The other day I was idly watching one of our teachers working with a couple of our students: two sisters, three and one and a half, who have a play style class with a teacher while their mum has a private lesson with another teacher.
I have to admit, I have always been fairly sceptical about teaching very young children in an EFL context. I’m sure it can’t do any harm, but I hadn’t really seen much benefit either. Basically if the parents were happy to pay us to play with their children for 40 minutes a week, and the children enjoyed it, no problem. It wasn’t something we advertised, but we did consider special requests.
However, about halfway through the class I saw something that completely challenged my assumptions.
The two students rarely speak English, beyond ‘hello’ and ‘see you’ at the beginning and end of the class. Their teacher only uses English with them, and they talk to him in Japanese. The ‘class’ consists of playing together with a variety of toys and objects we have in the classroom. The children decide what to play with, and how they want to play, but we manage that by adding or removing toys.
The teacher was playing with a doll, making it sit down or walk around. At one point, the older sister asked in Japanese “Why is the doll sitting down?”, to which the teacher replied in English “Her legs are tired.” The students then said in Japanese, without missing a beat and completely naturally “Oh, her legs are tired. I see.”
I almost fell off my chair.
The student didn’t have enough to be able to guess that meaning from the context. The teacher did not use any gestures or indicate the doll’s legs. She clearly understood what he said.
I think I’m going to have to rethink the very young learners thing…