Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fluency versus Accuracy

The value of fluency in teaching young learners
Stefan Chiarantano writes...
I’d like to share with you my experience with teaching young learners. Perhaps it may spark some thoughts for you in your context.
I believe that the role of the EFL teacher is to encourage, motivate, stimulate and even lessen the anxiety of learning a foreign language, all the more so for young learners. And I think that correcting speech in the case of young learners shouldn’t be emphasized. I think it may create a negative attitude towards learning English and may diminish a child’s interest in learning English.
Here are my thoughts on the matter. I am against criticizing and pointing out to young learners their mistake in pronunciation or otherwise in class. I am more interested in fluency than accuracy in the early stages of language acquisition. I think back to my own elementary school days. I disliked teachers who singled out students for correction. I think correcting speech is counter-productive to learning. I think some students are initially going to have a difficult time learning English due to not comprehending what is being said and also due to vocalizing new words. So, if I correct, students might feel that English is too difficult. They may perhaps tune out and/or become embarrassed and may develop a negative attitude to English. I don’t want that to happen.
So, what do I do? I keep my lessons simple and ensure that the target language is repeated often enough in drills, activities, and games so that most children can pick it up. I know that to single out a child in an Asian classroom would be hurtful to that child. So, if I find a child is unable to answer a question, I ask another child to step up to the plate and assist the first child with the answer. And I also communicate with my young students using gestures and actions, and simple language. I avoid a lot of big words that they aren’t going to understand. I also put a smile in my voice. It helps to set the tone. I also continually check with myself if I am being critical or supportive. I tend to offer only positive feedback and I praise children for their participation. I want the learning of English to be fun and to foster a positive spirit in class. The most important thing for me was to recall the wonderful teachers I had had in the past with a view to modeling them as much as possible in my own classrooms. And I found reflecting on the outcome of my lessons brought me closer to the ideal. This I found was a positive way for me to improve my teaching and create an ever more joyful atmosphere for the learning of English as a foreign language for my young students

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