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Getting to know children

When children come to school for the first time, they belong to one of these categories.

  1. as comfortable with English as their mother-tongue (This can be the case in some urban schools and perhaps with some children);
  2. know some English (words and structures) but are not as comfortable with it as with their mother-tongue;
  3. know only those words that have got into their mother-tongue like “phone” or “time”.

For children in the first category, English is either their mother-tongue or the preferred language that is spoken at home. Except for reading and writing, we can assume that these children can express themselves very well in English and also understand when spoken to in English. Teachers need to focus only on language development for this category of children.
For children in category 2 and 3, the starting point is obviously different. These children have to learn a new language. This is where we have to remember a few things about learning a new language.

  1. Children naturally communicate in the language they know. They have no natural need to learn a new language.
  2. The new language is not acquired unconsciously, or at least not in the way the first language is acquired. Few children pick up the rules that govern English language as easily as those of their first language.

A profile of category 3 children
For these children (we are speaking of pre-school or class 1 children) who do not speak English at home, learning English may not have a premium. They do not use English outside the classroom and they rarely hear it used by anybody else. There is only one person in the classroom who has a reasonable command of English. This person is able to engage them in active use of English. This person is the teacher.

Such children can be considered as Zero Beginners. It is not that they are not motivated enough to pick up another language, but just that they require more help initially. The strategies employed for these children should be different from those employed for the rest.

A profile of category 2 children
The fact that these children have learnt some structures and vocabulary indicates that they are capable of extending their abilities in the first language to other languages too. This ability has been facilitated to a large extent by an exposure to English from not only their English teacher but also others in their neighbourhood. Such children already attach some premium to English learning.

A profile of category 1 children
These children have acquired speaking skills to a large extent. They are in a position to speak grammatically. They can communicate their thought in English and can reply sensibly to questions. The English teacher will have to employ strategies to ensure that these children are not bored in class (like when the teacher deliberately stops them from going full steam ahead so that other categories of children can catch up), especially in the beginning classes.


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