Friday, December 9, 2011

Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki May 30, 1996 Listening Power (1)

Note: This article is written with native Japanese trying to learn English in mind, but it is equally true for any native speaker trying to learn any  foreign language.

I think the most important thing (for Japanese people) when speaking in English is the ability to "catch" what is being said. To study English you can read a book, using only your visual abilities. However, when speaking you have to be able to use your ears to hear and understand what your partner is saying or you cannot respond.
That's why it's better to introduce foreign languages to very young children. Sometimes children (at kindergartens) ask me questions like, "What are banannas called in English?" Very young children do not know the difference between "Japanese" and "English" (or any foreign language). when anyone speaks to them, no matter what language it is, the children only hears "language." A step to help improve their English is to show young children cartoons that are in English. Young children watching a video in Japanese don't understand the story the first time they see it. They are attracted to the colors and actions. After several repeat viewings, the level of comprehension increases. This is how children learn their mother tongues! In the same way, if they watched an English video instead of a Japanese video they will become familiar with a foreign language without even realizing it: orally, via listening.
Mothers and fathers, the next time you are borrowing videos with/for your children, please borrow a cartoon in English that you know the story to. For example, Cinderella, Snow White, or Aladdin. Your children will absorb the English dialogue. If you watch the cartoon with them, you can explain any confusing story points. Your English ability will also improve with an increase in self-confidence. Children with the ability to "catch" what is said to them in English can then re-create the pronunciations and rhythms of the language. What I find the most sad is when elementary school kids tell me, "It's English, so I don't understand it!" It's just so sad to see kids at that age who have already given up.

(Click on the article to Sumo-Size it)

I wrote this article in 1996 after I had been an English teacher to Japanese kids for nearly ten years. I had seen, first hand, how kids who didn't have any particular interest in English had a good "ear" for it if they had been exposed to it at a very young age. Fifteen years later, my own daughter was able to master English AND Japanese because she was exposed to both languages from an early age. I would tell adults who were interested: think about how YOU learned a language. All children learn AURALLY.

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