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English Programme at Yutaka Kindergarten
Tom Ledbury

Anyone who might wish to question the validity of teaching young children English need only come to one of the English classes at Yutaka Kindergarten to see a very clear reason why English and children are a great combination: the children enjoy it! Of course, there are plenty of more "serious" social and linguistic reasons why exposure to English (or any other foreign language) is beneficial to young children - getting used to foreigners, getting an educational "headstart" and improving pronunciation are just some examples: research has also shown that children exposed to a foreign language before the age of 5 are more likely to "have a better ear" and develop a greater facility for learning the second language.

However, important though these consideration are, for me FUN should always be the primary goal of English lessons for young children. The main pedagogical reason for this should be obvious to anyone who has spent much time with children, either in or outside the classroom: kids learn so much more when they are having fun. It is interesting to note that English word "education" comes from the Latin roots e- (out ) and ducere (to lead): "education" is, then, the process of "bringing out" the inherent capabilities of each child, of leading them towards a realisation of their own potential, of helping them to activate their own innate ability to learn. It is NOT a process whereby information is forced into an unwilling receptacle.

We don't teach young children their native language: rather, by surrounding them with an environment in which they are continually exposed to their mother tongue, we allow them to acquire language naturally, using the language-related areas of the brain to make sense of the linguistic patterns they hear and to start to manipulate those patterns to produce their own utterances. When disscussing the "teaching" of a second language, then, it surely makes sense to use this process of natural language acquisition as a model.
In order to help children in their acquisition of English, we need to provide them with a safe, non-threatening environment in which we can lead them towards the natural use of a second language in a series of realistic contexts. "Play", which I use here in a broadly-defined sense, provides the most obvious and effective means of doing this. All children play, making use of their imagination and their surroundings: what could be more natural? Games, songs, and physical movement thus provide an ideal natural and familiar environment in which children can be encouraged to explore the possibilities of another language. Play also allows the teacher to channel children's innate curiosity, competitiveness, enthusiasm and, most importantly, desire to communicate, in the direction of progressive acquisition of the target language.

On a more personal and anecdotal note, I have personally witnessed the effect of play-based education on children at Yutaka and been amazed by the results. Children who have started the year crying and afraid to join in with activities have quickly found their niche and blossomed as they have discovered their own self-confidence. Group-based English lessons have, I believe, contributed towards this by providing another area of experience for all students and another sources of that self-confidence. Considering the happiness I myself feel when my students remember items of vocabulary or complete exercises proficiently, I think about how much greater the sense of achivement must be for those children themselves, when they win a flashcard or know they have just said a phrase in English and said it perfectly! You can see it in their faces, in their enthusiasm, and in the speed of their progress.

As Yutaka Kindergarten's motto states, "learning through play is a journey of self-discovery". I am very happy that "learning English through play" has also been able to make its own contribution to that journey.

ゆたか幼稚園のEnglish Programmeに寄せて
英語講師 トム・レドバリー
しかしながら、こうした考えは重要ではありますが、私にとっては 「楽しさ」こそが幼児期の英語教育の第一義的な目標であるべきだと考えています。このことに対する教育学的な理由の主なるものは、教室の内外で子どもたちと多くの時間を過ごした人にとっては明白に違いないでしょう。子どもたちは楽しんでいる時により多くのことを学びます。education(教育)」という英語は、元来ラテン語から生じた言葉で、e は「出る」そしてducere は「導くこと」を意味しているということに気付くことは興味深いことです。したがって、「教育」は、子ども一人一人の潜在的能力を 「引き出す」過程や子どもの潜在能力の実現に向けて導き、子どもの内的な学習能力を活性化することを援助する過程を意味します。それは望まぬ容器に知識を強いる過程ではありません

私たちは自国の子どもたちに母国語を教えません。それよりもむしろ、子どもが母国語に絶えず触れられる環境を用意することによって、子どもは脳の言語野を駆使し、聞こえてくる言語上のパターンを理解し、それらのパターンを処理して自分の言葉を生み出すのです。こうして、子どもは自然に言語を獲得するようになります。したがって、第二言語を 「教える」 ことについて議論する場合、手本として自然な言語獲得の過程を使用することは確かに意味があります。

子どもが英語を獲得するためには、私たちは安全でプレッシャーを与えない環境を用意することが必要であり、そうすることによって、私たちは一連の現実的な文脈の中で、第二言語を自然に身につけられるように子どもを導くことが可能になります。私がここでそれを広く定義された意味において使う 「遊び」 とは、それを実現する最も自明の、そして最も効果的な方法です。すべての子どもたちは、彼らの想像性と周囲の環境を活用しながら遊びます。それ以上に自然なことがあるでしょうか。ゲームや歌、そして運動は、子どもたちが励まされて他の言語の可能性を探求することができる、理想的で自然で親しみのある環境を提供します。また、遊びによって教師は、子どもの生得的な好奇心、競争心や熱意、そして最も重要である意思を伝達したいという願望をターゲットとする言語の連続的な獲得の方向に向けられるのです。


ゆたか幼稚園のモットーが、「遊びを通しての学びは自分探しの旅である。」と述べるように、「遊びを通して英語を学ぶこと」 も、その旅に貢献していることを私は大変幸せに思います

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