Teaching children language can be one of the most rewarding experiences for a language teacher. They are naturally curious, open-minded to new ideas and eager to learn. However, what you do during your lessons will differ in significant ways from what you do with adults.
Who do we mean when we are talking about children?
First, let’s make clear who we mean when we talk about teaching language to children. Legally, anyone under 18 can be considered a minor but, for language teaching purposes, we generally mean anyone under twelve years old. Once children reach their pre-teenage years, their development has reached the point where the cognitive difference between them and adults is less extreme. That’s not to say you’ll teach a teenager like a 30-year-old young professional – their experience and everyday life will be vastly different. However, their ability to think logically, maintain attention spans, and handle multiple tasks at once will be roughly the same. In contrast, learners under twelve haven’t yet reached certain developmental benchmarks – and that can impair their ability to learn if they are taught the same way as adults.
The difference between child age groups can be vast. Every year, children make monumental leaps in development that can drastically change what they can and can’t do. Take a look at the link below on our portal for some guidelines to help you determine what you should teach children language learners at different ages.
Assessing Child Language Learners
Like any learner, you want to assess a child learner’s proficiency level when you first begin teaching them. As with adults, you should talk with them for a preliminary assessment. Ask them about what they like and dislike. Chat with them about their family and what they do every day. Keep everything very informal and light-hearted. From how they respond, you can start determining their level and interests. Later, you can fine tune what you know by having them perform real-life tasks. Think about what a child does every day and go from there. They play with friends, help out around the house, or go to school so base your activities around language they’ll need in those contexts.
Materials for Child Language Learners
As with adults, you should use authentic materials that native speakers use. Stick to children’s books, kid show video clips, board games, toys, and other real-world items children use every day. Children are still learning their first language. The younger they are, the more they will acquire the target language through natural interaction rather than more structured learning. The trick is to keep materials age-appropriate and your activities short. The younger a child is, the shorter their attention span will be. Keep activities for children under 8 at around 15 minutes. For learners 8-11, aim for 30 minutes.
If you are a Global LT Language Teacher and would like more information on teaching children, you can visit our GLTPortal.