A childs first steps in learning by j doug mcglothlin

“A Child’s First Steps in Learning” by J. Doug McGlothlin

“A Child’s First Steps in Learning” by J. Doug McGlothlin is a chronicle of the development of unprompted vocabulary by the author’s child.  He notes the ease in which children learn a language and seems to support the theory that young children are more readily able to learn languages of any type than adults are.  He notes throughout this observation that vast differences exist between the way a child views language learning and the way an older person views it.  He summarizes the child’s language environment by noting that there are few pressures or a time restraints on a child’s learning.

No sequencing of grammar or other structures occur and the child has many opportunities to practice the language because it is all around him, frequently repeated and relevant to him.  As a result, his strategies are different from adults.  He is not set back by an lack of understanding.  He enjoys this learning because it is repetitive, interesting, and easy.  It allows him to participate in his environment, and he immediately gains success and confidence in learning.

This is relevant in terms of the ESL curriculum for several reasons.  First the students are spoken to in English only from the moment they enter the program.  This interaction and immersion allows them to learn the language quickly.  The students learn to relate to the other children just as the son learned to relate to his family through vocabulary.  Thus, the language acquisition becomes a natural part of the child’s daily processes.  He is under a low-stress environment and will grow each and every day.  The child is not taught a complex set of grammatical structures or weighed under a heavy set of grading expectations.  Instead, the learning is through song, conversation, and play.  In this way, the student employs strategies must like the young child depicted above.

“Helping Children Learn to Think In English Through Reading Storybooks”

by Patricia F. Neyman

Patricia F. Neyman in “Helping Children Learn to Think In English Through Reading Storybooks” focuses on the selection of materials for helping student learn to read.  She noted that her Korean student with average vocabularies still found it difficult to learn to read English books because they had not been advanced to the point where they were processing in English.  Instead, they were “cheating” by reading the short English books, but using Korean to understand and interpret them.  Neyman found that when she had the students read the books then retell them in their own words, their understanding increased.  This increase is the result of the children having to not only read, but understand in English.  She emphasizes that the use of storybooks, though seemingly elementary, were better because they provided the necessary word repetition that the students needed and were just “more fun.”

The implication of this paper is that students need repetition in order to get to the point where they understand English words.  Then, they need to progress to the point where they are actually understanding the English words in English.  The proof here is the retelling of the stories in their own words.  In the general ESL cycle, the stories chosen for reading are similar to these storybooks in that they have repetitive, comprehensible vocabulary and passages and they have predictable sequences of events that encourage thought by the students.  These stories allow the students to first mimic the new language and then to process it beyond this to show that they fully understand what they are reading.  Thus, they really learn the language.

“Using Children’s Literature with Young Learners” by Eowyn Brown

In “Using Children’s Literature with Young Learners” by Eowyn Brown, the idea of introducing literature to young ESL students is supported.  She emphasizes the importance of choosing the right book for each individual learner.  If the book is too easy or too hard, the students become bored or frustrated, respectively.  Brown agrees with Neyman that short and simple stories with repetitive language are best for very young readers.  She then goes on to explain that the size of the print, the appearance of pictures and the level of vocabulary must all be considered as well.  Clearly, much thought must go into the selection of the book.  Then, the teacher must allow the students to spend enough time with the book.  Racing through the literature does not allow the students to fully absorb the language, and that they actually enjoy the repetition of the words.  This builds confidence for them.  She also presents additional ideas for teaching this literature such as workbooks, tapes, and art projects.

Again, material choice is the cornerstone of a good ESL program.  A variety of audio and visual media is necessary in order to allow students to “experience” the literature, not just read it.  These can even be combined with culture elements as student may be able to adapt rhymes from books into songs or games that are part of their own culture.  In addition, these activities allow for the students to develop cognitive links between the words on the page, their sounds and their application to their own lives and backgrounds.  Furthermore, mimicking the stories allow the students to show an understanding while also allowing them to practice with the language they are learning.

“Developing Speaking Skills in the Young Learners Classroom”

by Natasa Intihar Klancar

Klancar reminds us in her article “Developing Speaking Skills in the Young Learners Classroom” that each ESL class is filled with different learners at different levels.  She stresses the importance of proper modeling for these students and, again, the use of audio and visual reinforcement.  She emphasizes a movement from a choral modeling in which the whole class is involved to a type of smaller group modeling to finally individual modeling.  This sequence helps the youngsters develop confidence.  In addition, Klancar notes that using dialogues allows the students to share the information in a fun way and to ultimately internalize the language as they make us of “real world’ speaking situations.  Finally, she, too, illuminates the value of songs and rhymes in the process of learning language.

This article feeds in clearly with the ESL cycle.  The first cycle depends greatly on teacher and whole group activities, while later cycles allow for smaller groups to meet the needs of students at different levels.  The use of dialogue addresses both of the ESL competencies in that they ask them to both listen and use the language while monitoring their own performance.    This allows them to incorporate gestures into the dialogue situation as well as some physical responses that border on acting.  In addition, the child’s attention is directed to the task because it is more relevant to the learner.  As the learners develop, they can begin improvising by adding their own “personal repertoire” of words into the prescribed dialogues.

“Letterland Pictogram Concept in EFL Teaching of Young Children”

By Oksana Yaverbaum

In “Letterland Pictogram Concept in EFL Teaching of Young Children” by Oksana Yaverbaum, the focus is on very young children – children who cannot read yet.  The Letterland concept is, according to the author, a key foundation for “developing an effective EFL teaching program.”  This secret land is filled with make-believe joy for very young children.  The letters of the target language are shaped like pictures which are called pictograms – they are representative of the sound of the letter.  For example, a snake may take on the shape of its first letter, S.  This method is successful because it appeals to the very young child.  In this way, Yaverbaum notes that its use fits into the factors of the child’s learning environment which was developed by McGlothlin in the first article.  The Letterland pictures can be used to develop letter recognition, sound recognition and even to lead to longer sentences and dialogues.    Even children not interested (or even realizing) that he is learning a language) can play with Letterland and learn from it.

This type of concept can easily relate to the competency goals of the ESL program.  First, it introduces the students to word and letter recognition.  It also allows them to hear the sounds that these letters make.  Then the student forms the links between the pictures and the letters.  Building on previous knowledge, the students can interact with the Letterlander characters and even create dialogues between them.  Thus the activity has the capacity to progress with the child throughout his ESL cycles.  With a little creativity, the teacher can introduce cultural activities to do with the Letterlanders as well.


This type of curriculum for ESL learners is quite groundbreaking in that it suggests that students can learn two languages at once at a very young age.  Brown emphasizes this in her article which espouses the importance of introducing ESL children to literature at a young age.  Because this second language will be learned while the child is also mastering his native tongue, many outcries have occurred.  However, during the field testing of Elementary Cycle One, learning English did not seem to hamper the learning of French in these children.

“An important difference between teaching EFL to adults and to young learners is motivation. Very young children have an intrinsic love for learning” (Laborda, 2006).   It does seem like children are much more able to digest languages when they are introduced at a very young age.  Thus, what is the harm in introducing a second language early?  Even the United States Congress was aware of this fact thirty years ago:  “There is a general consensus in the academic community that the younger second and third languages are begun, the better…” (United States Congress).  The new Elementary Cycle One curriculum seems to support this research.

McGlothlin and others chalk this phenomenon up to some key characteristics of a young child learning language that he compiled while observing his own son.  He noted especially that the child was immersed in the language from a young age, but he did not appear to be disturbed or upset by any failures along the way.  This is just like the Elementary Cycle One program which uses non-threatening puzzles, songs, and games to make the learning seem like play to the children.  The Letterland people seem like a terrific idea for this type of program (Yaverbaum

Yet, the children are still held accountable for the language in that in order to communicate with the teacher and to solve problems, they must use the language.  As Klancar reminds her readers, proper modeling and dialogue is very important in this teaching process. However, because they are playing, not being required to read or write, they are learning through experience only.  Julie Vickery (2004) notes that alphabet chants and similar activities are particularly used through her experience teaching overseas.   Cakir (1999) agrees and emphasizes the importance of songs and games in the curriculum:  “It has been said that children have a natural musical taste and that play is the only activity that they take seriously. If this is so, teachers should not let song practice or any activities seem like work.”

Learning occurs through the repetition.  Neyman warns all ESL teachers of young learners not to undervalue repetition.  Children enjoy repetition of words and sounds, which is why the games and songs are so important in this process. Kuuskanan (2007) sums up the idea of a young child learning multiple languages in the following:

            There appears to be a ‘window’ of learning language that ‘opens’ at about the age                                    of ten months…Over the next two years, infants acquire language at an                                       astonishing rate. By the age of three, they have acquired basic syntax (sentence                           structure), basic grammar (the ‘rules’ of the language), and a large vocabulary of                          basic words necessary to their physical and emotional survival. Their motivation                                  to talk with their caregivers is high: asking for something usually results in being                                 given the thing they need.

All of this is possible because of the non-threatening yet highly motivating structure of the environment.

The Elementary Cycle One program is foremost in its ability to use this proven data to develop a program that allows very young children to learn both French and English.  The use of games, songs, hands-on activities and the like are fun for the children, and the modeling of the teacher who speaks only in the target language provides the necessary motivation.  It is important to seize the opportunity when it is most ripe.  This program does just that.


Brown,  E. Using Children’s Literature with Young Learners. The Internet TESL Journal           Retrieved 20 March 2007 from http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Brown-ChildrensLit.html

Cakir, A. (1999) Musical Activities for Young Learners of EFL.  The Internet TESL Journal 5   (11), November.  Retrieved 24 March 2007 from http://iteslj.org/

Klancar, NI.  Developing Speaking Skills in the Young Learners Classroom. The Internet TESL             Journal Retrieved 20 March 2007 from http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Klancar-          SpeakingSkills.html

Kuuskanen, DK. (2007).  Bilingual and Multilingual Children.  The Linguist. Retrieved 24         March 2007 from http://linguistlist.org/ask-ling/biling.html

Laborda, JC. (2006). Teaching EFL to Children: The Delight of Being Constantly Challenged. The Internet TESL Journal 10 (3), December.  Retrieved 24 March 2007 from http://tesl-        ej.org/ej39/f1.html

McGlothlin, D. A Child’s First Steps in Learning. The Internet TESL Journal Retrieved 20        March 2007 from http://iteslj.org/Articles/McGlothlin-ChildLearn.html

Neyman, PF. Helping Children Learn to Think In English Through Reading Storybooks. The     Internet TESL             Journal Retrieved 20 March 2007 from http://iteslj.org/Articles/Neyman- Storybooks/

United States Congress. Bilingual Education: Hearings Before the Special Subcommittee on     Bilingual Education.  New York:  Arno Press, 1978.

Vickery, J. (2004).  The EFL Playhouse.  Retrieved 24 March 2007 from             http://members.tripod.com/~ESL4Kids/

Yaverbaum, O. Letterland Pictogram Concept in EFL Teaching of Young Children.  The Internet         TESL Journal Retrieved 20 March 2007 from http://iteslj.org/Articles/Yaverbaum-        Letterland/

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