A Study of the Use of Narratives in Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Young Learners

By Fojkar, Mateja Dagarin; Skela, Janez et al. | English Language Teaching, June 2013 | Go to article overview

A Study of the Use of Narratives in Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Young Learners


Fojkar, Mateja Dagarin, Skela, Janez, Kovac, Pija, English Language Teaching


Abstract

The article reports the findings of a survey, conducted among primary school English language teachers in Slovenia, aimed at revealing their attitudes towards the use of narratives in teaching English as a foreign language to children aged from eight to nine years (3^sup rd^ and 4^sup th^ grades respectively). The research results show that most teachers use narratives when teaching English, generally once or twice per month, and that teachers who do not use a course book in the classroom employ storytelling or story reading techniques more frequently than teachers who follow a course book in their teaching. Despite the fact that the teachers participating in the study are aware of the importance of narratives in teaching English as a foreign language to young learners, there is still a lot to be done concerning the selection of the narratives, the narrating techniques and the post-narration activities. Proper teacher training for teaching a foreign language to young learners could address most of these issues.

Keywords: narratives in foreign language teaching, young language learners, English as a foreign language

1. Introduction

In Slovenia, primary education for most children starts after they turn 6 years old and it lasts for 9 years. All pupils start learning a foreign language (FL) formally in the 4th grade of primary school (i.e., at the age of nine). Nevertheless, many schools and kindergartens offer some form of foreign language learning from kindergarten onwards, mostly due to pressure from parents and society to start learning foreign languages earlier. Thus in 2007, English was taught as an extracurricular activity in the first three grades of primary school at 67.7% of schools and 53.7% of kindergartens in Slovenia (Kac & Deutsch 2007: 4, Fras Berro & Deutsch 2007). However, the forms of teaching vary in quality, length and teacher qualifications. Fortunately, the current chaotic situation will be improved in September 2013, when a foreign language will be gradually introduced as a compulsory subject in the 1st grade of primary school.

Some guidelines exist regarding foreign language teaching methodology in the 4th grade, and teachers can choose from a number of government accredited course books. However, there are not yet many guidelines for teachers in the first three grades of primary school, and teachers are free to choose from a wide variety of materials and course books, many of which also frequently suggest the use of narratives.

1.1 Theoretical Framework

Many authors emphasise the importance of using narratives and storytelling in teaching a foreign language, especially to young learners (see Morgan & Rinvolucri, 1983; Garvie, 1990; Machura, 1994; Wright, 1995, 1997; Kuhiwczak, 1999; Brewster, Ellis & Girard, 2002; Ellis & Brewster, 1991, 2002; Waynryb, 2003, Enever, 2006; Láng, 2009; Mouräo, 2006, 2011, among others). Daniel (2012: 3) points out that "narrative is the natural way in which humans organise information, and storytelling is the most immediate (and fundamental) means by which that narrative is communicated". Similarly, Egan (1986, 1997) identifies a story as one of the most effective tools for communicating new information to young learners. Lugossy (2007: 77), for example, argues that "stories function as schemata on the basis of which we make sense of the world", and by exposing children to stories we provide them opportunities to interpret new information and gradually develop abstract ways of thinking. In addition, Ellis and Brewster (2002) stress the importance of developing children's affective as well as linguistic skills through the use of stories, claiming that listening to stories in class is a shared social experience, provoking a shared response of sadness, laughter, excitement and other emotions. Storytelling also provides comprehensible input and is a language learning experience in which the affective filter is low (cf.

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