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English Language Teaching Global Blog


Goldilocks and the three answers

Group of five young children jumpingIn her first blog post for OUP, Barb Hoskins Sakamoto, co-author of the Let’s Go series, considers how introducing language to young learners requires an approach that’s ‘just right’.

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.

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