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Young children are said to be ‘geniuses’ when it comes to learning languages. Babies can discriminate between the sounds of different languages, something which monolingual adults cannot do, making it easier for young children to pick up foreign languages.
Laying the foundations for language learning at a young age can make it much easier for children to acquire and learn a foreign language later in life and help to foster an awareness and appreciation of other cultures.
daynurseries.co.uk spoke to Penny Hardcastle, a Spanish tutor at Perfecto Spanish, about her experience teaching early years children. She runs classes for both early years and primary school children as a La Jolie Ronde licensee, which provides extra-curricular French and Spanish language learning for children.
Where do you work and who do you mostly work with?
The majority of my teaching is done in extra-curricular classes at primary schools. As a La Jolie Ronde licensee I have access to materials for children up to the age of 11 and all programmes feed into each other. I also offer pre-school classes at nurseries and twice weekly in The Sands Room in Farnham. These classes are open to two- to four-year-olds and I am lucky enough to still teach some children in school who I first met when they were about two or under.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My typical day is nicely balanced between home and work life. I spend time with my children either side of the school day but then spend quite a lot of time preparing lessons and coming up with new ways of keeping my lessons active, interesting and fun. Some days I teach just one class and on others four or five. Due to the range of class sizes and ages no two classes are the same so it is fun and varied for me too.
How did you get into language teaching? Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?
I got into teaching Spanish after having children. I have a degree in Spanish and am totally passionate about the language and culture. Although I am English, I feel that I have a Spanish soul! I ended up doing an entirely different job that didn't fit in well around having small children so I started teaching using the La Jolie Ronde programmes. I started with two classes a week and over the last few years I have grown my business.
Through my business Perfecto Spanish I now have three tutors and between us we teach 25 groups a week. I never saw myself as a teacher but now I can't imagine ever doing anything else. It is so rewarding and something I feel passionate about.
No one is too young (or too old) to learn another language, and there are so many benefits to starting before the age of five. The children learn without realising that they are learning. They don't question why you say this or that, they just accept it and they see it as fun.
Spanish people, on the whole, love children. So often I hear that one of my students spoke some Spanish in a Spanish shop or restaurant and were then given some sweets or bread. They gain more than just vocabulary you see!
What makes you smile at work?
The irrelevant facts that children choose to share with me, the smiles and greetings (especially if they are in Spanish) when I arrive and those magical moments when a child who has never spoken a word in any of my lessons musters up the courage to say “hola” or “adios” to me. That really makes me smile.
I also smile when parents tell me that their child counts up to 10 in Spanish every day or only says colours and certain animals in Spanish nowadays. It always makes my day to get positive feedback on my Facebook page or in an email.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a language teacher for early years children?
The challenges are maintaining attention of all the early years children, particularly in a big group. I am, however, aware that children learn even when they are not participating. They are hearing and registering all the time that they are with me.
It is challenging to think of new games and activities that are going to keep all the children involved all of the time. I never know exactly how many children will be there as sometimes some are off ill or on holiday and of course I can never know what sort of mood they are going to be in. A very well prepared class may not go as well as hoped if they are all very tired or, on the other hand, if they have too much energy!
How does teaching early years children differ from teaching primary and secondary school children and adults?
Teaching early years is a lot more physical than my other classes. It also starts with understanding the Spanish words and builds up to being able to say them. There is no homework but I give them handouts every week so that they can link pictures to words and practice at home. Family members are way more involved in the classes that I run for pre-schoolers outside of the nursery but even at the nurseries parents get the handouts and it is evident that quite a lot of them practice at home.
What qualities and skills do you think you need for the job?
To do this job you need to have energy and creative ideas. You need to be able to think on your feet and to move on if something isn't engaging the audience. You also need to know how to communicate with young children. A skill I have developed is to listen to what a child wants to tell me, to speed them up so they get to the point and to try to then link it back to Spanish. Obviously a good knowledge of the language is essential for the job but you don't need to be a qualified teacher.
What advice would you offer to someone looking to pursue a career in language teaching?
If you speak a foreign language, and don't mind making a fool of yourself this job is for you! A top tip is never throw away any toys that your own kids have grown out of. I now own a huge box full of plastic cars, fruit, vegetables, animals and they are all fantastic teaching aids. Early years classes have to be active, colourful and visual. I often find myself dancing, pretending to drive a car, wearing hats to maintain variety and to assist the learning.
If you could have any other career, what would you do?
If I wasn't a parent I would be a tour guide taking visitors around Europe, mainly Spain. I have done this before but it wouldn't be possible now that I have a family. This is the next best thing though, teaching the tour guides of the future!
To find out more about Penny Hardcastle and Perfecto Spanish, please visit: www.perfectospanish.com