Main difficulties of children in learning English and how to overcome them

English is already our second official language, the common language globally and is part of the educational curriculum in our classrooms. We are also aware of the advantages that learning another language, apart from the mother tongue, can bring us from an early age both on a social, professional and personal level. But this process is not easy and children may face some difficulties in learning English. Here we tell you which are the main ones and how to overcome them!

Brain learning and behavior neuroscientists and researchers in education state that bilingual students demonstrate greater brain ability and agility, who experience an increase in the ability to communicate in both languages, have a greater facility in learning other languages ​​in the future, their minds are multitasking and capable of quickly processing and disregarding relevant or not relevant information in their brain ...

It has even been shown that bilingualism can delay the onset of diseases like Alzheimer's. But let's pause. Does this happen with the same speed in all people who learn a second language? Will all brains respond the same? Is the way in which the information is processed in each individual is always the same? What do these results depend on?

Of course yes, ebilingualism is very beneficial. Of course, it will open doors for us. But no, it is not always easy to get it and it depends on many factors. Let's go back to the behavior of the brain.

According to Lighbown, "language is a system of arbitrary symbols that allow all people in a given culture, or other people who have learned the system of that culture, to communicate and interact." All of us acquire the ability to communicate from a very young age. It won't always be verbally, but our brain prepares us for the acquisition of a language that we will use as a tool for thought and communication.

What makes us perfect the process, and even accelerate it, is our need to belong and to interact and this will make the knowledge of our mother tongue become natural and effortless. This vocabulary that we will acquire and assimilate will depend on everyone and everything around us. Even games or the media will be sources of information at a very early age in which to have references and meanings, What do we find then?

I invite you to share with me the experiences that I live with my students on a daily basis in teaching English, where four main problems they face when studying English can be detected. Ready?

That is to say, the phonemes, those sounds that 'represent' our language and that we have already learned and constitute the first way in which we communicate differ greatly from the new ones in English. In addition, here even the accents of the areas in which we live or the age at which we begin to be exposed to the second language intervene. We may find ourselves at a time where, due to age, we do not even know how to pronounce our language well.

Indeed, our mother tongue 'plays a trick on us' with respect to learning the second, but it is normal that it costs us. We are talking about the fact that we find vowels, the most basic thing in learning to read and write, with twelve sounds in English compared to the five we have in Spanish.

And is that we are facing a language that is not read the same as it is written. It has almost twice as many phonetic sounds as Spanish and, to top it all, there are also different accents. We have found ourselves in adult classes (you read that correctly), where the question is: why is the “h” here read and not there? Quite a challenge, without a doubt.

So how can we make it easier for our little ones? The first thing, simplify. Try to find a reinforcement of listening of the same type of English that our children are learning. No mixing British with American. Let's try to facilitate the ear to begin to identify and our brain to assimilate. We must also allow children to make mistakes in pronunciation without having to listen to the horrible NO that caused many of us to stop trying to speak English. Discreetly, we can repeat the word well pronounced. We will place greater emphasis on the pronunciation of shorter words (articles, prepositions, conjunctions), to expand to longer words as we check the mastery of our little ones.

We recommend that you try to expose your students to stimuli and sources in natural spoken English at home. From the use of television, to reading stories and books (audiobooks), attending workshops or even trying to belong to a group (Scout type) whose purpose is to learn the language and bilingual coexistence. Learning through sport or manipulative experiences (experiments, crafts ...) will help the integration of vocabulary and its use, by also activating certain areas of the brain that are related to language learning in turn.

And if the pronunciation was not complicated enough, to this we add that grammatical structures that are natural to us like 'what a good girl', which we have already integrated and understood, change to 'what a good girl'. That is to say, When we start to learn English at school, we do it by translating our natural Spanish into this new language that does not fit in with our primary schemes.. First we think, then we translate, finally we express. This gets us stuck when, in addition, the explanation to the ordering of the sentence in this new way, the student is waiting for some logic, is: because they do it that way.

As we say to the families with whom we work hand in hand, there comes a time when the curl is curled. Because as we progress in our learning, we are finding six-letter words without a single vowel (RHYTHM) and whose pronunciation differs from ours, that the use of the present or simple past does not coincide with that of Spanish, that there are lists of verbs irregular ones that are infinite and that we must learn / memorize, or two 'obstacles' that always give a lot to talk about: phrasal verbs and false friends. Have we mentioned that adjectives do not have plurals with the letter "s"?

We speak of a language that has more than a million words, of which also some change their meaning when you modify only one of their letters (woman / women). Many of them are not even known yet to our students in their own language due to their age (gland / gland) and to which they will be exposed for the first time in subjects such as Science or Social.

But does being bilingual or even native entail the knowledge of each of those words? I answer you with another question Do you know all the words in your own language? Practice shows that the practical use of a language does not entail a use of more than 3,000 terms in our day to day life and that many of them will be acquired as we get older and we are exposed to certain references (specializing). So according to logic, it will not be necessary to know more than 10,000 terms to be a fluent speaker, although with 3,000 we can already understand and communicate in another language.

The brain behaves very differently when it learns the second language if this fact occurs at different times in our life (not simultaneously). If learning Spanish is done naturally, in this second case, it will be necessary to learn grammar, practice the language in terms of reading, listening and speaking, but above all, its use. Preparing to pass an exam is not the same as being bilingual.

How to help our little experts in learning vocabulary? Trying to dose. It is better to learn a group of words (even better organized by word families) each day than to deal with a list of forty terms at once. We can use tricks of mental associations and make connections, create diagrams or schemes that group words. For example: Trousers, tie, t-shirt, tailcoat… all of them different types of clothes that begin with the letter “t”. What games help me in this case? Well, the game of Stop, Pictionary, Scattergories or mimic games. If we dare, even our apprentices can try to design word searches or crossword puzzles for us that contain certain words. Flip it over. They are geniuses, let them put us to the test!

And this is the first question to which we are exposed in 90% of the cases in class when we meet them for the first time. Children and adults, phrasal and false friends do not leave anyone indifferent.

When we got to them, most of the students already had quite a few irregular verbs under control and they thought they were the worst they were going to face. And then we have to explain to them that if we add a preposition or an adverb to some of those verbs that are known, and to many of those that remain to be learned, they even mean four different things depending on which particle we use. Those “turn off and let's go!” Faces are priceless. And it is that they are compound verbs that depending on their context can change their meaning, and in what way!

Unfortunately there are some myths that if you put “off” it has a negative / opposite connotation (to turn off - turn off), but this is not always the case. What could be cooler than “to take a week off”, hum ..? ;) (Go a week on vacation). So we are sorry to say that we only have to memorize them. How to do it will greatly change the outcome.

And here, drum roll, the false friends! Tachaaaaaannnnnnn. The first thing to note is that false friends are different for each native language. Yep! A list of these curious words will not be 100% matching for a German, than a French or a Spanish. The lists may not even come close. So what are we talking about?

Well, we are talking about pairs of words from different languages, but very similar to each other that make us confused in the meaning. For example, being constipated (flu) is not the same as being “constipated” (constipated). With this we have laughed in class for a while, hahahahahaha. Others on the list for Spaniards are: assist (which is not to assist), contest (which is not to answer), conductor (is not a driver), deception (is not deception), advertise (is not to warn), bizarre (not is bizarre), and a long etcetera ... And we must also add the "fake friends" (to call them in some way) that we invent when we do not know the word. These are great. For example: sofing, edredoning, lamparing, aspirator, thermometer, I went to do the compression ... Geniuses and figures.

What then to do with phrasal verbs and false friends? In both cases, being able to contextualize will help us a lot. Reading becomes essential. We must also learn them little by little. Starting from the simplest to the most complex. And no proposing to learn twenty at a time. Better to use them correctly than to look like parrots without knowing what we are saying. At that point we will depend a lot on translators, dictionaries or asking and interacting with our teachers / friends / natives. In addition, we have to consider that with false friends we are receiving information that is contradictory to what we know, but that we share more easily as they are almost identical to words that we know in our mother tongue. I insist, reading is our best ally.

Because in the end, our sons and daughters do not understand the importance of learning another language if it is not through their school grades. Unfortunately, all is said. Some of them will have the opportunity to travel and see the practicality of what they have learned, to be part of super cool projects and to interact with natives, even so until their maturity allows it, English will not cease to be a subject. Something to approve or fail.

We come from a social background in which learning a second language was not anywhere near a necessity. Socially, we are not used to commenting on the advantages that having mastered English will bring us until we are almost leaving on Erasmus.

Formerly it was a necessity to work abroad. Something that was learned in the destination country. Only those with high purchasing power or high socioeconomic status thought of learning another language as a way out to a better future. So, a large part of the motivation to learn English or not goes hand in hand with schools, teachers and, unfortunately, exams.

Don't get me wrong, of course taking exams is necessary, but just that, necessary. I do not understand an educational system where the exam is the figure that demonstrates knowledge and becomes essential in learning. From necessary to essential, there is a long way. So if our student makes grammatical or vocabulary mistakes, which even a native would make, they suspend and become discouraged because it has not reached the objectives on a specific day, in a specific context, in a specific year ...

Yes, class work usually counts, but here we will depend on the school. Is it a school with an educational project where knowledge is measured on a daily basis and where the results are the result of an effort, sometimes even as a team? Or, are we facing a school that only evaluates assignments and exams, valuing daily effort at 20%? Wow, go with the damn percentages. Hopefully one day our educational system will catch up with the brilliant teachers who exist in our classrooms and who have a lot to contribute in their classes ...

Well imagine, if our little ones already find themselves with a complicated pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, that also does not pass those exams will not help us at all to finish seeing the language with its real utility, the great opportunity that supposes, knowledge and freedom all in one.

How to overcome this part? Trying to complement the school with study centers or reinforcement schools that have methodology and that get out of the routine. Proven and proven educational innovation that makes reinforcement change the way the student copes with the language. Encouraging with practical things that our children love or even getting involved with them in bilingual projects will help them a lot to turn the tables and begin to see the subject more as a tool, which is already a great step. Being able to travel, learning about culture, living with their differences is one of the strong points when it comes to ending feeling passion for learning other languages.

And up to here we can read. These are the difficulties that a teacher can find when teaching English to their students and we look for answers together with them. Because, if we want the student to learn, wouldn't it be better to ask them in what way would be easier for them to do so?

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