Teaching English to young learners: Current issues and perspectives

David Nunan

The purpose of this presentation is to explore current issues and perspectives in teaching English to young learners. A key assumption underpinning the presentation is that learning another language is an excellent vehicle for whole child development, catering to the intellectual, emotional, physical, moral and social aspects of the child’s education.

At the beginning of the presentation, I will define what I mean by ‘the young learner’, pointing out that the term covers a large chronological time span from birth to puberty. I will give a brief review of the research into the Teaching English to Young Learners that shows no consistent support for the notion that starting early results in more successful language learning. However, I will also say why I believe that the research is problematic.I will then turn to the issue of developmental appropriacy.The phrase ‘developmental appropriacy’ refers to the fact that as children grow up, they pass through a series of developmental stages. At each of these stages, they mature cognitively, emotionally, physically and socially. It is very important that the teaching approaches and methods we use in the classroom are appropriate to these different stages.Teaching English to young learners presents many challenges. In addition to ensuring that instruction is developmentally appropriate, these include motivation, attention, multi-level groups and assessment.  I will review these and propose some solutions.

In the last section of the presentation, I will set out some key principles for teaching young learners. I will illustrate these principles with some practical teaching activities and materials. References, suggestions for further reading and some helpful websites will also be suggested.