ENGLISH FOR YOUNG LEARNERS
By: Achmad Kusairi
English is taught as a foreign language in Indonesia. It is becoming such an important subject and taught in more schools than any other language. However, there are many different forms of English (British, American, etc.). While there are many similarities, there are also many differences. Each has its own peculiarities, especially in the way letters and words are pronounced. This can be very confusing for those who are trying to learn English; which variation do they study or learn. This is another problem for teacher of English subject at school to decide which is which, especially teaching English for young learners.
Learning English, however, is not easy. Most children often case several difficulties when they learn language. Among others, pronunciation is the problem because in English one word has many different phonemes. For example: s/z /iz for the word s. Notice the pronunciation of makes, wants, and manages. However, in Indonesia one word generally has one single form of phoneme. The second problem is how to speak; the influence of mother tongue has made some difficulties to change the English learners’ style in pronouncing the words. Moreover, they are not confident enough to speak because they afraid to be laughed at by making the wrong pronunciation. The third is how to read. Indonesia language is known syllable-timed rhythm language. On the other hand, English is stress-timed rhythm. It goes without saying that the learners will have hard time both in identifying the English stress and reading the words correctly.
Based on several problems mentioned above, the learning of English language, especially its speech sounds, should be related with: 1) dissimilarities between the sound system of Bahasa Indonesia and English, 2) inconsistency between English spelling and pronunciation, 3) unrecognized English speech sound, and 4) the interference coming from the native Indonesian in producing English sounds.
In Indonesia, almost every school puts English as a compulsory subject to learn. Big cities like Jakarta and Surabaya have such facilities to make children learn English in the first grade. In Surabaya, we have CIPUTRA, the education centre with bilingual program. Students about three to six years old have commonly learned English. This phenomenon indicates the awareness of the society, to have English as an important tool to face global world information, free market, challenge in the future.
This paper is aimed to provide a small-scale description of how young learners should be introduced or taught with English to make them gain English from the start.
Concerning with the awareness of world education toward children’s learning second language after their mother tongue, English has become the first choice of language other than Bahasa Indonesia to learn. Children are said to have already possessed a Language Acquisition Device (LAD) which enable them to absorb any input ( a number of languages taught to them) and apply such knowledge appropriately in any language context provided (Brown, 2000) Also, Lenneberg (in van Els, 1984) pointed that natural language learning can take place only during the ‘critical period for language acquisition’ that is between two years old and puberty (thirteen years old). This refers to the best time to learn any language without having to feel worried about a child’s brain capacity.
When children learn their second language, they actually feel more relaxed since they do not face many inhibitions like those of adult learners (Brown, 2000). However, they still have to face difficulties in their process of learning English as their second language. For one thing, sounds and letters are differently pronounced. For example, though is pronounced tough. The second problem is the attitude toward English. Children may feel that English is not so important to learn that they cannot practice the language freely out of their classroom. For them, English is only a part of their daily lessons given by the teacher. Yet, English only positions itself as a supplementary lesson (muatan local).
The teaching technique, therefore, goes through what the handbook recommended by the handbook. Such variation is highly recommended since children’s world in learning the lesson should be viewed differently. It is commonly found in traditional classroom that the English teacher is considered the one who always makes the students afraid. Such teaching technique will give children bad experience and have no courage to learn English anymore. In other words, the teacher should be capable of creating cheerful and interesting English classroom where the students can both learn and play.
However, there are some crucial parts in concerning with teaching English to children, namely the characteristics of children themselves, the teacher’s role, the teaching material and techniques applied.
1. Whom to Teach
Teaching English to children is difficult. Before arriving at the subject, it is important that teacher know
about the characteristics of the students. Halliwel (1992) states that young children do not come to the language classroom empty handed. They bring with them already well-established set of instincts, skill and characteristic which will help them to learn another language. We need to identify those and make sure use the most of them.
First, children have already had great skill in using limited language creatively. In their stages of their mother tongue development, children are excellent at making a little language go along way. So, they are creative in both grammatical forms and concepts.
Second, children frequently learn indirectly rather than directly. In other ages, the capacity for conscious learning of form and grammatical pattern is still relatively undeveloped. They go through subconscious process or acquisition more encouragement; it will much help them to learn.
Thirdly, children take great pleasure in finding and creating fun in what they do. Children have an enormous capacity for finding and making fun. Sometimes, it has to be said, they choose the most inconvenient moments to indulge it.
And the last one, children have a ready imagination. Children delight in imagination and fantasy. It is more than simply a matter of enjoyment, however. In the Primary School, children are very busy making sense of the world about them.
Scott and Ytreberg (1990) described other characteristics of the young language learner. First, young children are often happy playing and working alone but in the company of other. They can be very reluctant to share. It is often said that children are very self centered up to the age of six or seven and they cannot see things from someone else’s point of view. Then, young children love to play, and learn best when they are enjoying themselves. But they also take themselves seriously and like to think that what they are doing is ‘real’ work. And the last one, young children are enthusiastic and positive about learning. We all thrive and on doing well and being praised for what we do, and this is especially true for young children. It is important to praise them if they are to keep their enthusiasm and feel successful form the beginning. If we label children failures, then they believe us.
Dealing with the characteristics of student in the Elementary School that they always take great pleasure in finding and creating fun in what they do. And to make Elementary School students interested in learning English, teacher can develop any technique and teaching material that deal with the priority skill defined, e.g. teaching English pronunciation to Elementary School students.
2. What to Teach
The material that is suitable for teaching pronunciation is the one that meets the kind of instructional goal defined beforehand. Scott and Ytreberg (1990) classified various types of listening activities for children learning English, such as listening for information, listening to stories, etc. For example; in relation with pronunciation class, specifically, teacher should be aware of classroom activities, of course, will refer to the material being developed at the time. In other words, it is important to see syllabus or curriculum, which underlies the teaching learning activities.
For example, elementary school students in their first grade have come to meet the instructional goal which has been defined in the curriculum called MULOK (English is taught as muatan lokal(locally-decided supplement). The description of the goals can be viewed much clearly in the lesson plan.
However, the crucial points of teaching, e.g. teaching pronunciation involve those of building speaking skill correctly, such as: 1) developing a vocabulary of the words most often used in the language, 2) the phonetic rules and sounds for each category, 3) the sounds of several letters or groups of letters that seem to be more difficult to pronounce, 4) methods and techniques that will help students to pronounce correctly (LDS Teacher Handout Packet, 2001)
3. Who to Teach
Teacher’s role is very important in this kind of class. Scott and Ytreberg (1990) presented two criteria for a teacher teaching young learners. First, he is the one who is both knowledgeable and skillful in the field. Second, he should process additional abilities, such as performing skills like drawing, singing, etc. Third, he should have positive attitudes, that is, to respect his students.
In dealing with how a teacher can manage his class, he (Scott and Ytreberg, 1990) should pay attention fully to the following crucial points: 1) be an ideal teacher for the students, 2) help students feel secure, 3) care for the physical surroundings, 4) arrange the desks, 5) group the students, and select his language.
It seems that becoming and English teacher for young learners is not that easy. Specifically, the class demands an ideal teacher for the field (e.g. pronunciation). This may lead the teacher to a great challenge, that is, to enable himself to present a good model in teaching such English sounds before his students.
In teaching English especially to young learners, it is necessary for teachers of English to build himself a strong foundation in his knowledge and skill of English. Furthermore, it is quite important to see children’s characteristics for consideration since they are unique learners. It is unique because children are more closely related to the world of play and have a fun, and yet still have to drive them to learning situation in order to meet the instructional objectives/goals.
However, English are supposed to be taught in various kinds of techniques that teacher should know. It is believed that adults may face many more inhibitions rather than children. This enables them to have capability in acquiring their phonological competence earlier and to set their readiness to gain the language competence in the future.
Brown, Doughlas H. 2000. Principle of Language Learning and Teaching, Fourth edition. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.
LDS Teachers Handout Packet. American English Workshop: Basic Phonetic and Pronunciation. USA: LDS Charities. 2001
Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan. Kurikulum Penddikan Dasar. Suplemen GBPP Mata Pelajaran Bahasa Inggris. Jakarta: Depdikbud. 2001.
Halliwell, Susan. Teaching English in the Primary Classroom. UK: Longman Group, Ltd. 1992
Scott, Wendy and Libeth H. Yireberg. Teaching English to Children. London: Longman. 1998
Van Els, Theo; Theo Bongaets; Guss Extra. Apllied Linguistics and the Learning andf Teaching of Foreign Languages. Translated by R. R. van Oirsouw. Britai: Edward Arnold. 1984