Imagine if you will, that Goldilocks teaches English as a foreign language to children. Her students have been learning about animals and are talking about which animals they like and dislike. She asks one of her students, “Do you like bears?” Assuming that the student does indeed like bears, which of the following answers does Goldilocks hope for?
|Yes, I do.|
|Yes, I do like bears.|
All three answers are possible, but like Goldilocks looking for her porridge, only one of them is just right.
Yes, I do like bears is too long. It falls into the category my co-author Carolyn Graham calls “not real English.” Grammatically, it’s possible, but is unlikely to be heard in conversation.
Yes! is too real. It’s a shortcut answer that’s convenient when everyone understands that yes is followed by additional (unspoken) information. Children learning English as their first language develop a passive language foundation that helps them do this. Goldilocks knows that her foreign language students get most, if not all, of their language foundation in her class. Unless she exposes her students to longer answers, they aren’t likely to learn that the implied meaning of yes changes, based on the question asked:
|Are you happy?||Yes, I am.|
|Is this a star?||Yes, it is.|
|Is he twelve?||Yes, he is.|
|Do you want some cake?||Yes, I do.|
|Can you ski?||Yes, I can.|
|Have you ever seen a bear?||Yes, I have.|
|Will you study tonight?||Yes, I will.|
The answer, Yes, I do, is short enough to be “real,” but long enough to contain the information students need to build a language foundation that will eventually help them become successful readers and writers in English. That’s why Goldilocks knows that it’s just right.
These just right answers also help students make connections between related language patterns, so even before they’re grappling with literacy, they can more easily access a larger repertoire when trying to express their own unique ideas.
For example, both of these questions are related to the same original statement: I like bears.
|What do you like?||I like bears.|
|Do you like bears?||Yes, I do.|
It’s easier for children to remember them as variations on a similar theme than as individual patterns, each requiring its own distinct file folder in a child’s memory.
The key to making these slightly longer answers as easy as the shortcut answers is fluency. Once students have learned to answer Yes, I do with natural rhythm and intonation, it’s no more difficult to say than Yes (and much more useful!)
One of my favorite activities to quickly build speaking fluency is one I learned from another of my co-authors, Ritsuko Nakata. She does what she calls 6-second drills, but I’ve never met children who saw them as anything but fun activities. The name comes from the amount of time these “drills” take in class. Children have a task in which the language is embedded. For example, you might ask children to repeat Yes, I do three times quickly, then stand up, raise their hands, and shout Finished! Next, you might ask them to whisper, or to clap three times before standing. Since it’s silly to begin with, children enjoy making it a race, to see who can speak the fastest.
As Goldilocks knows, we have many options to choose from when we introduce language to young learners. Our job as teachers is to find the one that’s just right for our learners.