Now they know their ABCs

Making a capital A with our hands

Like many from the Western world, the opportunity to learn a second language was presented to me when I began high school. I chose to learn French, and let me tell you, if I were to get lost in Paris, I would have to rely on finding someone that spoke English to help me out. I do not know French. My experience is a typical one. According to Harry Chugani, a pediatric neurologist, foreign language teaching should begin when children are in preschool—when teachers can maximize a child's willingness and ability to learn. 

Research has proven that a preschooler's brain can pick up a second language with relative ease, whereas an adults experience learning a second language can be demoralising because it is extremely difficult. The ease preschoolers experience makes sense; their brain is already conditioned to learning and expanding their primary language. TYO has incorporated English into the pre-schoolers' morning rotation as they wanted to give them a valuable head-start before attending the neighbourhood schools, and hopefully, for their future beyond that.

Many of us have heard that the first three years of a child's life are the most crucial to their future development; “the foundations for thinking, language, vision, attitudes, aptitudes, and other characteristics are laid down," says Ronald Kotulak. If a child's brain can start to process bi-lingually when they are at preschool, this greatly improves their chances to continue to develop their understanding of two, or more, languages as an adult.

By no means are we taking out the fun learning that we all remember experiencing at preschool! In English at TYO, every morning we sing, we shout, we dance, we draw, we mime, we create, we feel, we laugh, and we move! Again, the research is there to back this up: "Children can learn almost anything if they are dancing, tasting, touching, seeing, and feeling information" (Dryden & Vos, 1997). Learning through play is extremely effective, I imagine a lot of you will remember aspects of a second language because of a childish song you learnt, or you've begun learning a second language as an adult and find that you are playing games to expand your vocabulary. Making learning fun is engaging, but it also fosters the foundation to love learning for life!

With two weeks complete, TYO preschoolers have learned to recognize their name in English and say “My name is...”; they can sing “Hello, hello, how are you?”, they can say “Hello” and “Goodbye” – very enthusiastically I might add. They know that A is for apple, B is for banana and BOOGIE (their favorite), and C is for cow, and she says “Moooooooo” in the Old MacDonald song. It feels ambitious, and it is, but by constantly revisiting these new concepts, they are learning new aspects of English everyday. Dahlia (my translator) and I smile the whole way through every lesson, and we feel completely exhausted at the end, but it's constantly rewarding working with these children.

From reading this, I hope you agree that teaching preschoolers English through play is an incredible opportunity to make an impact on the lives of children that attend TYO. So one day in the near future, when that Palestinian child grows up and finds herself lost in the streets of New York, she will have confidence to ask for directions in English. Inshallah.

All sources quoted can be found at

This program - as part of Student Training and Employment Program (STEP!) - is sponsored in part by the Abdul Hamid Shoman Foundation.

-Celia, TYO Intern