Don’t forget early literacy!

By Wendy Arnold

Young learner literacy is an area which needs informed and skilled teaching and Wendy Arnold puts out a plea for a naturalistic approach in today’s blog.

Reading our own stories: Boom in Arabic children's books | Middle East Eye

Wendy has a passion for success in literacy, don’t we all? But this is only possible when a huge amount of effort is put into learning ‘listening’ and ‘speaking’ English in order to have a database of vocabulary and grammar ‘acquired’ subconsciously and in some cases ‘learnt’ consciously (drilling).

You need to hear a word so you can say it. 

You need to say a word so you can read it.

You need to read a word so you can write it.

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? But there is nothing simple about second language literacy! Literacy learning is complex. The systems invented by humans to share meanings across space and time come in multiple formats. Humans’ attempts to design symbols to represent ideas started thousands of years ago. The Ancient Egyptians used a combination of pictures and symbols which were only decoded in 1822 after numerous unsuccessful attempts during centuries.

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Some Asian countries devised pictographs, e.g. China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, but these logograms have been simplified over the years, including the use of ‘pinyin’ which uses the Roman alphabet.


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Young learners who are introduced to two very different writing systems at the same time, as in the case of Arabic and English in Palestine, need extremely able teachers who understand how languages are learnt. The children in Palestine already speak Arabic and have an excellent background vocabulary and grammar learnt in the ‘naturalistic’ way.

This vocabulary and grammar is lacking when the children start to learn English but can be acquired through extensive listening and speaking practice. Without this “database” of words and grammar, it is all too likely that they will encounter problems in learning to read, and the even more difficult skill of writing.

Knowledge about childrens’ learning is central to effective teaching. With this in mind, and, particularly for those teachers interested in teaching grades 1-3, I’d like to invite you to join a WhatsApp group with a focus on early literacy. We’ll be joined by experts in the field to discuss the most effective way to teach young learners and to ensure their success in a notoriously difficult area.

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