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Ideas in Teaching English for Young Learners

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Ideas in Teaching English for Young Learners


Dessy Dwi Yudha Santhi, S.Pd.

English as one of the foreign languages has got much attention from the Indonesian government. This can be seen from the government's commitment to teach English at all levels of education (Emilia, 2005). The general aim is to make the students familiar with English in their early age; so that, they are able to understand English both in written and spoken form. It is in line with Hamerly (in Suyanto, n.d.) and DeKeyser (2006) who stated that learning a foreign language will be better if it is started earlier. However, teaching English to children is not easy; since, the exposure of the language, in most cases, is only in the classroom. Nevertheless, English teachers can maximize the class time to help the students in exploring English; so that, it is expected that they will be able to speak English well. Furthermore, this study will discuss some ideas that can be applied in teaching English for young learners. It begins with some misunderstandings that are still hold by most of the English teachers (see Cameroon, 2001). Secondly, it talks about the characteristics of young learners. Finally, it reveals some strategies that can be applied, especially in listening, speaking, reading and writing. The aim of this writing is to give some ideas for the English teachers, especially those who work with young learners. Thus, it is expected that it can give some inspirations in giving a better English teaching.

Keywords: Teaching English, Young Learners, Ideas


In learning a foreign language, children and adults have different perceptions because they have different characteristics. Children are more enthusiast than adults. Moreover, they like to please their teacher but they can lose their interest easily in the materials given (Cameron, 2001; Harmer, 2002).

However, the development of teaching and learning English, especially in Indonesia, is not good enough; thus, the result of teaching and learning in elementary schools in Indonesia is not yet satisfactory (Andini: 2007; Prapti: 2008; Listia and Kamal: 2009). It might have probably been influenced by the teacher's ways. The methods used to teach the elementary school students emphasize on mastering grammatical structure, which makes the students feel burdened than joy in learning English (Andini: 2007; Prapti: 2008). Moreover, the students are often asked to memorize the material than to give their own opinions (Utami: 2004). In this case, the students are given English words with little context. Whereas, students will learn better if they are given the appropriate context and the opportunity to participate in "activities that are perceived to be used in real life and are culturally relevant" (Vosniadou, 2001: 11).

Moreover, there are some misunderstanding that many teachers still hold (Cameron: 2001). They are:

1. Teaching children is easy and simple

Teaching English to young learners is not an easy thing. The first reason is children world are different with adults'. They do not have the same access to comprehend the grammar (Cameron: 2001). The second reason is children can lose their interest quickly. They may show their interest in the beginning of the learning but in the middle of it, if the teacher gives them the same thing, they will feel bored. Therefore, teachers as the instructors and the class managers should know their students and the class well.

2. Children just need to learn simple language

Children are like a piece of blank paper. People around them can write anything on it. If they are just taught by simple thing they will just have that in their mind. In fact, they may interested in more complicated thing, such as how to operate a computer, why many planes can fell down, what are dinosaur look like, etc. Teachers should realize those things.

Therefore, a young learners' teacher should know the characteristics of their students before they want to get involved in the teaching and learning process; in order, they can give their best for their students and to avoid the following misunderstandings that many teachers still hold.

Young Learners Characteristics

Children are unique, each of them are not the same. However, in general, we can still categorize them in the same characteristics. Jean Piaget states (in Mooney: 2000; Cameron: 2001; and Pinter: 2006) that children is an active learners, where they can understand things surround them actively and solve the problems presented by the environment. Piaget, then, differentiates two ways in which development can take place as a result of activity, that are assimilation and accommodation. Children assimilate something by considering one thing is same with the other thing. On the other hand, they accommodate something by adjusting one thing with another.

However, Vygotsky (in Mooney: 2000 and Cameron: 2001) have bit different view with Piaget. He claims that children's learning and development are taken place in a social context. They are an active learner in a world that full of people surround them, which hold an important role in helping them to do the interaction and learn. By supports from other people, especially their peers and adults, children can understand more than they have to learn by themselves.

Moreover, Gardner argues (in Harmer: 2002 and Pinter: 2006) that every children are not the same. They have different intelligences. In 1983, he published Frames of Mind: Theory of Multiple Intelligences, or in education field, this term are define as the 'learning styles': linguistic, logical/mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily/kinesthetic, intrapersonal, and interpersonal. Therefore, teacher should take into account of these learning styles in teaching their children in the classroom.

Additionally, Bruner (in Cameron: 2001; Carol: 2005; and Musthafa: 2008) promotes scaffolding, the support that can be given through the interaction, as important tool in helping children to maximize the learning process. Moreover, teachers can scaffold children's learning in various ways: by suggesting, praising the significant, providing focusing activities (to attend to what is relevant); by encouraging and being explicit about organization (to adopt useful strategies); and by reminding, , modeling, and providing part-whole activities (to remember the whole task and goals) (Wood: 1998 in Cameron: 2001).




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