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Book Review
Teaching Languages to Young Learners cover

Teaching Languages to Young Learners

by Lynne Cameron

Review written by Jane Birdsall

What is really going on in a classroom full of children? How much are they learning? How do they learn? The younger learner market is expanding rapidly and publishers have been bringing out course books to meet the demand; but there has not been a corresponding growth of theoretical reference in the literature. Teaching Languages to Young Learners aims to help fill the gap.

Lynne Cameron provides an admirably clear and concise overview of the work of influential developmental psychologists (Piaget and Vygotsky), before analysing tasks for younger learners; the spoken and written word; learning vocabulary and grammar, assessing children, etc. A few myths are demolished along the way. Children can learn more than colours and numbers. As part of the global community of English speakers they need more complex language to use computers, for example. Cameron advocates a "learning-centred" approach, as opposed to a learner or child-centred approach, to encourage teachers to push children beyond the limits they may choose for themselves. The section on language tasks explains how the balance between demands and support should be maintained if learners are to benefit from activities. The zone of proximal development (ZPD) and how adults can help children learn what they are ready to learn next are analysed in a very reader-friendly manner.

Cameron has a lot of very useful chapters: on the discourse organisation of stories, how to choose them, and stories as a means of providing holistic learning experiences. Theme-based teaching is covered: its history and potential as a language-learning tool. (Here Cameron makes reference to Vale and Feunteun's excellent work, 1995). The issue of the use of L1 with younger learners is also tackled comprehensively.

The book manages to marry a great deal of research into current thinking on all aspects of language learning with sensible, practical suggestions for the classroom. It is not a recipe book. You won't find a thousand and one ways of keeping your class of eight-year-olds busy, although there are some lists of activities, e.g. for listening and grammar structuring. But you will gain insight into how their minds work and how to adapt your teaching methods to maximise their effectiveness. I highly recommend this as an introduction or an up-date for all teachers of younger learners, but teachers of adults would also gain a great deal from Cameron's elegant and lucid summaries of the state of play in ELT today.

Teaching Languages to Young Learners cover


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