1. Primary School English Education being the “Dragon Head”
In the year 1960 China’s late premier Mr Zhou Enlai said that the teaching of English from primary school to college should be so arranged as to form a continuous whole. He pet-named this “ 一条龙” , (a dragon) with head, body and tail, without any disconnection nor unnecessary repetition.
The head of this “dragon” should be the primary school period, which is the most critical time in the long run. During this period a good foundation should be laid.
This foundation includes: interest for the language; pleasant pronunciation; love for singing English songs and chanting children poems; love for playing games in English; love for performing in English; habit of greeting in English; habit of saying “thank you, please, excuse me”; habit of speaking English in the classroom and on the playground during the break.
2. Quality or Character Education should be fully incorporated into daily English lessons and outside of the classroom. School children should be nurtured the love of mankind, love of people around them, love of nature, love of animals, love of the earth, respect for the elderly, sympathy for the less fortunate, etc.
3. In the primary school classroom, stress should be put on enabling the children to do things in English, like playing games in English, etc. In other words, Task-based Approach also applies to primary school language learning, though on a rather everyday level.
The following principles should be applied, particularly in foreign language learning of the children:Learning by doing, Doing in learning, and Learning for doing.
4. 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.
5. Since children are good in imitating and memorizing things, the main teaching techniques should be, according to their age: listening to understand; acting according to teacher’s instruction; repeating after the teacher; playing games in simple English; acting little dialogue; chanting; singing; reciting little poems; describing pictures; writing simple captions for pictures; retelling stories; putting on little plays, etc.
6. At Primary school, no Grammar as such should be taught. However, the children should know:
1) The word-order of an English sentence is not the same as that of Chinese. They should know not to say She not is my sister.
2) The children should learn to say “ I was late for class this morning” and “I went to the park with my parents yesterday” instead of being taught that went is the past tenseform of go and was is the past tense form of am.
3) The idea of “pattern” should be taught to the children instead of the analysis of the grammatical structure of the sentence.
In other words, children should be encouraged to reproduce what they have repeatedly heard and remembered but not to “make” a sentence by what “grammar” they have learnt, even less by translating a sentence in Chinese into English.
Some people think that it is not possible nor feasible to try to make the children think in English. In fact, it is not only possible but also highly feasible so long as we have the correct way of teaching——mainly by the Direct Method.
7.In vocabulary learning, the children should, whenever possible, be “shown” the meaning of words in contexts by gestures, body language, actions, pictures, real objects and demonstrations instead of being “told” in Chinese. The “direct method” should be used as much as possible.
The way of learning words or “remembering” them is to hear them repeated a lot and use them a lot in speaking (and writing), and whenever possible, in games and demonstrations. For instance, the words for different colours can be taught together with the names of fruits.
8. In teaching children pronunciation, apart from correct pronunciation of sounds in words, emphasis should also be put on word stress, sentence stress and the tones. They should be made to be aware of the rhythm of the language from the very beginning.
Phonetic symbols should not be taught at primary school. Instead, children should by and by be taught the basic Rules of Reading and made to understand that ee, ea are usually pronounced /i:/ in words, etc.
9. Even school children, though young, should be taught to have cross-cultural awareness. They should be told that in the English-speaking countries, expressions such as please, thank you, excuse me are used much more frequently than in China, which is part of their culture and something we should learn from them.
10. Formative Evaluation should be practiced instead of Summative Evaluation. 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.
11. Since children tend to be more sensitive and responsive to the outside world, out-of-class language acquisition should be paid more attention to. For instance, more outdoor games should be played in English, the classroom should be decorated in English, more English songs should be taught, etc.
12.Teaching material for children should be closely linked with their everyday life and things and matters they are interested in and concerned about.
A good beginning is a thing half done.
Interest in English is the most important starting-point for the children to learn the language well. Hence the foremost duty of a primary school teacher is to try his best to arouse the children’s interest, a sustainable interest for that matter, in the language and in learning it.
(Chen Lin: Professor of Beijing Foreign Studies University,Director of Experts Group responsible for developing the National Curriculum Standards for ELT President of China BFLE)