Learning and teaching go hand-in-hand especially in the learning of foreign languages. For the process to be effective, the teacher must encourage the student to be active in reading and speaking. The more the student practices new words and pronunciations, the better they will eventually become due to confidence. The process should, however, balance reading and vocabulary development so that the student is not overwhelmed. Vocabulary is like new information. When the rate of learning new information increases, it negatively affects the learning and development process. This is especially true when the student is learning the foreign language as their second language. I, for example, started learning English after I was already fluent in Arabic. Due to the significant differences between the structures of the two languages, I had trouble grasping the intricacies of English until I was 12. Sentence structure and construction were major hurdles in my journey of learning English. What makes learning a second language challenging is the habits formed when learning the first. The difficulty increases with increase in age and is also dependent on the structural differences between the two languages. That is why younger children tend to have an easier time learning new languages than older ones and adults. Understanding these fundamental differences has been helpful in enabling me to design more effective teaching methods.
Children’s minds can learn multiple languages simultaneously without one necessarily interfering with the other. Learning multiple languages at an early age also encourages creativity and innovation by inspiring inquisitiveness in the child. Languages are made up of rules and structures. Learning different languages helps a child understand these concepts early and can be instrumental in their learning experiences later in life. A good example of this can be found in my family. Whereas it took me 12 years to get better in English, my younger sisters and brother developed their skills much faster and with more ease than I did because they started learning English alongside Arabic at tender ages. “Children should be taught how to read in their native language while acquiring oral proficiency in English and subsequently taught to extend their skills to reading in English,” (p.180). Incorporating native language into the teaching of a new language can improve students’ level and speed of understanding especially concerning learning and understanding new vocabulary. Most people think and understand in their first language. Offering an explanation using concepts and words that are easy to relate to helps students to form a better connection with the new word or concept. The problem with many instructors is that they often forget to reinforce the vocabulary in the new language and instead reinforce the native language.
The best strategy for enhancing language development especially in children lies in making the whole process fun. Children communicate and learn differently than adults. The play is at the center of this development. I have a student who understands Arabic when spoken but has trouble reading it. His younger sister, however, is more proficient in reading Arabic because she started taking both languages at the same time. English is relatively easy to read and write compared to Arabic. By starting his language development with English, my student developed a negative attitude towards Arabic since it looks harder. His difficulties were further increased by the fact that he could not effectively communicate with people back in Saudi Arabia where they visited every summer. His increased anxiety levels also worked against him building his confidence. The student is however currently showing significant improvements in his understanding of both Arabic and English after my introduction to playing into his sessions.
Cooper, J. D., & Kiger, N. D. (2001). Literacy Assessment: Helping teachers plan instruction. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.