Language is concerned as the best means of communication, every one in the world needs to learn at least one language to communicate with others. However, with the increasingly rapid economic and social globalisation, learning a foreign language becomes much hotter than ever before. People realise that being able to speak only one language is not enough to communicate with the outside world. Moreover, for young people, a second language may be essential for them to get the job they want. As a result, people are encouraged to learn foreign languages in such a globalisation era. In this situation, the topic should children learn a foreign language in primary school is heavily discussed by the public.
Much research has supported the claim that learning a foreign language at an early age is beneficial to children because of children"s special memory features, such as good imagination and creativity. However, it might still cause some troubles while learning. Therefore, teachers should choose appropriate ways to teach children and do their best to solve the problems which appear when they teach.
Learning a foreign language in primary school is of great benefit to children
Mentioning about the benefits from learning foreign languages at an early age, many language experts has pointed out that children could learn a foreign language better, if they began to acquire the second language at an early age. Meanwhile, they would find it easier to remember sentences and speak fluently, because age was an important factor in learning a second language just like in acquiring the mother tongue (Gordon, 2000). As the researcher Penfield has suggested that -"if children could acquire a vocabulary of a few hundred words of a foreign language before the age of 7 years it would be easier to develop fluency, and without an accent, in that language at a later age. Such children could also switch from one language to another, as appropriate, with no apparent difficulty"Â (Penfield, 1965).
Many countries have begun to teach foreign languages in primary schools. To some extent, the practice has proved the benefits for children of learning foreign languages in primary school. Children who started learning a foreign language at a younger age, especially before puberty, could have more overall time to learn the language. They would have less homework, and would be full of energy; thus, it would be easier for them to master a language. If they were taught appropriately, they would keep interest in learning languages, and it might be possible for them to acquire a language as proficiently as native people. Moreover, children who started learning younger showed more confidence in speaking foreign languages than the children who started later. In an interview, the language researcher Dr Katharine Hunt also said -"second language study actually improved pupils' performance in other subjects."Â She introduced that -"in a large study of second language teaching in Louisiana, students in grades 3-5 who had studied a second language scored higher in tests of English language arts than students who had had extra instruction in English language arts instead of in a second language"Â (Hunt, 2001). The reason for this phenomenon is that learning of foreign languages can enhance children"s cognitive skills and make children more creative and flexible. Children who learn a foreign language in primary school are proved to get a higher level of cognitive development than their peers who learn only one language. Additionally, the study of foreign languages can enhance children"s communication skills in a different language system, because learning foreign languages is beneficial to children"s listening and memory skills (Curtain & Helena, 1990).
On the other hand, it is proved that foreign language learning in primary schools can benefit the promoting of multi-culture in the next generation and boost the bi-cultural. Young children learn not only foreign language, but also the overseas culture. They could acquire a culture through language. -"Quite a number of researchers have claimed that studying a second language early in life led students to become more respectful and appreciative of cultural diversity. For a multi-cultural society, this might be the most important benefit"Â (Hunt, 2001). Meanwhile, during children"s primary school years, they can develop their global understanding by studying a foreign language and culture. In this way, their global attitude will not be restricted to limited ideas from their own countries and any certain narrow view of life. They will be free to explore the wealth of values and perceptions of the world (Carpenter & Torney, 1973).
Problems for children in learning a foreign language
Learning a foreign language in primary school is of considerable benefit to children. However, there are some problems which appear when children learn a foreign language at an early age. An experienced teacher Mary found out that some of younger children were not capable of learning and memorising a foreign language structure, and they could only catch a few letters or words. Starting to learn English at an early age, the children's acquisition of their mother tongue might be affected, and the development of children's normal way of thought might be affected. When thinking in their mother tongue, the foreign language might emerge and interfere with their thoughts, which might even cause logical confusion (Mary, 2009).
In addition, the tests and examinations of foreign language learning in primary school put the pupils under a lot of pressure. Students have to spend more time doing homework and memorising foreign language vocabulary and grammar in order to pass the examinations. Consequently, children may feel the loss of fun while learning a foreign language, especially for the students who could not do a good job in tests are more probably lose their confidence in learning. For the students who even do not have enough time to finish the homework from other subjects and are still struggling with the subjects like mathematics would have feel more pressure and would lose their motivation of learning a foreign language.
How to improve the foreign languages teaching in primary schools
The foreign language education in primary school as children"s first period of learning a foreign language is critical to each student. Teachers should first take measures to develop children"s interests of learning a foreign language, and create a relaxing environment for children to learn, so that the foreign language learning will not become a psychological obstacle for children. As a (modern foreign languages) MFL trainee said -"if foreign languages were taught in primary schools, they should be taught in a fun and enjoyable way. Relevance should be made to their realities as well. If this was done, pupils would leave primary school with a positive attitude towards learning a foreign language and the transition to learning foreign languages at secondary school would be easier and learning would take place at a far superior level"Â (Jones& Barnes& Hunt, 2005).
In primary schools foreign language learning classroom, teaching techniques should be applied to stimulate children"s motivation of learning and develop their ability of learning. Children are good at memorizing and imitating, so that teachers could ask children to repeat what they said, to act according to their instruction and to listen to understand. Teacher should place emphasis on enabling the students to do things in foreign languages, like singing foreign songs, playing games in foreign languages. The advanced modern foreign language teacher Lin Chen pointed out -"the principles of primary school foreign language teaching should be learning by doing, doing in learning, and learning for doing."Â She also claims that -"in primary school classrooms more bodily senses should be made use of, such as the sense of seeing, sense of hearing, sense of touch, sense of smell and sense of taste"Â (Chen, 2008). When children learn vocabulary, the meaning of words should be given visually in contexts like pictures, actions and gestures instead of just telling. Regarding about children"s pronunciation learning, teachers should teach children not only the correct pronunciation of sounds in words, but also the rhythm of the language, such as word stress, sentence stress and the tones. Chen Lin also mentioned that -"tests and quizzes can be used to check the children"s command but not as a way of evaluating their achievements. The teacher should be clear of children"s strong points and weaknesses and problems from their daily performances and long-term progress"Â (Chen, 2008).
Learning a foreign language at an early age could benefit a lot to children, although it has some difficulties. But compared with adults, children could learn new languages much easier, because they have high grasping power and they are more creative and flexible. Meanwhile, it would help children to improve self-confidence and make them more active in communication. Furthermore, primary school foreign language learning prepares the younger generation for global opportunities, and helps children to understand the culture of other people. This kind of help would smooth the communication between people from different places in the future.
As a famous saying goes, Ã¢â‚¬Ëœa good beginning is a thing half done", children should have a good beginning in learning foreign languages in primary school. It will be easy in their later development, if they were led onto the right track when they begin to learn in primary school. The modern language teachers should provide appropriate methods to arouse the children"s interest in foreign language learning and try their best to make children"s interest sustainable during the whole process of learning. Moreover, the teaching approaches should be chosen carefully to suit children"s characteristics and meet their needs. In this way, the foreign language education in primary school will contribute much to children in long run.