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Teaching ESL phonics at same time as first language 
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Joined: Wed Aug 23, 2006 11:37 pm
Posts: 9
Location: France
Post Teaching ESL phonics at same time as first language
Wasn't sure how to word my question in the subject, but here's the low down.

I work at a nursery school, and am trying to decide if I should be doing phonics work with my 4-5year old students. I have them 3 times a week for 20 minutes, and they spend the rest of the day in their regular French classrooms.

I'm wondering if it will be too confusing to be working on phonics with these kids while their learning generally the same thing in their French classes.

Any thoughts?


Thu Aug 24, 2006 12:08 am
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2006 10:46 am
Posts: 2130
Location: Nagano, Japan
I teach in Japan and the writing system is based in Chinese characters and two other character sets different from the Roman alphabet. For that reason I can teach letters and phonics to kindergarten students and it doesn't affect their L1 reading pronounciation.

I had a couple email conversations with a woman in Canada (Quebec, if I remember correctly)and she told me they were not allowed to teach English phonics or reading until the third grade. There must be strong reasoning for that. However, that reasoning may not be well grounded and I don't know if that rule was system wide or just that school.

I searched this yesterday when I first saw the post. I didn't find anything astounding but I have access to some electronic journals and I'll check those later to see if I can find some research on it. I'm sure someone's done a study.

I assume I'll find studies saying with time those problems that might initially appear with some learners are an orginanizational problem that will iron itself out in time. Also, that woman was in Canada where they are working to support French competence first, but in France I'm sure the students are pretty competent in French :D

Build up! Be positive! Teach hard!

Fri Aug 25, 2006 7:28 am
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Joined: Sat Sep 02, 2006 3:55 pm
Posts: 16
I taught English kindergarten for five years in Japan. I wrote a number of songs specifically for teaching or practicing phonics, I even took them to a publisher encouraged me to expand the line and integrate them with written content. After finishing my last year at the kindergarten I started reading a lot of academic texts about language acquisition to try to get ideas for making a complete product. The point is, although I am not a recognised expert, I have read a lot of relevant material.

Very young children don`t have any trouble with code-switching (mixing structures and rules of different languages) so I wouldn`t worry about mixing them up.

Infants are predisposed (from the womb?) to listen to their mother`s voice and their native language. Language learners have a huge head-start learning their native language.

It is not impossible for adults to learn to pronounce a language 100% authentically, but it is easier for children to learn. I don`t know of any research into acquiring native-like proficiency done with kindergarten-age children but, given that in the first years of their life children are learning their L1 pronunciation, it would be reasonable to hypothesize (and a good Masters thesis for anyone who has the time and inclination) that they would better learn pronunciation in other languages at this time.

Mark, with regards to your Quebec colleague, it is very likely that not teaching English phonics in Quebec until grade three is a political decision rather than an educational one. If you find another reason for the decision I would love to know the source.


Thu Sep 07, 2006 2:54 pm

Joined: Thu Jun 22, 2006 5:51 pm
Posts: 28
Last year I taught kindergarten classes similar to what you describe. One day a week from the three was phonics. Some of them were just learning to write in Korean so I simply made big colouring-in worksheets and worked my way through the alphabet. We practised the sounds together and drew in the air and on the paper with our fingers how to write the letter and then they practised on the colouring sheet.
How much of that would stick with them Im not sure, but we worked on vowels every week and with practice they started to recognise the short vowel sounds and got better week by week with their penmanship. So at the time it was providing them with useful skills.
It was enough though to do this just once a week. The other classes we sang songs and I told them stories.

Thu Sep 07, 2006 9:24 pm

Joined: Wed Aug 23, 2006 11:37 pm
Posts: 9
Location: France
Thanks everyone for your replies.

I have no doubt that the young children I teach could easily learn the English phonics that I would be teaching. My main concern is that because a lot of the letters and letter sounds are similar between French and English that they might get confused.

I had that happen with a student I was tutoring last year, when I told her what sound a letter made, she said "oh, I thought it was ____ " and gave the french sound. I explained that one was in French, the other English, but because they are basically learning the exact same alphabet and many similar sounds in French, I'm wondering if it wouldn't be too confusing for them, and actually hinder their learning of either language?

My guess is that they would eventually sort it out, but that it might cause some kind of delay, or confusion, initially.

I wish I could remember what my experience was, as I started learning French when I was 5, and didn't have English class until grade 3, but I know I learned how to read in English before then...

Wed Sep 13, 2006 2:32 am

Joined: Fri Nov 10, 2006 3:35 pm
Posts: 119
Location: Yamaguchi, Japan
I know I have come into this discussion a bit late. I have read some research (no idea where now) that suggests that language is learnt in different areas of the brain at different ages. The part of the brain where the first language is learnt seems to be unable to grow with a second language after puberty. A second language learnt before this time is acquired in the same area. Speech tends to be more natural and more easily kept. Second languages learnt after this time are learnt in a different part of the brain and require more work to be remembered and used.

My father-in-law was Dutch and moved to NewZealand when he was in his twenties. He decided to not speak Dutch and to learn English. 50 years later and people still asked him where he was from. He went back to Holland after 30 years and a week after returning his Dutch had returned. I think he did regret that he had not taught his kids Dutch as well.

Mon Dec 11, 2006 4:09 pm
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