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What age is too young for ESL? 
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Joined: Thu Jul 10, 2008 4:48 pm
Posts: 14
Post What age is too young for ESL?
I have some 2nd graders who just stare at me in class. I was wondering what age you think is too young to learn ESL?

Fri Jul 11, 2008 2:01 am

Joined: Tue Jan 23, 2007 4:33 pm
Posts: 41
Location: Ibaraki, Japan
I have a group of three and four year olds who enjoy and participate in English class, and the two-year-old sister who comes along is also picking up some words. I don't think there is an age that is "too young" to start on a foreign language, but there are certainly teaching styles which are not appropriate for younger learners. If your kids give you a blank stare, the material may be too difficult for them, and you may want to simplify things. Or, the language may not interest them- you want to teach topics that they want to talk about. I've found that my first and second grade students are interested in animals, bugs, or anything that they're learning about in their regular school. Time concepts are best left until they're a little older. Using fun pictures helps, as does using songs and rhymes.

It's best to be encouraging, too. If I hold up a picture and a second grader says "tentomushi!", I say "That's right! Do you know what it is in English?" Wheras, with a sixth grader, I would say "In English, please."

Anyway, to answer your question, I don't think they're too young. In fact, I think younger children are better able to learn and remember new material, and are more interested if the material is presented effectively.

Thu Jul 17, 2008 12:01 pm
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2006 10:46 am
Posts: 2130
Location: Nagano, Japan
I agree. There isn't such a thing as too young, but I'd say under 1 is a little much for EFL, but ...

I teach students as young as 2 years old. Under 3-4, you are really just working on listening skills and passive understanding. You may get some production from them, but you may not and that's OK. Classes should be designed for input and reponses to that input.
Teacher: 'Color the bear blue.`
Teacher: 'Point to the fish.`
Teacher: 'Go to the table and bring me the blue book.`
Teacher: 'Which hand do you think the ball is in?`

Again, some students will want to speak and you can encourage that. Younger ages are also a great chance to improve pronounciation. Children can make great strides in this area where adults can't.

I think like Miai said it might depend on the style and content that's causing problems, not the age of the students.

In general elementary school students don't understand English teaching with grammar explanation. They don't even know what a noun, verb, subject and adjective are. So, if you are trying to teach and perfect structure via explanation or writing worksheets, I'd assume you'd have some problems.

Same goes with expecting students to make associations or mental leaps. I've had problems in the past with assuming students remembered something and then moved too quickly. I'd agree that asking them to do something they're unsure of is going to cause problems.

How many students do you have in the class? When do they start learning English? What were you teaching them?

Can you explain what you're doing and maybe we can offer some ideas.

Build up! Be positive! Teach hard!

Thu Jul 17, 2008 1:46 pm
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Joined: Fri Jul 18, 2008 2:27 pm
Posts: 191
Location: South Korea
Shoot, sadly I have 6th graders that just stare at me.

The younger the better, but I agree that with the young ones it's mainly about input. Even if they are to young to sing the songs, rhwy can clap to the beat.

My youngest are 4 so I can usually get them to repeat and some of them have great vocabulary.

Dare to dream. Dance through life!

Mon Jul 21, 2008 3:28 pm

Joined: Thu Jan 24, 2008 5:38 am
Posts: 128
Location: Italy
I had to teach (and write course materials for) 3 to 5 year-olds in China. They had their parents with them in the class, and there was a Chinese teacher in the classroom as well.

The first problem was that the kids didn't exactly understand that in a classroom you're supposed to do what the teacher says. If the teacher is boring you (which was pretty likely in my case) it's entirely logical to wander off or climb on another kid or just start making unrelated comments in Chinese. Fair enough.

But that, I think, is the main problem with teaching at this age. It's necessary to contrive activities which the kids can understand and want to do for their own sake, and the language just happens to be English. You need to be a good kindergarten teacher for that, in think, and it's very difficult if you don't have some kind of training and previous experience with the age group.


Tue Jul 22, 2008 10:20 am
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Joined: Fri Jul 18, 2008 2:27 pm
Posts: 191
Location: South Korea
It's a good idea to mix up the activites often.

I usually do something for 5-7 mins. and then move onto a new activity.
I also have extra activities just in case one doesn't go as planned.

As most teachers have learned different students learn in different ways.
Even though some of my kindies are more visual learners they all love TPR.

Anything that involves them moving, looking around the class room for things, imitating the teacher or a flashcard and they are having a blast.

I didn't use to use a lot of TPR because the class is hot, but I have found they really love it. In know time at all they are laughing and learning, so I try to incluse at least one TPR activity.

I wish I had moms or an assistant. The teacher and her assistant just do there on thing. They only get invloved if one of the youngones, pee's their pants or starts crying.

Dare to dream. Dance through life!

Tue Jul 22, 2008 12:54 pm

Joined: Tue Aug 26, 2008 10:03 pm
Posts: 24
yes i dont think there is any age too young as long as your are doing age appropriate activities. Lots of active things are good - so when doing e.g. verbs getting up and acting them out is fun.

lots of talking is important - and here games can come into it - if you can play board games where they need to communicate a bit more that can be useful.

I agree that you need to change activities as attention span can be short especially if it is all new - however ensure like the others say that you are assessing level of understanding before you move on.

Fri Sep 05, 2008 3:37 pm
I teach a lot of kinder classes and also a few playgroups (1 - 3 yrs with their mothers)

The thing to remember is that attention spans are very short and that developmental differences are very large between say a child who's just turned three and a child who's about to turn four...

I find TPR related activities are better than games (they just can't understand the rules - even in L1)

Associating everything with TPR and using that as 'memory pegs' to elicit responses is what works for me (I do have a few simple games that work with the really little ones, but they are very closely tied to the TPR)

I have a lot of material I've put together while training my staff over the years and have video mock-ups of some TPR activities and methodologies - If you'd like to see them, please send me a PM :)

Sat Sep 27, 2008 11:16 pm

Joined: Tue Sep 09, 2008 5:27 pm
Posts: 27
Location: Shanghai
There's a reason that Sesame Street has been so popular for so long.

As a teacher it can show many good examples for us.

Pacing - Every clip is short and sweet, and more often than not a small lesson in it's self

Variety - Each clip is on a different topic or tack. It is also brought to you in a different format (clay, animation, puppetry, or by the letter B, etc)

Colourful - Bright happy colours attract attention

Age appropriate - they don't talk down to the kids, they just match the kids levels, and choose topics that the kids deal with every day

Energy - There is no one that will tell you that Grover doesn't give all %120 every time those flappy arms get going.

Fun - if it wasn't fun, they wouldn't watch every day.

These ideas can actually be used no matter what age.
For the younger classes I also find it useful to over plan. Have way too much material to cover in the class, that way, if something doesn't go over well, I can shift to the next thing. Keep them busy.

There is more planning and preparation needed for younger children.

Wed Oct 22, 2008 7:01 pm

Joined: Sun Dec 21, 2008 3:55 pm
Posts: 29
There is research to suggest that the youngest kids (2-5) are the best age to teach language to. They are very flexible to hear (and later to reproduce) sound. Since English has so many sounds outside of Japanese (for example) learning younger can be very beneficial to get kids quickly on the road to bilingualism.

Sun Dec 21, 2008 4:24 pm

Joined: Sun Jan 25, 2009 8:19 pm
Posts: 3
Location: Korea
I agree, the younger the child the more quickly they will pick up a language. From personal experience, I have 2 children myself ages 6 and 4. They have attended a Korean preschool for 2 years. When they first entered they didn't know anything and were so bewildered by their environment. But they picked up Korean so quickly I was amazed. Now, 2 years later, they are fluent and I use them when I can't understand something!!

Sun Jan 25, 2009 8:36 pm

Joined: Wed Dec 20, 2006 9:10 am
Posts: 71
Location: Japan
I do a 'gradual' learning curriculum. meaning that my Kinder - 1st grade only learn vocab. and only play games that involve either just saying single words or doing actions. But they still hear complete sentences etc. My 2nd graders start on really easy sentences like 'This is a/an ---' and only words on more complex things like adjectives. my 3rd graders and up learn more dificult oral grammer. I do this because it is the natural way for people to learn language... Think about how babies learn to speak: Conversational patterning then words then sentences and words then the mechanics of language.
I also agree keep the games/activities for the youngre classes simple, but not always short. Also try to include as much active things as you can... For example my kinder -2nd grade classes love to play Action karuta.. Which requires them to actually run or skip or hop or twirl, etc to get the card...

Thu Jan 29, 2009 3:05 pm
Post use stories, songs, actions and games
Hi there,

Lots of good sense and great ideas in the comments above.

I had no trouble teaching three year olds and keeping their attention, though I did have the luxury of small groups and that does make it easier.

I also know of hundreds of teachers who teach two year olds and love it, getting great results.

One has to use games, stories and songs. Use real objects where you can, use movement, acting out the stories, acting out the songs, miming and so on.

Remember that there are more action songs than head shoulders knees and toes!!

ANY song can have actions - just make up specific actions for key vocabulary words that appear in the song.

To check out my stories, games and matching songs with animal masks and activities, please visit the link below. Those resources may be used as a complete curriculum or as extras to fit in with something you may already be following.


Sun Apr 19, 2009 9:01 pm

Joined: Fri Apr 17, 2009 9:33 pm
Posts: 31
Location: Catalonia, Spain
I don't think there's a minimum age for learning a secundary language. I think there are other facts that makes teaching more or less difficult for children. For example, here in Catalonia, Spain we're dealing with an important number of immigrant students from all over the world. With these mixed classes there are other things to teach which are more important than a secundary language. In my opinion, at the age of three they must learn habbits and how to be in a classroom. If I was to choose an age for learning a segundary language it would be at four years old.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may

Thu Apr 23, 2009 7:56 pm

Joined: Fri Apr 24, 2009 4:12 pm
Posts: 4
I don't think any age is too young to learn a language. In the end it will make it easier when they are adults if they started learning English, or any other language, when they were very young. I look at my cousins who are now 8 years old and they are fluent in both English and Finnish.

Fri Apr 24, 2009 4:17 pm
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