Oh, Innocence!


Thou childhood’s virtue’s unfailing companion,

Thou make faithful expressions spout forth from young lips,

Language of innocence, language of simplicity created for children.

Redeem the world from its linguistic complexities.

Reminiscent of your truthful, simple, incorruptible expressions

Leave thy mark on the pure heart of the child

Endow on her the power to face the adversities

In language schools, in the presence of stern, demanding language teachers who ask children to do Herculean tasks ……. 

At this point I wake up from my semi-daymare (opposite of nightmare).  Reverie after a full lunch seems to have got the better of me. Pardon me for taking the liberty to coin a new word (daymare). But let me assure you that it is not going to make its way into any self-respecting dictionary. Still, in my half reverie, I keep thinking about childhood innocence – and its first friends, simple language, truthful words and a pure heart.

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Language, some scholars believe, is learnt by imitation and practice. Some believe that it is innate in the child herself. Every normal child is predisposed to language learning, making sounds by testing his vocal organs since he/she is a few months old. Early vocalization, cooing and gurgling are the stages children have to go through. This is how they unconsciously discover and use the secondary function of the mouth – to speak. Still others believe that it develops from interactions with things and people in the surrounding.

Whatever the scholars' arguments, language is one aspect of human life developed and used by any child endowed with essential sense faculties. There is a limited duration when children acquire language. When it happens later, linguists have found such unfortunate children never develop the full faculty of language. There is a missing piece in their life which will never find its place anymore.

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Though it is true that every normal child endowed with the required sense faculties is predisposed to language learning, there will be years of hard work ahead. Though children will breeze through acquisition of the mother tongue and most second languages which are used for communication in their environment, when language learning takes on academic nature – often removed from practical contexts, it becomes increasingly difficult for young learners to associate things they learn in classroom with things in the real world. May be this is the reason teachers of young learners provide context with pictures, illustrations and drawings. Language is a treacherous experience when taken out of context.

A friend told me about his experience as a young learner of English. English was not spoken anywhere near him. The English alphabet he learnt in the classroom, the sounds they made, how they formed words, how words became sentences, how sentences related to the real world context – all these things were a mystery to him. More often than not, learning only covered the acquisition of the alphabet, sounds and meaning. They stopped short of putting things in context.

It was believed that the audiolingual method used in those days can serve as the panacea for all ailments with language.  Teachers made great efforts to educate the children. It was the absence of interactions in relevant context that stumped my friend.

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Here I am. Talking about interactions yet once more. I am not aware of my obsession with elements involved in human interaction – that of language in particular. Only a browsing of the titles of quite a few articles I have written indicates that well I am totally obsessed with the subject. In interactions, there are human dynamicity, interactivity and above all, feelings. Feelings, also academically known as affective factors, are what make us human. When we forget that our students are rational as well as feeling, emotional beings, we tend to push too far. If we push them too far in language learning – rote learning in particular – without providing relevant context, it may backfire. In this day and age when overachieving is the norm, average performance is less than satisfactory.

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Language happens naturally to any child with normal physical endowment.  We have seen even mentally challenged children, if they are endowed with speech faculty, can use language masterfully.

I miss that language learning with childhood innocence. Childhood –  when language is used truthfully without embellishments. With the advancing years, language gets more and more complex. With second and foreign language learning, foreign language learning in particular, the tasks children are required to do become more challenging.

How do children react? I have seen some survive the fire and water trial. Some with flying colours. Some barely made it. For most learners, when they are pushed beyond their limit of endurance for memorization, they slow down and eventually shut down like computers that are forced to do multiple tasks at the same time. There is stonewalling in which learners refuse to receive any more language input nor acknowledge the use of learning the language. That is how learning end tragically for some children.

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Kids, when pushed too far, don’t snarl nor bare their nails unlike ferocious cats. But, there will be a complete shutdown of their learning faculties. They stop cooperating. They stop listening. They stop speaking. To redeem their self-respect, they would try to occupy with something else more interesting like playing computer games or chatting online. I have seen students 24 hours online, uploading photos and making comments on Facebook in their waking hours.  There is the end of learning – hopefully for a short spell. I have seen cases of kids who just call it quits. They quit  everything concerned with education.

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One of my close friends was crazy about teaching when she was still a high school student. She believed that she was good at teaching. And where did she test her teaching skills? At home. Who did she test her teaching skills on? On her own younger brother. The youngest in the family in fact. She pushed him too far. Her drastic actions such as severe punishments and heavy study routines drove him crazy. He quit school. He quit learning. The most tragic of all, he quit his family. I know of no less than ten people, promising in every way, became disillusioned with learning.

Unlike those poor souls, I was fortunate enough to be left for the most part to my own devices in learning. I was left in peace with a pile of books with no one organizing my routines. I read up things that interested me. I ignored things I thought were too hard for me. 

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I am doing the same thing for my students. I try to realize their strengths and weaknesses. I use different approaches with different students. Unruly students –  I try to organize them into classroom activities by helping them to realize their self-worth. I also try to make them aware of the impact, usually negative, they are having on their classmates by being uncooperative. When they start identifying with their classmates in goals and in perceptions, they become deeply involved in the learning process.

One class I have to teach is made up of teenagers. Teens being teens, they are inquisitive and they do not accept things as they are. They need to be given pros and cons and whys and wherefores. The spoon-feeding days are long over and they like making up their minds on their own. Having progressed far beyond the innocence of the early childhood, teenagers, though impressionable at times, can be reasoned with when you have struck the right chord.

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As implied in the poem at the beginning of this article, children do have their own good qualities. They keep maturing at more or less similar degrees with their peers. Teachers will be of ample help to the learning process if they realize the inherent good qualities of children. They can exploit these qualities to aid in children's knowledge acquisition and skill development.

In this manner, children will emerge into the world as productive individuals, each one special in his/her own way.

Dr. Sann Myint 

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A very good article Sayar. Hope to read more.

Thanks

Thank a lot.

Sayar
I agree with you. However there are so many constraints-material constraint, time constraint etc.. in real life situation.In addition, some teachers stick to use the old teaching method which is obsolete .On the student's side,some students are ingrained in spoon feeding method. Nevertheless,I like your idea very much and hope to learn more from you.
ေက်းဇူးပါခင္ဗ်ာ

Good Article ! Saya

Very interesting, Saya.

Would be nice if we can translate good works of literature! They can truly educate young minds in a very profound yet subtle ways. I can be your typist! We wouldn't be able to make a living but that is how I want to live.

Thanks, Sir...I really like your article.

Thanks !Saya.

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