Young children learn in an integrated way and not in neat, tidy compartments. A child making shapes out of plasticine is learning maths (shape) and art (texture, shape, design, colour), building fine motor skills (physical development), and hearing or using language to describe shapes, colour, texture, materials and techniques (English). The activity drives the need to communicate.
Young children will learn a language better when they see a genuine need for communication, which is often the language they are hearing or using while they are doing an activity that they enjoy.
While adults can plan a range a activities to enhance the learning experience, not all of them will be motivating for every child. Children more likely to be motivated if the activity or experience is meaningful to them. Taking time to get to know the children and finding out what they are interested in is essential if you want to motivate them and help them learn.
The interactions you have with a child while they are engaged in an activity help develop language and communication in context, making the language learning more memorable and authentic.
Rhymes, songs and chants help children memorise words and sentence structure, and they also help with pronunciation, expression and the rhythm of sentences. Children learn their home language by playing with language in this way, and it’s a fun way for them to learn another language too!
A good story takes children to an imaginary world filled with characters and events that will make them want to find out what happens in the end, and that they will want to hear again, join in retelling, and even retell in their own words. Illustrations and actions help children understand descriptions of characters and events, because they can connect what they are seeing and doing with the language in the story.
Giving clear, simple instructions in English with accompanying actions, gestures or demonstrations is more likely to result in children understanding. Children love copying – the teacher, their parents, older siblings or friends – and will often join in after observing how something is done. Including routines is also a useful way of helping young children understand what is expected of them (e.g. every time we sit on the mat we will hear a story or sing a song). Children may not understand straight away, but giving instructions in English is an excellent way of reinforcing key language, so in the long run it’s worth the effort.