Building a Strong Foundation in Language Learning.

From the moment we are born we are surrounded by language. At first, we rely on tone of voice and familiarity of people around us for our security. Language learning begins as a  form of security for us. As teachers of children, whether that be parent, carer or teacher, we are responsible for using language in a way that will give confidence and security to the learner. The developmental level of the child and their exposure to language will dictate how quickly they pass through the sequence of fluent speech; reading ability, and writing ability. This is a learning process and each learner is unique.

Oral language is the beginning of language learning.

We all love to talk, give an opinion and be listened to. As teachers, we can encourage language learning by;

  • Starting early. Babies from birth should be talked to; read to; and sung to. To ensure a good foundation in language learning you need to involve them in these activities by showing them pictures in a book you are reading to them; clapping their hands to the rhythm of a song; playing contact games like “This Little Piggy” on their toes, and use puppets for fingerplays. If you are the teacher caring for young children it is your responsibility to continue these activities as a natural part of the child’s day spent in your care. Older learners need to be read to regularly and what has been read needs to be discussed to clarify understanding.
  • Allow children to express themselves and have their say even if you don’t understand what they are saying yet. Use nonverbal language like smiling, facial expressions, appropriate touching and cuddling to encourage language.
  • Freedom of expression is very important for the development of oral language as it encourages thinking; organization of speech; clarification of understanding; and the expectation of being heard. As the teacher try to allow a learner to complete what they wish to say before you speak.
  • Part of oral language involves the art of conversation and this is taught by example. Learners listen to conversations by others and learn skills which are appropriate in different situations. We as a teacher also instruct our learners in appropriate oral language. Eg; manners, class rules on how to treat others.
  • As an early childhood or primary teacher, your learners should be encouraged to participate in the learning environment with oral language. You will need to be sensitive to those children who are not yet ready to talk in front of other children. Often a “Show and Tell” is a good start to encouraging oral language learning and participation in a learning environment. This is a supported situation and can be controlled by you the teacher if learners are a little unsure. Don’t embarrass children by asking them to speak if they are not ready as this will discourage them from trying.

The Role of Reading in Language Learning

The foundation for becoming a fluent reader is to be read to early and frequently.

As teachers we can encourage learners to read by;

  • Allowing children to own their own books and teach them to care for them. Encourage them to use a library. Children who are allowed to handle their own books will be seen ‘reading’ even though they are unable to visually read the words. This occurs when a learner is read to and the pictures are used to read the story, or they can recite the story from memory, or they make up their own story from the pictures.
  • Reading is developmental and different in all children. Let them learn at their own pace as you want them to love reading. Learners who don’t like reading have often been asked to read when they have not been ready developmentally to master the art of reading. These learners should be read to frequently and words pointed out to them; asked to read simple sentences after they have been read to them first by an adult or a fluent reader.
  • Allow learners to borrow nonfiction books as this will encourage an increase in knowledge and will often lead to a special interest area. Eg; dinosaurs.
  • Reading is a natural step in the whole language and accompanies an increase of fluency and vocabulary extension in oral language. It is also the beginning of understanding how language works in writing.

The Role of Writing in Language Learning

To lay the foundations for writing it helps if learners have fluent language skills and are able to read even simple text.

To encourage writing skill you as the teacher need to;

  • Recognize and encourage the phases of early writing. The scribble patterns; the rough forming of letters; and writing their name.
  • Demonstrate that writing has form. The alphabet and working left to right when the learner is developmentally ready. Reading will allow learners to begin to understand this process.
  • Demonstrate that writing is language and has rules. Teach the rules as they apply to lessons you are planning. One at a time is good with plenty of practice time and examples of use. Reinforce the rule when it appears again in unrelated lessons. Just because you teach the rule does not mean that the learners will remember it if you are not using reinforcement in all areas of the curriculum.
  • Show that writing has a purpose. It is fine to give spelling lists but if the learners don’t use them in their writing then they were just last weeks spelling words.
  • Teach a sequential literacy program for sound sequences. Eg: “Multilit” (Macquarie UNI)
  • Be aware of the learners learning style and developmental level as this is vital to when they will understand how to write and follow the rules of spelling and sound sequences.

As an early childhood and primary teacher, it is a rewarding experience to watch your learners begin to read and write and advance in their oral language skills. It is an observant and good teacher who recognizes the uniqueness of the learners; the part that development plays in the process of language learning; and the strong foundation needed to enhance the process.

Useful Links

Read The Benefits of Show and Tell