Yannis is 6 years old and last year his parents decided it was about time he started learning English. So they enrolled him in the local foreign language centre, part of a big franchise of similar centres in Greece and the Balkans.

What is the best way of teaching young pre-school children English?

Well, this blog post is not about how it should be done. I take it as a given that my readers understand and accept that children at this age should be taught through play, following an oral first approach, delaying reading and writing especially if the child has not yet started school in his/her mother tongue.

Should coursebooks be used at this age?

Personally, I would steer away from using a coursebook for this age group, but I do understand why the school might pick out something, just to keep interfering parents at bay …(“What? No coursebook? And how is my child going to study? And how am I going to be able to help him do his homework? , etc. etc.” ). Language schools are businesses, too, and losing students to the school next door is not uncommon – I have heard of good schools losing young pupils because they “were not doing Grammar and did not have a Grammar book”.

Yannis’ dad (who used to be in one of my business English classes) called me up to ask for my opinion. His question was “How come I have to buy 5 (five) books for my six-year-old? How many will I have to buy him when he goes up a few levels?” Even though he is not an educator, his instincts kept telling him that something was not right.

So here is the list of books for a 6-year-old

xxxxxx Alphabet Book with cassette
xxxxxx Primary 1 Course book
xxxxxx Primary 1 Language Booster
xxxxxx Primary 1 Test Book
xxx xxxxxx x xxx xxxxx 1 Pupil’s Video Book

How can this be?  When will there be time for oral work, for fun and games in this class, when so many pages, units, exercises, tests, have to be covered by a harrassed teacher who has to show that s/he has covered every page?

I am especially concerned by the “language booster” title and, even worse, by the “test book” ! Testing a 6 year old may seem like a normal practice to some, but I hope not to all educators. Creating a sense of high anxiety in a child goes against all I believe in for learners of such tender years!

And how can parents afford to pay so much money for so many books? If we calculate their cost ( a minimum of 160-180 euros) and then think of the 200 branch schools of the particular franchise, the numbers begin to make some sense.

These sales have made some publisher very very happy. I sincerely hope they have not also made the franchise equally happy and I am pretty certain that this is not the only publisher with similar sales.

Are young pupils and their unsuspecting parents the lifesaving force of publishing houses?

Or should this be blamed on local practices only?

(In my particular locale, the least experienced, least trained and least well-paid teachers are budled into young learners’ classes – this logic dictates giving the teacher as many books as possible to “keep the teacher busy” and, I suppose, out of mischief…)

What are the practices in other countries?  I hope some of you may find the time to share some information on this.

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