My name is Anita Roberts, I am British and have three young children who I raise bilingual. I trained and qualified as a primary teacher in the United Kingdom, and taught there until 2005. In 2005 I relocated to the Netherlands and became a ‘vvto docent’, at a bilingual (tweetalige) Primary School in the North of the Netherlands. Within this school I also teach in their International Department.
The English lessons last between 45 minutes and 1 hour twice a week. I only speak English with the children and they accept that. Even when they see me around school they say ‘hello’ or ‘bye bye’. I work with themes, which are also relevant to their everyday life and the time of the year. I use a variety of games, songs, drama, and crafts during the English lessons. However, my teaching style is not one where I use a manual or ‘methode’, but rather interactive, talking, listening, doing and most of all plenty of laughter!
At the start of a lesson I begin with a game, or song, something to ‘grab their attention’ and enthuse and motivate them. I try to ensure that my lessons bring ‘meaning for learning’, for instance if our topic is food, then the reason for learning all about different foods is because at the end of the theme we will change the class into a restaurant. Groups of children will design their own menu, decide on a name of their restaurant, and through drama we will role-play ‘At a restaurant’. This way there is a reason to learn the vocabulary or what to say. It also brings in other vocabulary, when we want to complain about the food or give a compliment on how nice the food was, or simply ask if there is a table available and for how many people? It brings a real life situation into the English classroom, where they can use the language, and not simply a list of boring vocabulary. The children take ownership of their learning. It is fantastic to see over time how children become more confident and feel at ease to ‘try it out’. Likewise, it is also important to reach all of the learners in your class: some children are more visual, or auditory (hearing) or kinaesthetic (touching), so ensure the lessons have something for everybody.
Learning a new language should be a ‘fun and meaningful experience through play’ and in my opinion ‘the younger the better’. It is important that you as the teacher are ENTHUSIASTIC, because that will rub off on the children. It is particularly rewarding when parents come to you after the summer holiday and tell you how wonderful it was to see their child speaking English with other children whilst on holiday in a non-Dutch speaking environment.
With my colleague we have now set up ‘Chatterboxes’ where we train and support other teachers on successful ways in which to teach English to young learners. We give practical tips and lesson ideas, and currently work with many schools to help them through a whole school year.
Are you involved in Early English (in the Netherlands)? We would love to hear about your experiences! Please contact us through email.