Over the past decade, many things have changed in the global education system. One of the most significant changes for us, as ESL teachers, is that the age of compulsory English has been lowered throughout the globe. English has become a compulsory target language in many primary schools, even in countries where the parents could choose the language for their children.
The main reason for this is the growing demand for English in order to develop language skills and attend foreign education courses and acquire a more quality education. The second reason, but equally important, is a greater employment possibility in the native speaker’s country, as well as abroad. And last, but not least, major studies have shown the benefits of early language learning in many areas of children’s lives, and the parents started noticing that.
All of these changes have impacted the education systems globally, making English a lingua franca. English has become an international language and in many countries English is no longer considered a foreign language. According to Crystal (2012), the number of non-native speakers is currently three times bigger than the number of native English speakers.
There are countless advantages of starting English language instruction early. Penfield and Roberts (1959), were among the first linguists to find a connection between the early language acquisition and native-like proficiency., stating that there is a ‘critical period’, before the learners hit puberty, which enables them to adopt a foreign language seamlessly, in a similar way as they acquired their native language. Other notable benefits of the early start, when it comes to language learning, are evolving multiple intelligences, becoming globally aware and interculturally competent, developing greater mental flexibility and problem solving derived from bilingualism and many more.
On the other side, there are almost no disadvantages of an early language instruction. Some parents argue with this opinion out of fear that their children will become so immersed in the foreign culture and neglect their own national heritage, but that rarely happens.
Although there are no disadvantages of starting English language instruction at an early age, we cannot rely solely on the early start to develop greater proficiency in our students. There are certain factors that affect EYL policy and its implementation.
The prerequisites for success in the second language acquisition include effective EYL program models, culturally appropriate materials, continuity of curriculum between primary and secondary English, and appropriately trained teachers, which is currently a major issue in the foreign language classroom in our country.
According to Read (2003), we need to develop the right conditions for successful primary ELT in primary schools. Some of these conditions are: contextualized and authentic learning activities, relevant, purposeful and hence enjoyable activities, lessons that rely on knowledge, multisensory, active and memorable lessons, diversity according to multiple intelligence theory, and possibly the most important condition – positive and relaxing learning environment.
The age of compulsory English education in our country has also lowered, but the significance of the early start is very much misconstrued. This is done merely to follow current foreign language trends and not for the sake of easier second language acquisition. Proper early English language instruction exists only in theory, and that is also where the reforms of the educational paradigms in our country stop. The teachers are not educated enough to be able to plan and conduct a quality lesson and most of them do not comprehend the basics of foreign language teaching methodology.
After considering all these factors, changes and implementations in the global education system, as well as our own education system, we can conclude that we are barely in the beginning phase when it comes to enhancing the early language instruction. The demands are immense but the education system capacities are far too low. The full potential of early second language acquisition yet remains to be seen, hopefully in the not so distant future.
- Savic, V. (2018). Introduction to Teaching English to Young Learners, PPT
- Shin, J. K. & Crandall, J. (2014). Teaching Young Learners English: From Theory to Practice. Boston: Heinle ELT, Cengage Learning.
- Enever, J. & Moon, J. (2009). New global contexts for teaching Primary ELT: Change and challenge. In Enever, Moon & Raman, Young Learner English Language Policy and Implementation: International Perspectives, 5-21. Reading: Garnet Publishing.
- Walker, J. (2014). English Mania. TED Talk at https://www.ted.com/talks/jay_walker_on_the_world_s_english_mania?language=en#
What do you think about learning English at a young age? What are the prerequisites for success in the early second language acquisition? Let me know in the comments or via the Contact page.