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How do Young Learners Develop Their Speaking Skills?

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teaching speaking skills to young learners

What do  I Need to Keep in Mind When Teaching Speaking Skills in Children's English Language Classes (Young Learners)?

Listening Skills Develop Before Speaking Skills

Speaking and listening are very much interrelated. With listening, learners need vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation knowledge to negotiate the meaning of someone’s message. Whereas with speaking skills, learners need to actively produce the language themselves to share their message with others.

Listening develops before speaking. Children have to understand language in order to acquire it and only then will they try to produce it. They call this ‘the primacy of listening’ (Heidegger 1962 p.204). Although, mostly within very yong learners (children up to 4 yrs), the various skills seem to develop in parallel. The younger your learners are, the more similar the process of L1 and L2 are.

For both listening and speaking, meaningfulness is key. It’s all about the meaningful, relatable outcome of the task and the authenticity of the activity.

Looking at L1 development in an English-rich environment, children acquire a wide variety of vocabulary at great speed around the age of two and by the time they are 4 or 5 they have enough language in their L1 to show grammar control and lexis needed for simple, daily conversations. However, L2 teachers have the added challenge that we often teach in non-English environments, so the majority of English language learning might only happen in our classroom. This is an extra impetus to ensure we focus on word-building and pronunciation, as these are two areas that can make a huge difference in learners listening and speaking development!

Adjust Your Expectations About Teaching English Speaking Skills With Children.

When teaching speaking to your young learners, keep in mind that they might not be very able communicators yet in their first language. Also, children experience a very small world, it’s all about them, their family and maybe what they do in class. For example, in their first language, or L1, they might talk about what they like, don’t like, what they usually do.  All their talk is related to real-life and, for them, it’s familiar, and personalised. They rarely initiate conversations with adults unless they want something. Given that children mostly talk about things they are interested in and what relates to their worlds, those are the typical topics they respond to.

As we said earlier, in L1, children acquire a wide variety of vocabulary at great speed around the age of 2 and by the time they are about 5 they have about enough language to show grammar control and lexis needed for basic daily social interaction.

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Storytelling is one of the richest and most motivating ways to bring speaking into the class. Many childrens stories use the device of repeated phrases or words that build toward a climax in the narrative arc. Lots of rhythm, rhyme, repetition and images help children enjoy producing the sounds and words while relating them to what they can see. Courage, friendship, identity, family, loss/grief, growing up, anger, suffering, jealousy and love are some of the most common themes in children's literature and with good reason as it touches on the familiar and personalised.

Find out more about storytelling and young learners with a free short course from ELTcampus!

If you are teaching children and want to know more about how to use storytelling in your classroom, why not further develop your teaching skills and sign up for a free short ELTCampus course about storytelling, with 6 informative engaging lessons sent direct to you.

What you can expect in your inbox:

  1. Visit to the classroom at storytime so we can see what storytime can look and sound like.
  2. See how storybooks support language aurally and visually, and establish what criteria you can use to select appropriate picture books for storytelling.
  3. Look at approaches and ideas for storytelling that you can use in the classroom that focus on speaking production and listening comprehension.
  4. Discover some resources to help you with storytelling lesson planning and analyse the stages of an example lesson plan based around a short video.
  5. Consider the idea of online storytelling and finally,
  6. Plays and drama for spoken production development.