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Jawida Ben Afia


English Clubs
Introducing English to Young Learners

orldwide there has Tunisian Ministry of Education and

been an enormous Training has considered many different
push to introduce íssues and has created a program focused
English as a foreign language to chil- on English clubs. The English clubs have
dren in primary school classrooms. been designed to provide primary school
Parents as well as political and educa- age Iearners with a positive initial expo-
tional leaders see English and early sure to the English language before
English education as a necessary pre- they begin formal academic study of
requisite for childrens later success. the language in middle school. Other
English is being recognized as a world countries can learn from the Tunisian
language, and many people believe model when implementing their own
that the earlier children start learning young learner English programs.
English, the better. The underlying The context
assumption, held by many, is that Tunisia is in an interesting position
iearners wÜI be more successful if they because it has a well-established sec-
begin studying English at an early age. ond language curriculum in place in
The challenge is how to créate qual- the schools, which ensures that Iearn-
ity programs for young Iearners. ers are bilingual in Arabíc and French.
Research has shown that except for Children enter school and learn to
pronunciation, young Iearners are read and write Arabic. (It should be
NOT better equipped to íearn for- noted that Arabic has a writing system
eign languages than older Iearners are with a script and spatial orientation
(Marinova-Todd, S.> B. Marshall, and of script that differs from the Latín
C. Snow 2000). Such findings do not letters and the Latín orientation.)
dissuade governments and ministries When children enter third grade, they
of education from introducing English begin learning French as a second lan-
language programs for young Iearners. guage. They are introduced to the
Like many other countries, Tunisia aural/oral French language as well as
has decíded to embark on English edu- the French writing system, which is
cation in the primary grades. The based on the Latin alphabet.


The Tunisian Ministry of Educatíon and awareness of the English language sound sys-
Training took into account the academic and cem, classroom instructíons, and basic vocab-
linguistic context prior to developing and ulary. This awareness is designed to facilítate
implementing English language instruction in the acquisition of English language skills when
che classrooms for primary school children. learners begin formal instruction.
Rather chan merely adopcing curricula used in
other countries to introduce English to young An English club
learners, Tunisian officials decided to créate a An English club is a group experience that
program that would buíld on pupils' previous occurs three times a week for eleven-year-old
experiences learning a second language with children. It is less formal than a regular course
Latin letters. The officiais also felt that it was at the primary school level. The emphasis of
¡mportant to créate a program that would not the English club is on exposure to the English
overwhelm learners who were still developing language racher than the development of a
skills in their first and second languages. strict set of Engíish language skills. The cypes
of activities found in an English club are more
The aim of the program like the types of hands-on activities found in a
Tunisian officials were carerul to formúlate Girl Guide or Boy Scout meeting than the
clear goals for English language instruction in teacher-centered activicies found in a regular
the primary schools, based on the local context. fifth or sixth grade class. If you were to visit an
After careful scrutiny, the officials in charge English club, you would notice learners mak-
decided to introduce English at die fifth grade ing things, singing songs, and doing other
as a club activity rather than as a formal class enjoyable activicies in English.
and to develop a program based on young During English club time, children are
learners' social, emotional, physical, and cogni- engaged in hands-on fun activities in keeping
tive development and the Tunisian context. with the overall spirit and aim of the Club.
The aim of the program is to help children Children do word snake puzzles, linking words
develop a posttive attitude towards the English together. Learners also make things, such as
language and to be sensitized to the sound sys- puppets or pictures, related to the topics they
tem of the language. The aim of helping learn- are learning about in English.
ers develop a positive attitude towards the Children are also encouraged to have fun
English language is in keeping with Krashens singing songs during English club time. English
(1986) affective filterhypodiesís. Accordingto club teachers are trained to lead singing activi-
Krashen, learners can have a "mental block" tíes that encourage children to be actively in-
towards a language caused by afrective factors. volved by clapping hands to the rhythm of the
The Tunisian program has strived to help song, using body actions, or singing in rounds.
learners avoid the mental block by engaging in
fun club-style activities in English. Materials used in English clubs
Another aim of the program has been to By law, Tunisian schoolbooks must be pro-
help children develop pronunciation skills in duced locally. This means that educators can
English. As mentioned above, one of the real develop their own materials that are in keeping
advantages to having children start learning with the local needs and goals. Educators creat-
English at an early age is that they are better ed their own student books for English clubs.
equipped to develop English language pro- These materials could be considered resource
nunciation (Birdsong 1999). With this in books more than textbooks. The student books
mind, the program features songs, poems, provide learners with vocabulary and the con-
chants, and finger-plays that young learners text of the vocabulary and are used as a resource
sing and chant. for the songs and hands-on activities that stu-
In addition, the English clubs are designed dents engage in during Engíish club.
co help learners become accustomed to the Additionaí materials for the English clubs
language so that when they begin formal were donated by the American Cultural Cen-
instruction in middle school, they are ready. ter and the British Council. Aíl of the Engíish
Through English clubs, learners develop an clubs were provided with picture dictionaries


and a cassette and CD of favorite childrerís Recommendations for young learner
songs. Some of thc English clubs were given ELT programs
supplementary commercial textbooks that Other countrics wishing to embark on
included picture cards. English language study Ín the primary schools
coulcí íearn from the Tunisian program. I.isted
Staffing English clubs
bclow are specific recommendations for others
Worldwide it is very difficult to imptement considering the development and implemen-
young learner English languagc teaching fEIT) tation of young learner programs.
programs because there are not adequate nuni- 1. Consider the context
bers of teachers who (1J have the necessary Although it may be easy to merely adopt
skills to work with young learners and (2) are a textbook and curriculum being usecl in
proficient in the English language. The deci- a neighboring country, it is important that
sión was made in Tunisia to staff the English the Ministry of Education and regional
clubs with primary school teachers who authorities determine what ís most ap-
received focused English language instruction. propriate for a particular group of young
Prior to the widespread introduction of the learners. The entire context should he
English clubs, primar)' school regular educa- considered, including the priman' lan-
tion teachers underwent a two-ycar program of guage of learners, the leve! of Üteracy of
language ímprovement. Primary school teachers learners, their exposure to one or more
attended courses, in their regions, Icd by the than one language, learners' exposure to
best secondary school English languagc spe- the Latin wridng systern, and, finally,
cialists. These courses províded primary school the resources available to implement a
teachers with the basic English language skills young learner program. Local educación
required to conduct thc English clubs. offlcials shouldn't bow to prcssures from
internacional agencies and international
Training for English club leaders/teachers
publishers to merely adopt what has
In order to créate state oí the art programs, becn created for another country' or cven
the Tunisian Ministry of Education put togcth- anothcr región wichin the same country.
er a teacher training program with two compo-
2. Develop goals
nents. Primary school teachers received English
language improvemenc classes (described above) it is important to have cíear and realistic
as well as training in teaching English as a for- goals. Ir is impossible to créate and
cign language. Appropriate mcthodologies for implement a quality program without
use ín the English clubs were modeled as parr knowing the aim of the program. It is
of thc English language improvemcnt classes. also necessary to have realistic goals that
In addition, at regular intervals thc teachers can be met with che available resourccs.
received mcthodology training. The mcthod- For example, the top officials may want
ology semináis were held in regional teacher every child in every school to become
training centers during the academic year and completely bilingual wichin a period of
also ¡n national English Langnage Villages three years, but if chere are not enongh
held in summer. ceachers who can speak English and are
English I-anguage Villages provídean inno- crained co work wich young learners, chis
vative way ro expose primary school teachers goal cannor be met.
to thc English language. English Language Vil- 3. Créate a comprehensive multí-year plan
lages wcrc ser up as stx-day camps for primar)' A quality young learner ELT program
school teachers. Everyrhing about the camp, cannot be implemcnted overnighc. Quaí-
from food service to evening activities, was ity programs should be developed and
condticted in English. All of che signs of the implemented over a number of years.
camp were in English. The music played dur- The comprehensive plan should address
ing breaks was all in Engíish. Primary school every aspecr of program implemcntation,
teachers attended languagc Ímprovement ses- including teacher training, rcsources,
sions as well as methodology workshops as and the impact on the total primary cur-
part of the camp. riculum. Eor example, if English is of-


fered for 100 minutes a week, the num-
ber of minutes available for other subjects
or acrivitics may have to be decreased,
and this cannot be done wítliout careíul
planning and involvement of individuáis
from different departments within the
Ministr}' of Educatíon.

The Tunisian English program for young
learners has been extremely successful for sev-
era! reasons. First of all, it was dcveloped based
on local needs and conditions. Second, realistic
goals werc formulated that could be met widí
available resources. Based on the conditions
and resources in Tunísia, the goals of the young
learner program are to sensitize children to the
English language and also to help children
develop a positive attitudc towards the English
language. The best way to achieve the goals was
by cstablishing English clubs instead of tradi-
tíonal English language classes. Third, the pro-
gram was not developed and implemented
overnight but rather over severa! years.
Other countries wishing to develop or
modify English language instructíon for young
learners míght want to consider setting up
Engíish clubs in place of forma! classes. English
clubs are an alternative to traditional cíasses
that focus on paper and pencil tasks. If the
focus of the firsr or first two years of English
language ¡nstmction of a young learner pro-
gram is on providing children with an enjoy-
able, stress-frec exposure to English, then it is
worth considering insututing English clubs.

Birdsong, D. 1999. Second language acquisítion and
the critica.1 period hypothesis. Mahwah, NJ:
1-awrcnce Erlbaum Associates.
Krashen, S. 1986. The input hypothesis: Issues and
implications. London, UK: ifmgman,
Marinova-Todd, S., D. MarshaJl, and C. Snow.
2000. Three misconceptions about age and L2
learning. TKSOL Quanerly, 34 (1): 9-34.

JAWIDA BEN AFIA is Inspector General of

Education and Chief Inspector of English
for the Tunisian Mínístry of Education and
Training and is in charge of syllabus design,
textbook writing and evaluation, teacher
training programs, and national exams. She
has written six textbooks (incíuding one
for clubs) as well as several articles in
specialised journals.

E M G L I S H l E A C H I N Q F O R U M N U M B ER 2 2006 23