English Young Learner
(English Young Learner)

Young learner is unique learner, he or she wants to learn only when they will to learn. How to make her or him will to learn? there are some theories that you have to know as teacher to young learner...

Theoretical Part


1.1 Development and acquiring the language

Human beings begin learning language long before verbal memory develops. The ways in which humans acquire language strongly impact future development. Children are hard-wired to pick up language from the people around them, whether anyone actively teaches them or not, but parents can choose to provide a stronger or weaker foundation for later success. Teaching infants to speak can involve providing varied experiential opportunities for learning. In English-speaking cultures, teaching infants to speak standard English as their native language further strengthens their ability to excel. (http://www.syl.com/articles/teachinginfantssupercharginglanguageacquisition.html)


According to the latest research it was found out that children acquire language much more easily at their infant age. By perception and listening they learn the language naturally. Already the small babies and toddlers who are exposed to everyday contact with second language acquire the language automatically. When the children moreover have the chance to read books or magazines for infants, they become familiar with the written form of the language and have no problem to deal with texts and letters later at school.

This fact concerns many families, where the mother speaks Czech and the father is a foreigner. If the child listens to both native and second language every day at home, it is natural for him/her to acquire both languages, that is to say understand and speak fluently also the second language.

If the parents wait with language education of their children until they are older, the learning process and speaking becomes much more difficult for them.

Until the age of seven or thereabouts, children have an innate capacity for learning languages. As long as they are exposed to a language, they will figure out the way it works and speak it relatively fluently. Seven is thought to be "critical age".

It is said that at this age the children should start to learn a foreign language because after this critical moment they are said to lose the ability to acquire it naturally.

That is why I would recommend parents to expose their children to the second language as soon as possible in their childhood or even babyhood if possible, because the younger the small child is the easier for him/her it is to understand and pick up the language and have no problems with words, meaning, speaking fluently and without an accent. (http://www.answerbag.com)

1.1.1 Working with children

Having the information gained at Helen Doron training course as well as the information from the Internet, I dare say that children are able to understand the language much earlier before they begin to speak. They are used to the ‘sounds’ of the language and with the help of gestures, body movement or facial expressions they are able to catch the message.

When they later come to the primary school they do not have any more problems in learning the basics of the language and they use their ability of communication in all schoolwork.


1.1.2 Children’s creative use of limited language resources

In their childhood and at the beginning of their language development children often create their own words and expressions, which then come into the family vocabulary. This becomes a fundamental part of language development because it increases children’s creativity and the ability to use the language. We can observe this when children begin to learn their mother tongue.


Children, especially young learners, tend to create their own grammatical structures or words when they want to say a sentence or expression. But with the little knowledge of words they are not able to express the exact meaning so we need to describe it with another similar word or they just try to use their native language with a foreign accent, practising the sound and linking.

We stretch our resources to the limit. In the process, we may well produce temporarily inexact and sometimes inept language – in language teaching terminology called “metalanguage” - but we usually manage to communicate. (Halliwell 1992: 3)


1.1.3 Development of spoken language

When young children arrive to school environment, they have already experiences with using their native language – they can talk about what they are doing or about their last or future activities, they can tell you what they think or what they want, they can use logical reasoning and imagination.

According to Myers and Burnett “by the age of three, children may use about a thousand words. This will increase to 2000-10 000 by the age of five” (2004: 24).

For young children it is natural to learn to speak in an environment where the language is used around them. From their childhood they have been taught to express themselves effectively and speak in a meaningful way. They learn how to use the language for purpose.

Children learn about language use through interaction with others; through conversation they grasp the conventions of spoken language and absorb the values and beliefs through the language used by those around them. They do not just copy the language they hear, but are active in making meaning. (Myers, Burnett 2004: 24)

In teaching young children it is very important to support their communicative attempts and so the successful development of the language. For effective encouragement Myers and Burnett recommend the teacher should provide:

  • Opportunities for learning language in context;
  • Opportunities for children to interact with one another and adults;
    • Effective adult models for talk and ensuring that children are exposed to a wide       range of spoken language;
  • Activities in which children communicate for meaningful purposes;
  • Plenty of support and affirmation
  • An environment that fosters children’s continuing interest in language. (Myers, Burnett 2004: 25)

1.1.4 Krashen’s theory of second learning acquisition

As the Internet source www.sk.com.br/sk-krash.html reports, according to Krashen “there are two independent systems of second language performance: 'the acquired system' and 'the learned system'. The 'acquired system' or 'acquisition' is the product of a subconscious process very similar to the process children undergo when they acquire their first language. It requires meaningful interaction in the target language - natural communication - in which speakers are concentrated not in the form of their utterances, but in the communicative act. From Krashen’s point of view the teaching language can only result in language acquisition and proficiency when the learners are interested in the subject and the target language is used as a medium of instruction and communication.

That is why I prefer using games and short activities at school as it provides enough space for developing skills and natural interaction among children.

By observing and working with children during my teaching practice I utterly agree with Krashen’s opinion because after presenting an activity to children they were very quickly able to cope with the new situation and they acquired the language and used words unconsciously but with a great effect.

“The 'learned system' or 'learning' is the product of formal instruction and it comprises a conscious process, which results in conscious knowledge 'about' the language, for example knowledge of grammar rules. According to Krashen learning is less important than acquisition”. (www.sk.com.br/sk-krash.html)


1.2 Who are young learners?

Young learners are supposed to be children from the first year of formal schooling (five or six years old) to eleven or twelve years of age. However, the age of children is not crucial for how mature they are.

According to Phillips “there are many factors that influence children’s maturity: for example, their culture, their environment (city or rural), their sex, the expectations of their peers and parents.” The author reports that a good teacher should be aware of these differences and that is why the types of activities he decides to use with a class must be influenced by his knowledge of their circumstances, attitudes, and interests rather than simply by the children’s physical age (1993: 5).

It is individual how quickly the children develop. There is a difference between how skilled the children are not depending on their different ages. Some children develop later than others.

In general, it is assumed that five to seven year old children are all at the same – beginner level. The eight to ten year olds may also be beginners, or they may have been learning the foreign language for some time, so there are both level one and level two pupils in the eight to ten age groups (Ytreberg 1990: 1).


Ytreberg mentions some basic characteristics of the young language learners:

  • Children sometimes have problems to distinguish the real world from the imaginary world. It can be difficult for teachers to cope with it and to understand their perception of reality.
  • When working or playing they like to be accompanied with others. Most of them do not like to work alone.
  • They use language skills long before they are aware of them.
  • They love to play and the learning itself can be effective only in case they are enjoying themselves.
  • They learn by mimics, using gestures and body movements. The physical world is very important and dominant at all times.
  • They have a very short attention and concentration span.
  • They do not always understand the world of adults. The teacher needs to use the instructions in an appropriate way and use the language and phrases so that the children can easily get the message.

Young children are motivated when they are praised. It is very important to support their enthusiasm from the beginning of learning (1990: 1).

Phillips assumes that “the younger the children are, the more holistic learners they will be. Younger learners respond to language according to what it does or what they can do with it, rather than treating it as an intellectual game or abstract system. Anyway there are both advantages and disadvantages: on the one hand they respond to the meaning underlying the language used and do not worry about individual words or sentences; on the other, they do not make the analytical links that older learners do. Younger learners have the advantage of being great mimics, are often unselfconscious, and are usually prepared to enjoy the activities the teacher has prepared for them” (1993: 7).


Here are some points according to Phillips to consider when teaching young learners:


  • The activities should be simple enough for children to understand what is expected of them.
  • The tasks should be amusing and within children’s abilities, so that the learners can easily reach their goals.
  • The task should be stimulating and motivating for learners to feel satisfied with their work.
  • Written activities should be used only in a small amount. In the sixth or seventh year of age the children are not yet so good at writing in their native language.
  • Mostly the speaking activities should prevail – indeed, with very young children listening activities will take up a large proportion of class time.
  • The activities should be simple enough for the children so that they understand what to do and what is expected of them (1993: 7).



Nowadays learners are “overloaded” by the amount of information and experiences. For teachers of young children it is sometimes very difficult to keep their concentration. It can be disrupted by many factors. In general one can see that the child cannot concentrate on one particular thing, topic or activity more than few minutes. The teacher is supposed to interchange the activities to keep children’s interest. It is good to divide the lesson into shorter activities, because young children like the moment of surprise and they do not know what comes next. Teachers should keep the number of new language items introduced to a reasonable level and should present and practise new language themes in a number of different ways.

As children grow and mature they bring more intellectual, motor, and social skills to the classroom, as well as a wider knowledge of the world. The focus should continue to be on language as a vehicle of communication and not on the grammar, though the ability of older children to make logical links and deductions can be exploited. The teacher can provide such tasks for them in which they can discover simple grammatical rules; their attention can be focused on the structure of the language in order to help them formulate an ‘internal grammar’ of their own.

The kinds of activities that work well are games and songs with actions, total physical response activities, tasks that involve colouring, cutting and sticking, simple, repetitive stories, and simple, repetitive speaking activities that have an obvious communicative value (Phillips 1993: 7).



1.2.1 Primary education

Phillips supposes the years at primary school as “extremely important for children’s intellectual, physical, emotional and social development. They go through a series of stages, progressively acquiring skills that are thought necessary by the society they live in. Many of these skills are interdependent, and if one has not been sufficiently developed, the acquisition of another may be impeded.

On the physical side, children need to develop balance, spatial awareness and fine control of certain muscles in order to play sports and perform everyday actions such as dressing themselves, cleaning their teeth, colouring, drawing and writing.

Socially, children need to develop a series of characteristics to enable them to fit into the society they live in, to become aware of themselves in relation to others, to share and co-operate and to be assertive without being aggressive.  They need to be able to accept criticism and become self-critical, to be aware of how they learn and to experiment with different learning styles, to organise their work and to be open and interested in all that surrounds them” (Phillips 1993: 5,6).


What are children like as learners?

According to Slattery (2001: 4) children are learners who


  • love to play and use imagination
  • are naturally curious
  • enjoy repetition and routines
  • are developing quickly as individuals
  • learn in a variety of ways, for example, by watching, by listening, by imitating, by doing things
  • are not able to understand grammatical rules and explanations about language
  • have quite a short attention span and so need variety of activities
  • talk in their mother tongue about what they understand and do – this helps them learn
  • can generally imitate the sounds they hear quite accurately and copy the way adults speak


According to Brumfit, Moon and Tongue there are characteristics which most primary level learners share:


  • In the first years of schooling it is possible to reach and mould developmental changes of children and so create their expectations of life.
  • Young children want to learn and work with enthusiasm. They do not tend to have similar inhibitions as their older schoolmates.
  • As a group they are potentially more differentiated than secondary or adult learners, for they are closer to their varied home cultures, and new to the conformity increasingly imposed across cultural groupings by the school.
  • Because they are at the beginning of formal schooling it is essential that their learning is closely linked with the development of ideas and concepts.
  • To make learning enjoyable and motivating it is needed to use physical movements and activities that stimulate learner’s thinking (1991: v.).

1.2.2 Why teach English at primary level?

To help children acquire English, let them hear and experience the language since they are very small. In general it is known that young children are better in learning languages than older people. In spite of this fact we still can doubt whether children can learn more efficiently than adults. Anyway, it depends mostly on teachers how they can help learners to progress rapidly at any level of schooling.


However, Brumfit, Moon and Tongue suppose a number of reasons, why teaching English is necessary not only within schooling and educational system:


  • The need to expose children from an early age to an understanding of foreign          cultures so that they grow up tolerant and sympathetic to others.
  • The need to link communication to the understanding of new concepts.
    • The need for maximum learning time for important languages – the earlier you start the more time you get.
    • The advantage of starting with early second language instruction so that later the language can be used as a medium of teaching (1991: vi).


As I suggested before, there is the question, whether children are better learners of languages than adults. There may be many reasons why is it so. Let me offer some of them:


  • Children have more opportunities and more time for learning than adults.
    • They do not have any worries about failure or they do not have the feeling of              responsibility.
    • People around young learners as are their teachers, parents or their friends, can     help them with their learning.
    • They want to learn the language that people around them speak. The success is     certain, when the children can hear the second language every day. The social pressure urges them to use the language for achievement of their aims.
    • Children spend more time by learning than the adults and they ‘want’ to learn. They are better at learning languages if they get exposed to them naturally and long-term.
    • The brain is capable to absorb much more information before and during puberty than after and children acquire the language in a natural way.
    • Learning a language is joined with the real communication and the environment influences it.
    • Children have no negative experiences with foreign language and culture than adult learners do and that is why they are better motivated in learning it.



1.3 Motivation and Creativity

According to Harmer, motivation can be defined as “…some kind of internal drive that encourages somebody to pursue a course of action” (2007: 20).


Ur reports two different types of motivation: intrinsic motivation – which brings the incentive of the learner to engage in the learning activity for its own sake (Ur, pg 276). This motivation is created in the classroom and it can be influenced by teacher’s methods, the activities that learners take part in or their perception of their success or failure. Ur further mentions extrinsic motivation – motivation which is derived from external incentives; children already come to the classroom with this type of motivation.


Ur further discriminates between ‘global’, ‘situational’ and ‘task’ motivation (1991: 276). We speak about global motivation when concerning the learner’s willingness to learn foreign language as a whole. Situational motivation has to do with classroom conditions, atmosphere or type of work or the total environment. It considers also the way the learner approaches the specific task



1.3.1 Motivation and the teacher

The teacher can hence the motivation and interest of pupils by giving further interesting and attractive information and activities concerning the language and its background.

By no means teacher plays very important role in activating children’s motivation and there are many factors that influence the learner’s determination. Teacher should provide interesting materials that are attractive for children, full of pictures and lively activities. As far as materials are concerned it is better to bring more additional materials to class, so that children do not become bored with just one book. Also praising and rewarding can help. Each child in its early age wants to please the teacher or parents, do its best and achieve the goals successfully. By giving rewards to children they will be elated in doing other tasks. According to Ur, intrinsic motivation is more important and valuable than the extrinsic motivation. When the child is interested in the learning activity, mostly the success in learning is guaranteed. The elements of success are intensified by incorporating speech or movement activity (Ur 1991: 288).

By young learners it can be very difficult for teacher to keep up their motivation. Children often want to find or discover something so it should be provided such activities that excite their curiosity and provoke their participation. The level of challenge must be considered so that the tasks are neither too difficult nor too easy.

I completely agree with Harmer, that children need to feel that the teacher really cares about them; if they feel supported and valued, they are far more likely to be motivated to learn (Harmer 2007: 20).

1.3.2 How can teacher enhance learner’s motivation?

Teacher should be aware of personal conditions of each child. In which family does the child grow up, what kind or friends and people is the child surrounded by, also environmental condition should be taken into consideration. All these factors have a great influence on learner’s motivation. Teacher can raise the children’s desire to work by bringing things that relate to children’s personal experience and interest them into the learning process. For children such a lesson will be much more interesting and stimulating. For instance, any hobby the child has can be incorporated into an English lesson (Underwood 1987: 27).

For example children can tell the rest of the class about their favourite things or toys or pets, they can also write about them. Such a discussion or describing a thing could form the basis of practice for adjectives, comparatives, superlatives, question forms, and so on.


What children really like and is interesting for them are pictures, stories and games. Pictures are colourful and attract the eyes – they are kind of visual stimulus. Both visual as well as aural stimuli provide stories. Children can either read them themselves or they can just listen to the teacher’s voice. According to my experience games are the most favourite activities. Children use both visual and aural channels and moreover they need to speak and come to an understanding with others in order to get what they want. Body movements and physical activity are essential when incorporating playing games.

I will deal with games topic in the chapter 1.7.

To be able to deal with a task or an activity successfully children need to master appropriate skills and knowledge. Children need to see the reason for doing an activity, e.g. to look up a piece of information to figure out the sense, put a puzzle together to find a hidden message or to perform a story to demonstrate the reality. The end product of such activity is very motivating and supports children in their further work (for further information see Phillips 1993: 38).

In agreement with Ur, “extrinsic motivation is that which derives from the influence of some kind of external incentive” (1991: 279).

As it was mentioned earlier, children can enhance the extrinsic motivation by the wish to please parents or the teacher. Anyway the teacher can affect learner’s motivation by many ways, e.g. he/she can reward learners who successfully fulfilled the task. Moreover succeeding in an activity creates enthusiasm and effort for the next work

Nobody wants to fail when trying doing the best. Failure in general is viewed as something unwanted. Learners should be aware that they are failing if they have done significantly less than they could have done or if they are not making satisfactory progress.

Anyway learners can be similarly motivated by teacher pressure. They want to do their best because they were told to. However, nowadays the older learners are not as afraid of teacher’s reprehension as the younger children do.

Written or oral testing is a competent way to motivate learners to study. In some way, they are forced to do that because the resultant mark is important for them. In addition they will study more carefully than if they had simply been told to learn it.

Children will often be motivated to do their best in order to beat their opponents in a competition. If the competition is not taken too seriously (it can have negative effect and be stressful for learners, who are not very good at language), and if scores are at least partly a result of chance, so that anyone might win, positive motivational aspects are enhanced and stress lowered.



1.3.3 Creativity

Creativity as an attribute belongs to the significant features not only of the teacher but also of the learner and the whole learning process. To manage a creative classroom activity learners should be offered enough time and space so that they can make the best of their imagination and originality. The principal is that children should feel free when solving the task and they should be aware of many valuable solutions possible.

The teacher should not interfere in the learning process as an authority – if possible – or should rather act as a helper or facilitator.

Learning activities provided to children must be purposeful. Language should be used as a tool of communication by means of which the activity objectives should be achieved.

Evaluation is an important element of creativity. The more varied it is the more stimulating and formative it is for children.



1.3.4 What demotivates children from learning?

“Children’s motivation and enthusiasm can be raised by selecting interesting activities, for example; it can be lost easily: monotonous, apparently pointless activities quickly bore and demotivate young learners. I would be more accurate to say that younger learners’ motivation is more likely to vary and is more susceptible to immediate surrounding influences, including the teacher; that of older learners’ tends to be more stable” (Ur 1991:  288).


However, there are other factors, which can influence learners on the way to their loss of motivation, for example, inappropriate choice of activities, that do not keep children’s interest for a long time and they become easily bored. The environment in which children spend a considerable part of the day as well as the class equipment should offer pleasant conditions so that the learners do not feel uncomfortable, distracted or under pressure. The tasks and activities must be easy to understand because feeling confused by abstract concepts of grammar rules can discourage learners from trying to solve the problems.

Teachers should be careful of over-correcting pupils so that the children do not lose the interest to express themselves.


As Harmer claims “however much we do to foster and sustain student motivation, we can only, in the end, encourage by word and deed, offering our support and guidance. Real motivation comes from within each individual, from the students themselves” (2007: 20).