Language learning in the Primary school
Articles,  Blog

Language learning in the Primary school


Many countries have included English
as part of their primary education because they are interested in taking an active role in today’s globalised world. One of the main arguments is that by learning English people could access more information, have better job qualifications, and develop
international networks. In this way, learning English at an early
age would provide equal opportunities to children in the public school system. Chile has invested a lot of resources in improving their citizens’ English language skills. But, only 7% of students in secondary public
schools have passed the standardised national English
test. And only a third of teachers teaching English
have an acceptable level of the language. As a Chilean teacher of English, I’m aware of the everyday challenges in early primary classrooms, and I wondered whether other teachers experience
similar challenges. In particular, I wanted to identify contextual
factors that could help or limit the teaching and
learning process. I decided to conduct my research about what
actually happens in the primary classroom by including teachers and children’s voices. I carried out a survey of teachers of English
in Chile, and also spent 4 months observing classrooms
and interviewing teachers. My research project shows that the primary
language classroom is a complex dynamic system. Different elements such as the home environment,
the number of English lessons a week, the school, the teachers, the class and learners’ interest
seemed to interact, affecting the children’s potential for language
learning. In my interviews, children mentioned that
English lessons were enjoyable. They preferred activities in which
they were active and could share with their classmates. They also described some progress in their
understanding of the language by the end of the semester. I found that teachers have difficulty monitoring
and assessing children’s learning. These challenges seem to be related to issues
of discipline and large classes. Teachers also mention that the few hours of
English lessons a week and the lack of parental support made their work more difficult. The planning of an early start needs to be
based on local experiences from teachers, as well as on the children’s perspectives
on the foreign language. My investigation suggests that
even when children enjoy learning English, teachers seem to struggle with time
to fulfill their learning needs and interests. We need to ensure that we provide children
with the appropriate strategies and resources to develop their potential
for language learning.

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