for children to start learning English as a second or other language? Is there an age under which it is not a good idea; where it might disrupt other learning processes?

Also, does the fact that a young child or infant is learning a second language actually stop them from developing other 'normal' skills in any way?

14-Mar-2004, 02:26
Do you think there is a minimum age for children to start learning English as a second or other language?

The earlier the better. The 'window' starts to narrow around 4 to 6 years of age. That's when the structural foundations or cognitive frames are set in place, from wherein the child will start to house and re-architect incoming information in accordance with her learning style.

Is there an age under which it is not a good idea; where it might disrupt other learning processes?

First, it depends on the method used. Second, in terms of cognitive processes, second language learners have more information to organize than do first language learners, which means it might take them a bit longer to work out the "kinks", but the result--a framework that interconnects and accommodates a variety of information--is a more preferred system, because it's a more efficient system.

Also, does the fact that a young child or infant is learning a second language actually stop them from developing other 'normal' skills in any way?

Some may feel that way, especially given the 'error' rate, but people who study language learners (first and second) will tell you that 'errors' made on the part of the learner are a 'good' sign because they tells us the child is working out the data (i.e. *My feets hurts). How could learning stop the development of learning? Learning is 'normal'. All skills are interrelated in some way or another. The more experience we have, the more able we are equipped to understand the world around us.

All the best,

Teaching English Games
14-Jan-2007, 21:43

I have taught French as a second language successfully to three year olds at a Montessori nursery.

I also did a survey on 250 preschool teachers and they gave me hugely positive feedback on starting early - even at two years old - with incredible results.

It is so inspiring what can be done with young children and they absorb readily.

Of course at this young age (2, 3, 4, 5) teaching should be done in small groups, with space to move around. One uses movement, music, stories, games, miming, actions, sounds, puppets - all this is such fun and so stimulating for the children. They love love love it!

When it is done right it is not stressful and produces fantastic results so I say that you can't start early enough when it comes to learning English or any foreign language.

Kind regards


For a free mini-series containing games, activities, flashcards and an illustrated story please visit:
Preschool ESL: Games, activities and stories for teaching English to preschool children (http://www.teachingenglishgames.com/3-5.htm)

Harry Smith
22-Jan-2007, 18:29
I have already writte about it once. I went to the kindergarten to teach my daughter and twenty other kids when she was three years old. And I did it in the former Soviet Union where it was forbidden. Inspectors came to see what I had done. When they saw that all the children could speak English they decided not to punish me. Since then English has been taught in the kindergartens in CIS. Of course I couldn't prove that it was my idea. The inspectors became the author of that invention. And I was very happy because more and more people were learning English from year to year.:-D