Humans, in comparison to other species, have developed language from the urge to communicate, exchange ideas, express feelings, and, of course, to be heard and understood.
When we teach our children to speak, we do it for the very same reasons.
Teaching young children a foreign language has exactly the same purpose.
Do you remember how your parents taught you to speak? How did you start speaking with your child? I suppose buying a coursebook was not the first thing you did?
Not every parent is an expert in developmental psychology, but, they soon realise games are engaging and a fun way for children to learn.
And yet, when your child goes to school, it becomes self-understood that the game-time is over and some ‘serious stuff’ takes priority’?
The simple fact that the child becomes bored too quickly with a coursebook is alarming enough that something regarding teaching young children with it is not quite right.
Children don’t need coursebooks.
Children need action, developing social skills and learn how to communicate. And they can only achieve that through their active involvement. In other words, children need to LIVE the language.
What teachers need is the knowledge as to how to do it. (A book with instructions could come in handy here. It is on its way. In the meantime, you can follow our blog)
The PBA (Project-Based Approach) has been gradually shaping its form over the last ten years entwining child-centred, cooperative and context-mixed learning, and in practice works wonders.
Children learn the language, not just words.
Children communicate, not just report.
Children are engaged with their peers, they do not just colour and circle and connect.
Children live their learning, want to talk, not just obey what they are told and produce a list of memorised words.
By the age of ten, children understand oral instructions, read authentic children books meant for native speakers, discern information/words from the text, orally present a known topic, write a pre-structured text, and are tenses/time-oriented. By the age of 11, they comprehend grammar tenses and use them in communication.
Children use their new language to their best abilities.
The PBA approach focusses on the key-strengths of children’s learning abilities. In the children’s world, everything is connected, and everything has to make sense. Their natural way of learning is through games where they can socialise.
Equally important is the awareness of their limitations due to their developmental stage. Children’s brains, up to the age of eleven, cannot yet comprehend analytically and they do not understand the concept of value. If we want to engage them, they need to see the meaning in what they are doing there and then.
The awareness of both, weaknesses and strengths, has led us to find an effective way of young foreign language learning, oriented to the basic purpose of the language – exchanging information.
As mentioned before, children don’t need books, teachers do.
We offer a well-structured framework with the fixed aim-oriented steps for the teacher to follow. In those steps, the activities are organised to address children’s strengths and at the same time stimulate their weaknesses in such a way to gradually turn them into strengths.
In the PBA we arrange the learning in such a way for children to experience the use of what they are doing. That means that the language is used in a context (topic-mixed instead of topic-divided), which is meaningful for the child. To make the learning meaningful, we tailor games, songs, texts, posters in the context of the covered project. The activities embed the pieces of information in a context meaningfully which leads to better memorisation.
The games used in the PBA are called serious games. They are activities with all the elements of the game, only the result of the game is the knowledge. Games make language learning engaging. Playing games enables children to interact with their peers which provides conditions for natural learning.
It’s not so much about the selection of the activities (because all the activities are good) but rather how the activities are organised to address the children’s point of view: in the sense of understanding, seeing the meaning of the activities, and providing their need to socialise.
NATURAL, ENGAGING and MEANINGFUL are therefore the key dimensions which, when in synergy, enable the young language-learning its original purpose – communication.
The practice has shown that with the PBA children achieve better language and social skills in comparison to the traditional, topic-based approach delivered through a coursebook.
Step 1: OPENING THE THEME, where we introduce the theme of the project. The best way is through a picture book/story.
Step 2: DO IT YOURSELF, where children elicit language from the story (vocabulary is always presented in sentences!). The substitute for workbooks are so-called ‘Doodles’ (partly drawn black and white drawings) may come in handy here.
Step 3: SOCIAL GAMES, where children memorise language elements and practice social skills through peer-interaction
Step 4: LITERACY, where language elements are used to learn how to write and read a text. There are steps to follow when addressing literacy:
Step 5: REPORT, LISTEN AND RESPOND, where children use the language for practising speaking and listening. Some of the main activities are: