English language instruction has been an integral part of the curricula of Thai schools since the 1950s. SuccessiveThai governments have been fully aware of the importance of English in the modern world, especially in the ASEAN region. With the support of the governments of the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and New Zealand, the Thai Ministry of Education has gone to great lengths to assure that Thai students gain English language proficiency. While significant strides have been made, the success envisioned has been elusive.
Perhaps because it took off at the top educational levels – teacher training colleges, universities, technical schools – gradually descending to the secondary and primary levels. Had the process begun at the preschool level, the goal of English proficiency might well have been realised by now. This theory is being born out by the neuro-linguists who are making important discoveries about brain mechanisms and second language acquisition and are reporting about the right time to begin second language instruction, and it is early.
Laura Clark has reported: “….. Studies by Harvard University confirm that the creativity, critical thinking skills, and flexibility of the mind are significantly enhanced if children learn a second language at a younger age.….”(Clark, L., 2016)
Catherine Ford has reported: “….. for years it was thought thatteaching foreign languages to children as young as three was futile. Research findings indicate quite the opposite. Longitudinal studies by Harvard University confirm that learning additional languages increases critical thinking skills, creativity and flexibility of the mind in young children… Dr Pascual-Leone professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, provides an important first step in understanding the impact of leaning a second language and the ageing brain. This research paves the way for future casual studies of bilingualism and cognitive decline prevention.
But why should leaning another language be started at such a young age? Simply, the younger the learners, the better they are at mimicking new sounds and adopting pronunciation. The brain is open to new sounds and patterns in preadolescence. At this age, young children have time to learn through play-like activities. Language lessons can be informal and children’s minds are not yet cluttered with facts to be stored and tested. Before children become self-conscious they can try out their newly acquired languages without fear of embarrassment. Children who grow up learning about languages develop empathy for others and a curiosity for different cultures and ideas; prepared to take their place in a global society…..” (Ford C., 2014)
“Studies by Harvard University confirm that the creativity, critical thinking skills, and flexibility of the mind are significantly enhanced if children learn a second language at a younger age”
In light of these and similar research findings, the following pilot project for English language acquisition for Thai students at the preschool level is proposed. Children from the age of three to five will be placed in childcare centres under the guidance of fluent speakers of English together with Thai co-teachers. Together they will exchange English conversation while their young charges absorb the exchange as they play and engage in stimulating lessons designed by the co-teachers.
The activities take place in a warm nurturing atmosphere and include storytelling, music, dance, art, physical activities and free play. Reading and writing are introduced at a developmentally appropriate time and on an individual basis. The school structure and schedule would be as follows:
K1 – 3 years old
Attending from 8am – 12 noon three days a week
K2 – 4 years old
Attending from 8am – 12 noon five days a week
K3 – 5 years old
Attending from 8am – 12 noon five days a week
Sessions are to be held in as natural environment as possible with ample opportunities for children to commune with nature. This would be their first experience with formal learning in an institution outside their home. Therefore, it is imperative that they have enjoyable experiences from the start – the centres should be seen as joyful places to be.
Caregivers should accompany the children and stay with them until such time as the children know they will not be abandoned and will, in fact, be picked up and taken home. A bond forged between the home and school at this early stage bodes well for the children as they continue in school.
It is recommended that when children leave the preschool and enter grade 1, they return to the centres for a few hours during the weekend to maintain the level of proficiency they attained during their three years in the preschool. This reinforcement will serve to perpetuate their interest in English as they progress through primary school. By the time they reach secondary school, they will no longer need to “learn English” – English will be part and parcel of who they are.
Clark, L. (2016, April 27). The Best Age for Kids to Learn a Second Language.
Retrieved from https://www.mother.ly/parenting/the-best-age-for-kids-to-learna-second-language
Ford, C. (2014, October 10). Children should start learning languages at age three. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/11151726/Children-should-start-learninglanguages-at-age-three.html
Kuhl, P. K. (2010). Brain Mechanisms in Early Language Acquisition. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.08.038
Schmid, M. (2016, February 8). The best age to learn a second language. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/the-best-age-to-learn-asecond-language-a6860886.html Shiver, E.(2011, April). Brain Development and Mastery of Language in the Early Childhood Years. Retrieved from http:// www.idra.org/resource-center/brain development-and-mastery-oflanguage-in-the-early-childhood-years/
Zhang, Q. (2009). Affective Factors of Native-Like Pronunciation: A Literature Review. (Chung-Ang University,South Korea). Retrieved from http://cau.ac.kr/~edusol/see/list/Vol27-2/CAKE027-002-4.pdf