Teaching young learners means teaching the future
Probably the fastest growing area in EFL today is the young learners’ teaching and publishing market, with ever increasing numbers of children learning English globally in primary, as well as, secondary schools world-wide. The large global demand for qualified teachers stems from the early language learning policies in place in forward-thinking educational regimes, like those in the Czech Republic and other EU countries. English language lessons, once an interesting extra-cirricular activity or an elective way to round out the primary school cirriculum, have become part and parcel with a very 21st century survival skill.
- ‘I love seeing that the kids enjoy my lessons and build a positive approach to English and learning languages generally. When I hear “my kids” singing our English songs out of the classroom or when their parents tell me that they play English games with their younger siblings at home, I feel genuinely happy.‘
Kristýna, Czech Republic
- ‘Teaching English to young learners allows me to create a fun, energetic and positive classroom environment where my students are excited to learn. Whether it be playing games, practicing pronunciation or doing worksheets, my students are able to use and practice their English in an engaging way.‘
Unfortunately, in Prague and elsewhere there is a shortage of primary and secondary school teachers with the English proficency, and or specialism, to keep up with their inquisitive, digitally-native pupils. Teachers with specializations in other subjects, and often limited English, are then required to take on the teaching of English lessons in their schools and consequently, can find themselves ill-equipped and out of their depth. Young people growing up in an English-rich world of you-tube, netflix, instagram, and facebook have phenomenal English language exposure and are often, linguistically, leaps and bounds ahead of their non-native language teachers. As a result, some teachers may rely on grammar translation exercises and traditional testing in an attempt to hide their own lack of proficiency. They may fear that their authority and expertise might be questioned by a classroom of young would-be proficients.
- ‘Teaching young learners is different every time and that’s the stimulating part for me as a teacher. Kids are impulsive and walking into the classroom, you never really know how the lesson will go. It’s challenging and motivating at the same time.’
- ‘You know you’ve done a good job when the kids stand stretched across the door and don’t want to leave the classroom and go home because they have had so much fun.’
Teach abroad and be an important part of some child’s bright future.
English language requirements for higher education admissions and good employment prospects mean that language proficiency is a must for young people in the Czech Republic and beyond; regardless of whether they ever intend to leave their homeland. Consequently, savvy parents appreciate that English lessons are an investment in their child’s future. So if the public school lessons aren’t quite cutting it, they need to look elsewhere. As a result, many local schools choose to supplement their regular teaching staff with TEFL qualified, native and non-native, proficient English-speaking teachers from outside the country. This has created a steady job market in Prague, and the Czech Republic in general, for those qualified teachers looking to teach abroad in the YL sector. This is where you come in.
- ‘I enjoy their enthusiasm, you walk into the classroom and see their little smiley faces and they are so excited to have English lessons. Then when they remember something or they figure out how to tell you something in English they are so proud of themselves and it makes my heart swell with joy.‘
- ‘Kids are also more competitive and active when it comes classroom activities…Teaching young learner is like riding a roller coaster, it is a bit scary but once you go for it, it‘s exciting and so much fun!!!‘
What does ‘young learners’ actually mean?
Generally the term, ‘young learner’ is used to decribe any langauge learner still enrolled in compulsory education or under the age of 18. Depending on where you end up teaching – a junior highschool in Korea, a Montesori pre-school in Prague or an afternoon of teens at a langauge school in Tokyo, the kind of teaching you will do as well as the required skills and activities will differ based on students’ age, class make-up and perhaps, even the culture and country you are teaching in. In Prague, much of the YL teaching consists of after-school English clubs, conversation lessons in private language schools or private lessons.
What’s in it for me?
Even if you don’t imagine yourself teaching children full-time, gaining some YL experience at the start of your teaching career will help you develop good teaching skills across the board. Mastery of the arts of grading your language and instructions, modelling tasks and creating games and activities to practice specific language targets can be applied across the board, but especially if you teach adult beginners and lower level classes. Regardless of who you end up teaching, some YL experience will stand you in good stead by making you a more attractive and well-rounded candidate, and thus increasing your overall marketablity in the TEFL job market. Not to mention it is fun and rewarding and for many teachers, the YL classes are the highlight of their teaching day. It is also a chance to get in touch with your creative side and parlay your talents and hobbies into engaging and effective language teaching through theatre, songs and music, sport and games. If you don’t know if you have the stamina for full-time YL teaching, summer camps, summer schools and after-school programs all offer good opportunities to get your feet wet with shorter commitments while still reaping and sowing the benefits of working with children.
- Teaching young learners – where else can you get that kind of unconditional acceptance and enthusiam? For the under five’s you are the centre of their universe; it‘s mum, grandma and you! You walk into the classroom and they squeal with delight. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to being a rock star.‘