Herbert Puchta is a co-author of a few extremely successful course books for children published by Cambridge University Press, including Playway to English, Super Minds, More! and English in Mind. He is also a famous teacher, teacher trainer and researcher. He has been a plenary speaker at numerous international conferences and has conducted workshops and given seminars in more than 50 countries. He was also President of IATEFL (the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language). For almost three decades, Herbert has done research into the practical application of findings from cognitive psychology and brain research to the teaching of English as a foreign language. Herbert has authored and co-authored numerous articles, resource books and course books. Brand new additions for the year 2015 are Super Safari for 3–6 year olds.
Topic: Teaching very young learners - what's hot and what's not
Teaching English to very young learners is becoming increasingly popular in many countries. But what is the best starting age for learning a new language? And is starting young really better? In this session, we will look at research into the optimal learner age and the Critical Period Hypothesis, and discuss why the critical voices concerning the teaching of English of very young learners in non-immersion educational contexts need to be taken seriously. Basing our review on research evidence, we will look at the important principles we need to consider if we want early language learning programmes to be successful, and how we can put them into practice.
Video recording of the plenary session
You can watch the full recording of Herbert Puchta’s talk on British Council Russia’s YouTube channel by clicking the link below:
In this interview, Herbert examines how the profile of young learners today is different from those 10 years ago and talks about how much their needs have changed. He discusses the best age to start learning a foreign language, making some suggestions about how language teaching can cater for very young learners. He also talks about some of the main challenges that teachers face working with young learners. Watch the interview with Herbert below.
As part of the interview, Herbert also answered some of the questions that our online audience asked. Read the questions and his answers below:
While teaching very young learners which spheres should we appeal to most? Cognitive of affective or both?
I think it’s definitely both. Neurobiologists very convincingly tell us that there is no learning without emotional engagement. And emotional engagement in turn is a precondition for developing children’s cognition.
What piece of advice can you give to catch the child’s attention for at least 2 minutes?
Tell them a story that appeals to them and you will probably be able to catch their attention for much longer than two minutes! Appealing stories for very young learners usually need to have a simple structure (beginning – middle – end). It needs a bit of magic (e.g. animals which act like humans), it need strongs emotional contrasts (e.g. good vs evil, happy vs sad, generous vs greedy) and some kind of problem that occurs early in the story that needs to be resolved towards the end.
What's the optimal size of a very young learners‘ class (number of students)?
That’s a very interesting question, and I don’t think there’s one right answer to it. So much depends on the students you have in your class. And because children when they are very young need to learn other things too and not just language (like paying attention, working in pairs etc), it’s maybe better not to have too many students in a class. But I must say I have seen excellent teaching with rather large classes too!
Why do you have such interest in teaching young learners? When did you start working with young learners?
Well, teaching young learners is one of my areas of interest, and has been for a long time. I started working with young learners as a young teacher, so many many moons ago. What I find fascinating about teaching young learners is the how much energy they bring to the learning situation, and how emotionally involved they can become. But I must say that I’m also interested in the teaching of teenagers, and in working with adults. In fact I have just co-written a course book for adults, “Empower” published by Cambridge University Press.