Language – It’s kid’s play

So, I’ve just returned from the Getxolinguae conference near Bilbao in northern Spain (in the Basque Country). I have to say it was really enjoyable despite the unseasonable weather which was cool and damp! I was made very welcome and it was great talking to local teachers. The challenges they face in what is aiming to be a trilingual educational system are certainly interesting. I liked the fact that not all the teachers were English teachers, which means there’s far more opportunity to talk to other teachers and try to see the whole picture. It’s a pity I only had 90 minutes to actually present as it would have been great to explore more issues with them. I also enjoyed taking part in the closing debate, which stretched my Spanish language ability to the limit. I hope people were able to follow the points I was trying to make despite my appalling Spanish grammar 🙂

I thought I’d leave my original pre-conference blog up as it gives a flavour of what I was talking about.

Here it is:

As I don’t want to spoil what I’m going to say during my presentation at the Getxolinguae 2013 Conference in May I’m just going to make a few general points in this short article. Some of you will notice that the title of this piece (and of my talk) is a play on words – kid’s play meaning something is easy (at least if we make it a bit more formal by using the word ‘child’) but also that language is best learnt by playing with it.

Playing does not always mean having fun (although hopefully any playful activity is enjoyable), it means trying out different things with the language and finding out what works. In some ways I see a direct relationship between what we should be doing with language when we are teaching it and how science is often taught (at least when it’s taught well). There’s no point telling kids about an experiment – the best way to teach them is to show them, or better still – get them to try it themselves.

Of course, kids need to know what they should be doing. They need some guidance – you wouldn’t just put young learners in a lab with some equipment and chemicals and tell them to get on with it! Well, with language it’s exactly the same – they need a framework, an idea of what they are trying to do and what they are doing it with.

They also need to follow a set of logical steps. A kind of … we started with … we did this … this happened … we think this happened because …! They also need the chance to repeat the experiment to see if it can be replicated, or what happens if one of the variables is altered? Language, like the natural world, is complex and it is not a linear process. Unfortunately, education does seem to want everything to be taught in a linear fashion! – Ah!

One final point: young kids are capable of thinking. In fact, the younger they are, the more they can think! The biggest challenge is opening up the opportunities for this thinking to be used – it’s not adult thinking. Just remember, they are kids not mini-adults.

So, why not come along to the Getxolinguae conference and find out more about kids, language, play and school subjects?

See you there.

btw – If you like this you might want to read the article ‘Naughty or Normal’ in the ELT Matters section of this blog.

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