Appropriate concepts for childhood foreign language learning
Language learning programmes for small children must have the effect of inducing a personal feel for the target language and of encouraging communication in the new and still strange language. Given the appropriate institutional facilities, intensive teaching has better prospects of success than the same content extended over a longer period.
Initially, children prefer words and phrases relating to their own world and with meanings already known in the mother tongue. In this early encounter with the foreign language they will not understand grammatical structures, taking them in simply as a fixed pattern, a turn of phrase .
Consequently, all material used in the foreign language programme must be appropriate to the age-group and address individual interests. The younger the child, the more important it is that there should be some emotional involvement with the learning topic and identification with the practitioner or teacher. When a child feels at ease in the learning environment and is free from fears and pressures, the natural curiosity of a child will ensure his or her increasingly active participation in the learning process.
On this basis, any activity-oriented learning programme will be useful provided that its material has play value, permits experimentation, encourages movement and creativity – in short, if it offers the child plenty of varied scope for exploring personal potential.
- Foreign language learning programmes should have objectives, content and methodology tailored to the experience and background of the learning group.
- The teaching plan should be appropriate to the background, potential and needs of each individual child.
- The foreign language learning programme should take the children’s level of knowledge of the world as its starting point and by encouraging them to engage with worthwhile topics that they perceive as relevant should simultaneously extend their competences in extra-linguistic areas too.
 Children can nonetheless be observed trying to “reduce and structure the complexity of their environment by analytical means”, in order to “establish rule-like patterns linking identified elements”. Cf. Röber (2008)