I was just reading an excerpt in a book talking about children’s self-esteem: “Child psychologists point out that children are good observers, but poor interpreters. They are excellent mimics, but have little skill in evaluating.”
This truth also applies to how children learn a new language, whether it be their first language or a foreign language. They learn first and foremost by observing and mimicking. They watch and then they imitate. Children will not question or evaluate their teacher’s grammar or pronunciation. They will just copy it. Good modelling of new language will ultimately produce good language acquisition for the young learner. Unfortunately, the contrary is also true.
This phenomenon is perpetuated over generations. Just as a child’s poor self-esteem can often be traced back to parents and grand-parents, a poor language learner can be traced back to a poor teacher who in turn had a poor teacher.
How can one put a stop to these negative outcomes? One solution is that the child changes its role model. Instead of imitating a person who displays an inaccurate model of life or language, the child is put at the feet of a person who can exercise a positive influence on their learning.
When it comes to foreign language learning, a parent is often hard pressed to know who is the best teacher for their child. The child’s school teacher might exhibit good pedagogy but still have a limited knowledge of the foreign language they are teaching. After school classes with native language teachers is preferable as long as the child has sufficient exposure to the target language. One lesson per week is insufficient to ensure much progress unless there is support material that the child can use between lessons.
Apart from the most privileged, children do not have ready access to qualified, native English teachers. That is why ‘Sam and Mel’ produces finely calibrated lessons that children can imitate to their heart’s content. They may not be able to evaluate what they are mimicking, we have done that for them.