The kindergarten stage is crucial in a child’s language development. What sort of language environment or teaching methods should an educator apply in order to help young learners make the most of their time? How does language immersion help learners and to what extent should it be implemented?
Total immersion refers to education in which the language of instruction is the student’s second language. Many kindergartens choose this method of language teaching as it allows students to access the language through its daily use and applications. Early immersion programmes, which are those that begin at kindergarten, often help students reach a higher level of language proficiency in their second language compared to those who study that language only in language classes. While some may worry that students may not be able to reach as high an academic standard as students taught in their first language, studies have suggested that total immersion students perform just as well as others in terms of subject matter.
Bilingual Immersion is where there are two languages of instruction. In Hong Kong, this is usually English and Cantonese, and for some schools, Mandarin. This may be effective providing that there is a clear distinction and standardised division between the two languages of instruction. For example, some subjects are consistently taught in one language, and other subjects are taught in the other. Teachers and students should be expected to speak in the language of that lesson exclusively, and not switch between the two languages. A common concern is that learners will confuse the two languages that they are learning. However, studies have shown that young learners are unlikely to be confused, provided that they have sufficient exposure to both languages.
Some educators believe that students must have a firm knowledge of their first language before they should learn a second language. This may however, delay a students’ exposure to the second language and impact the effectiveness of their learning. Children do not naturally have a preference for languages. However, should they already be familiar with one, using the language would give them more confidence, and hence they appear to prefer it more. Subsequently, they may become more reluctant to use the new language.
When young children do learn a second language later in kindergarten, studying grammar rules may not be the most effective method, as young children do not yet have a strong awareness of grammar. Nor should they learn by translating words from their native tongue to English. Such learning methods may lead young learners to be unable to grasp the correct form of the language, or be only able to do so by memorising rules.
There is no one way to teach young learners English. Different individuals learn differently and at a different pace. It is understandable that many schools cannot afford to allow students extended exposure to English because of limited resources. That is why an educator’s role is so important. They identify and modify their teaching to help learners reach their potential. At Eureka, we make sure that our native-speaking English teachers and bilingual English teachers incorporate different activities into their classes and that all our courses are scaffolded to accommodate learners of different abilities and ways of learning. As educators, we want to help students acquire English as effectively as possible and to lower students’ ‘affective barriers’, things that inhibit their learning, such as anxiety and lack of confidence and motivation. We do not believe that any child innately dislikes a language. We make sure to provide the best courses, teachers and resources so learners can keep up their passion for learning through fun and engaging lessons as well as continue their learning at home.
- Dryden, G. and Vos, J. (2005), The New Learning Revolution, 3rd ed, Strafford: Network Educational Press.
- Hadi-Tabassum, S. (2005), ‘The balancing act of bilingual immersion’, in Educational Leadership 64(4), 50-54.
- Krashen, S. D. (1982), Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition, Oxford: Pergamon Press.
- Lightbrown, P. M. and Spada, N. (2013), How Languages Are Learnt, 4th ed, Oxford: Oxford University Press.