We learn (a second language) best through play

I am a language teacher and also a Learning through Play Ambassador for the LEGO Foundation. I believe that young (and older) humans learn optimally about the world through play. This goes for language learning too. 

I teach Setswana second additional language to grade 1 – 4 children. I also teach Setswana to adult classes. I use song and movement as the central activity in my classes. It is a well-known (and well researched) fact that song and music are valuable tools in language learning. This is because song and music supports two language learning processes really well. The first of these is the ‘bottom-up’ processing where the listener builds up words and sentences from sounds. The second is top-down processing where the learner uses what he or she already knows about a topic to make meaning of a situation – like when a small child calls all four legged animals ‘dog’ because that is what is what they are familiar with. 

When I teach a new theme I make up a song about the theme and I let my students demonstrate what they are singing about because I believe that the more senses one engage when learning anything the better one is able to recall it. So, for example, when I teach a song about wild animals I let the children ‘act out’ the animal by, for example, showing the horns of a buffalo or of a kudu or the way a monkey scratches itself (the funnier the better!) 

Because I let them stand up and move around children (and grownups) really enjoy this combination of singing and movement and they often spontaneously start singing a line from a song during ‘talk back’ time – it is easier to recall song than normal speech because the tempo of song is usually slower than normal speech, and so ‘lingers longer’ in the phonological loop (where humans process sound) giving us more time with the sounds of the new language. 

My students learn new words and expressions in, what everyone tells me, is record time. I don’t know about that, but I do know this: because they get to be playful and active (and funny) my students are always eager to learn the next song. This works so much better than having students endlessly chorus sentences and vocabulary, parrot-style. Human beings are motivated to learn through play. And it makes it a lot more fun for the teacher too! 

#LearningthroughPlay #LtPAmbassador #TeachingSetswanaIIAL

By Sonja BrinkPhoto by Skitterphotofrom Pexels

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