South Africa is a multi-language country – not many other countries can boast having 11 official languages, but here in South Africa we are proud of all of them. But having this many languages has its difficulties. Our education system starts learners off in their mother tongue, and then switches to English abruptly in Grade 4. For many learners their English skills have not been developed or supported enough to handle this transition.
Two teachers Sarah Ohlson de Fine (Foundation Phase) and Catherine Thompson (Intermeidate Phase) have collaborated to develop two games – Conversation Station and Viva Vocab (which are marketed by African Voice). These games have been designed to help learners develop critical thinking skills and proficiency in four languages: English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu.
Both these resources can be used throughout the Foundation and Intermediate phase of education. In the Foundation Phase they are used in the learners Mother Tongue, to encourage Critical Thinking, and at the same time to build vocabulary in another language. In the Intermediate Phase, the same resources are used once again when the learner is more established in the Second Language. Here the games are used to encourage the learners to practice using the Second Language.
For years, the popular methodology for learning a second language has been to focus on grammar and sentences first and then on vocabulary. Recently, however, many teachers have realised that learning vocabulary first leads to an easier transition into the second language. Learning grammar and how to construct sentences is easier once the children has a reasonable base of vocabulary to draw on.
The development of Conversation Station and Viva Vocab is based on this concept of building a solid foundation of vocabulary before tackling other aspects of the language.
Viva Vocab is a specialised vocabulary building game. It is a flash card game – with a picture of an object on the one side, and the vocabulary word on the reverse. The vocabulary is repeated in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu.
Viva Vocab has over 250 of the CAPS vocabulary words. These words are categorised, and each category is colour coded. The categories include numbers, Days of the Week, Months of the Year, Emotions, Verbs, Nouns, and Greetings and Expressions to name but a few. The phonetic transcription of the word is included with each language. This assists the learner to begin pronouncing the word in the right way.
Conversation Station contains 40 cards. Each card has a truly South African photo on the one side, and critical thinking questions in all four of the target languages on the reverse. There are also vocabulary words at the bottom of each card, relating to photograph. These words are listed in the CAPS top 200 vocabulary list.
Conversation Station combines Critical thinking with Second Language Acquisition.
What is critical thinking?? To think critically about an issue or a problem means to be open-minded and consider alternative ways of looking for solutions.
Critical thinking is about knowing how to think, not what to think. It is made up of a number of different skills that help us to learn to make decisions.
To be a good at thinking, children must believe that thinking is fun and they must want to be good at it. Good thinkers practice thinking just like they practice soccer or playing the piano.
Critical thinking has become a buzzword in education. It encourages children to reason better by helping them to base their conclusions on facts rather than emotions.
Using discussion which involves critical thinking in a classroom is ideal, as children are then exposed to the thought processes of their peers. Thus, they can begin to understand how others think and that there are multiple ways of approaching problems, not just one correct way.
Conversation Station fosters critical thinking through thought provoking and open-ended questions, to which there are no right or wrong answers. The game is designed to stimulate interaction and conversation. Children draw on their own personal knowledge as they think about and discuss the photograph.
The Vocabulary Section at the bottom of Conversation Station is aimed at children in the pre-production phase of their Second Language. In this phase, the children are often silent but are absorbing new vocabulary words. These new vocabulary words are easy to understand because they are illustrated in the photograph. The teacher can point, repeat and discuss the words with the children.
In the Intermediate phase, the same cards can be used when the children are more advanced in their Second Language. The critical thinking questions are now used in the second language to facilitate constructing phrases and sentences in the second language.
Studies suggest that most learners need between 5-16 ‘meetings’ with a word in order to retain it. By using both Conversation Station and Viva Vocab, learners will be repeatedly exposed to vocabulary building in different situations.
The association between the words and their meaning is further enhanced by allowing the children to translate the word from both language directions. First they see the second language word and have to produce the Mother Tongue meaning. Later it helps them to translate from their Mother Tongue into the Second Language.
Viva Vocab offers children the opportunity to practice word translation in multiple directions as the words are listed in all four languages on the card. Viva Vocab also provides a phonetic transcription of the word, to help children to pronounce the word correctly.
Learning a second language should not be confined only to the classroom. The more exposure and practice a child has, the quicker and deeper the learning of the second language will take place. Conversation Station and Viva Vocab can be used effectively in the home environment. These are idea games for parents looking to assist their children with second language acquisition. Siblings can assist one another, and parents can begin acquiring vocabulary of a language they interested in learning.
Conversation Station and Viva Vocab are both available for purchase on-line at www.learningtools.co.za
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