Starting with English at the right time

Q. Concerning young learners, which level do you think is the easiest level to teach and which is the hardest? In other words, what age is the best to start learning English?

T.P., mother Osaka city

A.  This is a provocative question because no two children are the same in terms of readiness. Along with the fact that each child ‘s brain is circuited differently, many factors come into play, such as the child’s home environment, parental support, exposure to English through toys, games, media, the child’s social skills (because learning English is a sociable activity), and the English classroom, set up and teacher, to name a few.

Having said that, I can make some generalizations based on my years of experience teaching young learners.

Preschoolers digest new vocabulary the fastest. They are naturally curious about naming things because the world is still new to them. They feel mastering nomenclature gives them control over their immediate environment.  Preschoolers are eager to imitate and not fazed by making mistakes. Because preschoolers are very responsive to stimuli encompassing the five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) they are very “responsive” to the ABC configurations, colors, sounds via songs and dances, and touching objects via TPR (total physical response).

At our school, we welcome young learners from two years of age to twelve and experience an equal amount of success with all of them.

Yet I would venture to say I think the ideal time for public or private school English education is third-graders who are usually eight years old. Children this age have already been conditioned to school life and procedures. Because of this they have developed study skills and understand the dynamics of what a classroom is. They have not been in the education arena long enough to be fatigued by it, which means their minds tend to be open and they are easily motivated.

Fifth- and sixth-graders want to act like junior high students and may have an attitude problem starting to learn English basics like the alphabet or counting as they may think it is childish, where as third-graders are very open.

So to answer your question, it all depends on the child. If you, as a mother, value English and plant the seeds of interest and curiosity and in your child, then your child can start at any age.