THE HUNGRY CATERPILLAR
My Spanish friends are quite astonished when I tell them that I get slightly worried when we have an English test. I’ve even got lower marks than my friends at times, despite the fact that I attended an English International School from the age of 5 to 12 and I speak English quite fluently. My parents and teachers are surprised that I never received any English grammar lessons at school!
I will always be grateful that I went to English school and it does have its advantages; but it also has its downside. I was shocked when I changed into a Spanish secondary school and only got a 7 in my first English language test. What had happened? For a long time I didn’t know, but recently I read a blog by a Chinese boy who was brought up in the USA. His experience reflects my own. The link is below, if you wish to read it.
Now I understand that I was taught English as if I were a native English child. Learning a native language as a young child is a very different process than learning a foreign language as an older child or adult.
Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to take up a language after you have grown up? It’s because as an adult, you no longer follow the steps that babies do to learn a language. How do babies learn languages? First, they listen, second, they speak. They don’t begin reading or writing until 5 or 6. They learn grammar in what is called an inductive way; inducing the rules from exposure to the language in use. I was never taught that you have to put ‘ed’ as a suffix to the verb in the past simple tense. I induced (learnt by absorption) the rule by listening to the spoken language and then I learned the exceptions to the rule. I was never taught to conjugate a verb, nor even the different verb tenses.
The teaching of English language in British and American schools is radically different from that of learning English as a foreign language in other countries. There is a wealth of story books for infants in English and every year new ones appear. There is a long tradition of reading to very young children both in the home and at school.
My first memory of listening to a story in English was when I was only 5. I didn’t speak or understand English at that point, but I understood the story and the pictures; it was the ‘’Hungry Caterpillar’’ by Eric Carle. I didn’t really know that I had started to learn a language. I was just having fun. Language teaching should be entertaining!
I know that I have great gaps in my knowledge of English, especially of grammar; I think I’ll eventually have to sit down and learn to conjugate verbs properly! But the Hungry Caterpillar remains one of my favourite books!