While there are commonalities across learners of all ages, young children differ from older children in many ways. Studies of young children show how learning changes across development. However, we now know that even very young children have a predisposition to learn in certain domains, and that young children are actively engaged in making sense of their world. Young children appear to be predisposed to acquire information.
These biases toward certain types of learning should pave the way for competence in early schooling. Children lack knowledge and experience, but not reasoning ability. Indeed, although young children are inexperienced, they reason with the knowledge they have. Precocious knowledge may jump-start the learning process, but because of limited experience and underdeveloped systems of logical thinking, children’s knowledge contains misconceptions. Misinformation can impede school learning, so teachers need to be aware of the ways in which children’s background knowledge influences their understanding. Such awareness should help teachers anticipate children’s confusion and recognize why children have difficulties grasping new ideas. Strategies for learning are important.
When children are required to learn about unfamiliar knowledge domains, they need to develop intentional learning strategies. Children need to understand what it means to learn, who they are as learners, and how to go about planning, monitoring and revising, to reflect upon their learning and that of others, and to learn how to determine if they understand. These metacognitive skills provide strategic competencies for learning.
The children have their own characteristics, which are different from adults. The characteristics cover their ways of thinking, their attitude, their aptitude, et cetera. They also prevail to the children’s ways of learning language. This, of course, influences the ways of teaching them. To give the best quality of teaching English to the children, the teachers should know and understand them.
Characteristic of younger and older learners
· Children are at pre-school or in the first couple of years of schooling.
· Generally they have a holistic approach to language.
· They have a lower level of awareness about themselves as language learners as well as about process of learner.
· They have limited writing and reading skills even in their first language.
· Generally they are more concerned about themselves then others.
· They have limited knowledge about the world.
· They enjoy fantasy, imagination, and movement.
· These children are well established at school and comfortable with school routines.
· They show a growing interest in analytical approaches.
· They show growing level of awareness about themselves as language learners and their learning.
· They have well developed skills as readers and writers.
· They have a growing awareness of other and their viewpoints.
· They have a growing awareness about the world around us.
· They begin to show interest in real life issues.
Phillips states that in learning a language, young learners respond to the language, depending on what it does or what they can do with it rather than treating it as an intellectual game or abstract system (1995: 7). Brewster (1997: 6) supports it by saying that theories of the children’s learning require that young learners be supported by moving from the abstract to the concrete and through being involved in activity. It can be understood that the children need activities that are more concrete rather than abstract and to be involved in those activities in order that they can learn the language well.
While, Brumfit (1997: v) gives a list of the characteristics which young learners share:
a. Young learners are only just beginning their schooling.
b. As a group they are potentially more differentiated than secondary or adult learners.
c. They tend to be keen and enthusiastic learners.
d. Their learning can be closely linked with their development of ideas and concepts.
e. They need physical movement and activity as much as stimulation for their thinking.
Most primary level learners will share these characteristics. Those opinions give the researcher some important notes about children’s special characteristics in learning the language. They are as the following:
a. Children respond the language well through concrete things (visual things) rather than abstract things.
b. Children need physical movements and real activities to stimulate their thinking.
c. Children will be enthusiastic if they are taught using fun activities or being involved in activities.
d. Children love to play, and learn best when they are enjoying themselves.
e. Children learn well through something that is close to their culture.
f. Children like to work together.
Knowing the characteristics is essential:
· They have short attention span.
· They are very active
· They respond well to praising.
· They differ in their experience of language
· They are less shy than older learners.
· They are imaginative.
· They enjoy learning through playing.
Pinter, Annamaria. 2006. Teaching Young Language Learners. China. Oxford University Press.