Second Languages in the First Few Years: Bringing English to Core Program

If you ask children in Palestine what their biggest challenge at school might be, many will give you the same answer: learning English. Even though the education system here introduces English courses in first grade, there is a high amount of students discouraged in the classroom. Many teachers aren't prepared to teach- even if they understand English literature, they might not have methodology to properly instruct kids in language acquisition. Further, kids don't have friendly relationships to books and language materials in the classroom- it's more forcible, without much reward or recognition for progress and improvement. Equally, since the entire country speaks Arabic, there is little urgency in the minds of many to gain another language. After the Second Intifada, Palestine began seeing more foreigners arrive here for both visits and work- but people in Nablus and the North aren't necessarily prepared to speak with them, so we can't take advantage of cultural exchange as much as we should.

Early language development is best acquired at a young age.

But at TYO, we know the importance of introducing children to second languages within the first few years of life, for both the academic as well as cognitive benefits. That's why we're piloting English classes in our Core Child Program this session- utilizing a full immersion method, an international intern will be leading the class with the assistance of local volunteers. The immersion method- which uses only English in the classroom- helps learners gain a more native pronunciation of the language. TYO's class has also planned to incorporate a variety of engaging, exciting activities- which keep kids focused, and having fun, while they're in the classroom.

We're implementing English courses in our early childhood program, as we know that young minds are adept at acquiring linguistic skills, with a unique ability to absorb foreign languages. Early childhood is an opportune window to optimize future bilingualism, and children who start learning a second language earlier often have strong advantages over those who do not. Further, studies have demonstrated that early language development isn't just about gaining new communication abilities- it can bring increased cognitive skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, and mental flexibility. Children who learn languages young typically score higher on standardized tests in the future as well- which demonstrates its link to mathematical skill development and problem-solving.

So in the coming weeks, stay tuned on the blog for updates from the class as we aim to use English as a vehicle for both building new communication, as well as cognitive, abilities.

Suhad Jabi Masri is TYO's Psychosocial Program Manager. Above, she writes about the importance of English language development in children, and how this is being implemented at TYO.