Problems of early learning in foreign language education

The article deals with the problems of early English language teaching in foreign language education  and their solutions. The authors point out one of the most important tasks of the modern foreign language teachers how to implement effective methods of teaching foreign languages in pre-school children, to raise students' interest to learn the language, enrich the content of education and modernization of the educational process in preschool as a whole. The authors consider difficulties of foreign language teacher, examine psychological and linguistic characteristics of students, and analyze exercises for language skills development of preschool age children, and factual material.

In recent years the number of English learners has dramatically increased. The necessity of foreign language mastering for modern man became obvious to almost everyone. The age of learners have changed either. Until now the teaching techniques is mainly aimed at schoolchildren, today parents aspire to start teaching children a foreign language as soon as possible. Moreover, the pre-school age is recognized by psychologists as the most favorable period for the type of activity.

The age threshold for children to start learning a foreign language is increasingly reducing. As a rule, a fore-year-old child is considered to be already well prepared for classes, some parents tend to set up their three-year-old children in the groups for learning English. In this case it is necessary to consider the appropriate age for studying foreign language and how to make the process more effective.

It is known that the possibility of an early age in learning foreign language speech is truly unique. K.D.Ushinsky wrote: «The child learns how to speak a foreign language in a few months but he cannot be accustomed to a few years».'

Unique predisposition to speech (most favored age for mastering a foreign language is the age period from 4 to 8–9 years), the plasticity of the natural mechanism of language acquisition, as well as a certain independence of the mechanism of action of hereditary factors related to belonging to a particular nationality — all this factors gives the child the opportunity under certain conditions to master the foreign language successfully. With age, this ability is gradually fading. Therefore, all attempts to teach a second foreign language (especially apart from the language environment) in older children involve, as a rule, a number of difficulties.

Successful mastering of foreign language speech by children becomes possible also because the children (especially pre-school age) have a more flexible and rapid storing of linguistic material than in the subsequent age stages.

In addition, the game, being the main activity for children of pre-school age, allows to make communicative and virtually any language units valuable

It is important to define the age appropriate to start learning a foreign language. According to the author of a textbook «How to teach children to speak in English» I.L.Sholpo, best to start learning a foreign language is at the age of five. Teaching four-year-old children, in her opinion, of course possible, but unproductive. The four-year-old children learn the material much more slowly than five years. Their reactions are spontaneous, emotions overflowing, they switch their attention from one object to another. It is difficult for children who don’t attend kindergarten to be without the presence of parents; in addition, they haven’t the sense of humor formed as it is important in the organization of foreign language teaching. In addition, the four-year-old children have not mastered their native language: they have not developed the ability to communicate, the regulating function of speech and inner speech has not formed yet. In this case the role-playing game that has the greatest value in the foreign language teaching pre-school children will not be effective.

Experimental confirmation of whether to start teaching a foreign language at the age of four, according to the author of the book Z.Ya. Futerman compares progress in training the two groups of children, one of them began learning at the age of four, and another one at the age of five. Four-year-old children not only lagged behind the five-year-old children in the first year, but in the second year progressed more slowly than in the first five-year plan, which allowed the teacher to conclude that «there is some negative impact of early learning foreign language foreign language on the further course of study» [1].

As for the children of three, mastering a foreign language in a more or less conscious training in the team, becomes extremely difficult. At this age a child is just beginning to master the grammatical form speech in their native language; infants have just begun to acquire skills of dialogue speech. The vocabulary of the child up to three years enriched almost exclusively by the accumulation of certain words, and only after three years begins to grow rapidly due to the mastering of the laws of «word and word formation.»

Methods of pedagogical work is determined by the objectives and tasks set by the teacher. According to I.L.Sholpo, the main objectives in teaching preschool children a foreign language are: the formation of children’s primary communication skills in a foreign language; the ability to use a foreign language in order to achieve its objectives, the expression of thoughts and feelings arising in real communication situations; creating a positive setting for the further study of foreign languages; revival of interest in the life and culture of other countries; training active and creative, emotional and aesthetic relationship to the word; the development of linguistic abilities of children considering the age features and psychological characteristics of senior preschool children their structure at the senior preschool children; decentering of the individual, i.e the ability to see the world from different perspectives.

Another important issue for teachers is a question of group content. Z.Ya. Futerman, speaking of foreign language classes in a kindergarten, insists on working with the whole group (25–30 people), citing the fact that children are accustomed to each other, as well as more efficient mass games in the learning process.

The experiment was made by teacher, but it didn’t show any increase of efficiency at lessons on condition of dividing into two subgroups. However, I.L.Sholpo doubts according to these conclusions and writes that, it’s possible, on condition of kindergarten children’s habits to each other are so strong, that is decisive factor, nevertheless, if the speech is going about other structures, where unfamiliar children are united into groups, then lessons with groups of 25 (twenty five) learners are less efficient, and even 15 (fifteen) learners in a group is serious challenge for a teacher. I.L.Sholpo recommends to form groups not less than five or not more than ten learners, explaining that common conversation, (as it was stated by psychologists), organized corporate activity are possible in a group of not more than 8 (eight) learners. But taking into consideration the fact children are often sick in winter time and miss classes, one may gather till 10 (ten) learners in a group.

Next issue is duration and frequency of lessons. Z.Ya. Futerman states that lessons for five year old children mustn’t last more than twenty minutes and for six year old children twenty five minutes. This statement is also based on results of experiment; however, I.L.Sholpo considers that his results are connected with previous condition: at fullness of group of 25–30 learners, neither a teacher nor children can’t study longer [2]. The experience of work E.I.Negnevitskaya in groups of 5(five) till 15(fifteen) learners and the experience of I.L.Sholpo in a group of 7(seven)-10(ten) learners, show that in such quantity of children duration of lessons is from 35(thirty five) till 45(forty five) minutes (depending on age) doesn’t tire children, and unwillingness to go away and end up a lesson are kept in them that is necessary for effective learning as Z.Ya. Futerman states fairly. It’s important to change type of activity in every five minutes, transferring from mobile game to conversation around table; then to dance, and training; after that to singing a song and etc.

Usual frequency of lessons, as I.L.Sholpo states, twice or three times a week. Lessons that is once a week are extremely unproductive, children have time to forget training material, that hasn’t been consolidated during several days.

L.C.Vygotskii and D.B.Elkonin call the game as leading type of activity of preschool child, but scientists don’t consider a game as the most dominating on child’s practice among other types of activities, they simply state that game helps preschool child to develop exactly during this period [3]. Even though it was written very much about children’s game, issues of its theory are so complicated, that there is no exact classification of games. I.L.Sholpo suggests his own variant to classification of training games, which are used on foreign language lessons with preschool children.

The author divides training games into following types: the situational, the competitive, the rhythmmusical and the art.

Situational ones include role games, which simulate situations of communication by this or that reason. They, in its turn, are divided into games of reproductive character, when children produce typical, standard dialogue, using it in this or that situation or improvisational games, demanding the usage and modification of different models. Naturally, an intermediate moment can occur, when element of improvisation is included in reproductive game.

The competitive ones include the most of games, promoting master lexis and grammar. In those games wins that one who masters best training material. There are crosswords, «auctions», desktop and printing games with linguistic tasks, execution of commands and etc.

The ritmo-musical games include traditional games in the type of round improving phonetic and communicative skills, but also rhythm-melodological sides of speech and immersion in spirit of language.

The art or creative games, it’s a type of activity standing on the border of game and art creativity, to which way is laid with the help of game. In its turn, they are divided into dramatic ones (small scenes in English language); graphic games, such as graphic dictation, application and etc.; and word-creative (selection of a rhyme, collective composition of signs to commix, collective compositions of small tales).

On the border of situational improvisational games and creative dramatic ones there is a type of activity as  improvisation  to  theme  of  famous  tale  that  has  been  already  played.  For  instance,  game  «turnip», «teremok», in which there appear new characters and remarks, depending on the quantity of players and assimilation of new lexis.

The ability to communicate in a foreign language involves the development of the trainees have a certain set of characteristics and personal qualities conducive to the mastery of a foreign language and its practical application as a means of familiarization with different national culture and means of communication with other cultures. Thus, the learner masters not only another way to communicate, but attach to a different cultural heritage that shapes his personality, belonging to a particular linguistic and cultural community, and is also developing its universal consciousness. Developing of ability to communicate in foreign languages is due, primarily, with the formation of the communicative competence of learners. Since the  elementary school is the first step in the general school system, its task — to lay the foundations of the communicative competence that permits foreign-language communication and interaction of children (including the real needs and interests in dialogue and knowledge of primary school age children).

For beginning learners, the oral speaking can be started by giving each learner a number and a topic. The topics could be about family, sports, school activities, colors, traveling, and etc. All the learners are asked to take a number and a topic. Having got them, each learner can think about their topics for a minute or two and then the teacher calls a number. The learner with that number then says two or three sentences about his or her particular topic. The speaker then calls a number and the learner with that number has to ask the speaker a question or two related to the topic just spoken about. When the question is answered, the questioner calls for another number to do the same. After several times the speaker calls a number of a new person who will speak about the topic that she or he was given. Then he or she will do the same steps as the first learner has already done.

Before the learners speak on a topic, they can work in pairs or groups of three or four to prepare it. This gives the learners the chance to learn new items from each other. Here is an example using a same or different information gap activity. Then each learner can describe pictures or topics to each other. Without looking at other learner’s picture or topic, the opponent speaker must response to the description whether it is the same or different. All learners can take changes in practicing this way.

The learners are given topics to talk about. They prepare at home, using dictionaries, reference texts, reading sources, etc. Each learner has to choose a short and interesting article from an English language newspaper to present to the class. The learner shouldn’t read the article loudly to the class but should describe the main points of the article. The class should then ask the presenter questions

In junior classes the material for children is served in the form of a game, fatigue for a child.Various creative tasks will contribute to the development of imagination and help to better digest covered in class. The kid will have to draw things and coming up with rhyming, paint, connect the dots, to find the hidden little animals, etc.

Poems, rhymes and rhyming proposed for storing, built on words and phrases that have already been explained by the teacher and learned by child.

Learning foreign languages at an early age fully develop a child. It improves his memory, intelligence and develops his observation.

Thus, productive work on the development of speaking skills at an early stage of training and the result of acquired skills of learners will testify next, such skills as:

  • To establish contact with the partner in communication in educational, gaming, and real communication situations;
  • To name the person, objects, animals and activities with them, to give them quantitative, qualitative and temporal characteristics in training, gaming and real communication situations;
  • To express the emotional evaluation (feeling desire (unwillingness) of perceived information;
  • To hold and give simple directions in education, gaming and real communication

The next step is preserved all the basic tasks of the first class, at their decision to enrich the communicative core by learners mastering new means of communication.In addition to the four designated tasks put forward a new, associated with skills learners to speak not only about what they saw, but also read the text, or on its basis.

Further, the system is carried out previously acquired knowledge, skills and their further improvement, including the improvement of pupils’ skills as solving communication problems in different situations of communication (this is important to the ability to be part of a learning process); there is a complication of oral speech of pupils — a lot of attention paid to the formation of qualities such statements as its consistency and coherence; conducted a purposeful work for the development of trainees' ability to express personal attitudes to information.

Thus, tasks are allocated at an early stage in the design of rod training content on the subject: exactly they, not the theme and language and speech material is the starting point of the selection and organization of educational material.

Young learners should get as many speaking and listening opportunities as possible in the classroom. Their speaking time should increase constantly as the teacher prepares them for various communication situations. Combining different approaches and using various methods and tools should give learners plenty of opportunities to take part in communicative situations and help them internalize certain vocabulary terms or grammatical points.

To sum up, teaching speaking skills to young children is relatively easier taking into account the fact that young learners are natural talkers. They love to talk and look for chances to communicate meaningfully. Teachers should find the right balance between controlled activities and letting children talk naturally in the classroom. Teachers should take care that children talk accurately and correct their linguistic errors. However, no correction should be done when children are talking in free speaking activities. These types of activities help children achieve fluency and develop communicative competence.

Following above mentioned rules young learners can achieve major goals in learning speaking skills that lead to successful speaking foreign language at senior stage. Good training in speaking at early stage of studying, taking into consideration definite steps, enables fruitful work in communicative activities. And in its turn, the main and most important fact in learning foreign language is to be able to communicate. Good communication develops more sufficiently at early stage of learning foreign languages than at senior one. The role of developing speaking skills of young learners in learning foreign languages is essential part of whole study process.

The method of teaching lessons must be formed taking into account age and individual peculiarities of structure of linguistic ability of children and be directed to its development. Lessons of foreign language must be thought over by teacher as the part of general development of child’s individual, connected with his\her touch, physical, intellectual education.

Teaching children foreign language must lead communicative character, when child masters language with the help of communication, that is to say, not only masters separate words and speech examples, but learns to make statements with familiar to him\her models in correspondence with his communicative demands. Communication in foreign language must be motivated and aimed. It is necessary to create in child positive psychological attitude to foreign speech. Exactly game is the way of creating such a positive motivation. Games on lessons must be incidental and isolated. It is necessary to have prevailing game method, uniting and integrating other types of activity in the process of teaching language.



  1. Futerman Z.Ya. Foreign languages in kindergarten, Kiev, 1984, 268
  2. Sholpo I.L. How to teach your preschooler to say in English, textbook on teaching English for pedagogical universities, colleges and schools in the specialty «Foreign language teachers in the kindergarten», Saint Petersburg, 1999, 345
  3. Vygotsky L.S. Questions of psychology, 1966, № 6, p. 62–76.
Year: 2016
City: Karaganda
Category: Pedagogy