Latest news and updates for our Kuala Lumpur Young Learner parents - October 2016

Get the most out of the school holidays by registering your child for a short holiday programme to improve their confidence.

This year, the British Council is commemorating 400 years since the death of Shakespeare with some exciting and fun holiday courses for children based on the life of Shakespeare and his plays. The holiday courses will make the works of this great British writer accessible to children while helping them improve their skills in English.

Storytelling

Our resident storyteller, Keats, will be back again in week 2 to tell stories to our YLs. The stories are appropriate for PP1-PP3 students and space is limited, so participation will be on a first-come-first-served basis. Storytelling will take place on the Ground Floor near room 17 from 1:20 on the 16th and 17th July.

Child Safety Week

This term, we will be marking child safety week with activities in class to raise students’ awareness of potential issues in their safety. Our youngest students will be introduced to ideas about safe touch, while our older students will look at how to stay safe online. Last term, with the increasing popularity of Pokemon Go, some classes looked at the potential problems that the game may create.

Taking photos in the British Council

On the topic of child safety, we would like to remind parents to not take photos of classes in progress. This is both distracting for students and a potential risk for children as other parents have no given their permission for their child to be photographed.

Primary Plus online portal

The activities for Topic 7 are live on the Primary Plus portal and students can log in and start them at any time. The activities are a great way to practise the language covered in class and the students can earn badges for completing the activities, then unlock the Shaun the Sheep videos to watch online. Go to https://primaryplus.britishcouncil.org/login/index.php and help your child log in today.

Changes to the way we use course books

The British Council Young Learner team has been gathering feedback from teachers and students on how course books are used in our Upper Primary, Lower Secondary and Upper Secondary classes. We recommend students in these courses take approximately 2 years to move to the next level (160 learning hours), but in the past we have been using course books over 1 year (80 hours).

Based on the feedback we have received from parents and the research we have done with teachers and students, from next year, all of our UP, LS and US books will be used over a 2 year period, in line with the length of the course. This is to allow teachers to provide more opportunities for students to use their language in class through speaking and writing tasks, and to expose them to more natural English through the use of readers and videos in class. In addition, after feedback from students, we will be integrating basic academic skills development lessons into each term to help students build their skills toward potential future academic studies in English.

This year we have been trialling this move with our UP3, UP4 and LS5 courses to great success, so we are excited to be expanding on this next year.

Parent workshops

This term, the theme of our parent workshops is Supporting children’s needs and is appropriate for parents of Primary Plus students or students with learning issues. Workshops take place in room 17 from 1:20-2:00 and space is limited so we recommend parents arrive on time to get a seat. There will also be a film showing in room 18 for children to watch while parents attend the talk.

The first parent workshop, which will be in week 4 (22 and 23 October) will be on the topic of Supporting literacy development. In this workshop we will review some of the core ideas we learned in the first workshop and look at strategies which parents can use to help their child develop their English literacy skills. This workshop has been delayed from last term due to illness in the YL team.

The second workshop, in week 8 (19 and 20 November) will be on the topic of The Inclusive Classroom: the role of parents. This workshop will cover the British Council’s policy on inclusiveness and what this means for your child in the classroom. It will focus on the Council’s policies and procedures as it relates to the classroom and how parents can help teachers to help their child. This is in the context of individuals who have special needs, identifying the needs, working with parents to get the whole picture with information that can be used to make their child’s learning more inclusive.

Why can reading and writing in English be challenging? workshop summary

Our first workshop of this term talked about some of the issues behind why English literacy can be challenging for children. This is an important issue as reading and writing in English has some unique challenges that can make it particularly hard to learn, so children who have found reading and writing easy to learn in another language may still have difficulty in English.

Different writing systems

There are generally two recognised writing systems: alphabetic systems, like English Malay and Tamil, and logographic systems such as Chinese. Different writing systems require slightly different skills to master. For example, an alphabetic writing system like Malay requires the ability to link sounds and written letters and put these together to form words, while Chinese requires a good memory for the many different symbols.

Transparent and opaque languages

Alphabetic writing systems can also be broken down into transparent or opaque written languages. A transparent written language has a very close sound-letter relationship, so each letter represents one sound. Malay and Malaysian Tamil are good examples of very transparent languages.

An opaque language does not have such a close sound letter relationship. For example, one letter may represent one sound, or one sound many be written in many ways. English is one of the most opaque languages. Think about the different ways we can say the sound /ch/: cheese, chef and chaos. Or the different ways of writing the sound /ou/: mouth, how, bough.

Why is English so tricky?

In English, there may be more than one sound associated with a letter, or there may be more than one way to represent a sound. There are two general reasons for this. The first is The Great Vowel shift that occurred in English in the 15th century. During this time, the pronunciation of some sounds and words changed significantly. For example, before The Great Vowel Shift ‘out’ used to rhyme with ‘boot’ and ‘meat’ rhymed with ‘hurt’. Some words with a double ‘o’ in them also changed pronunciation, which is why we have both ‘good’ and ‘food’ written with the same sound but pronounced differently.

The other reason for the difficulty of English is that we have many words that are borrowed from other languages, but we have also borrowed the spelling of those words. Using the example above of /ch/, ‘cheese’ is from the Anglo Saxon language brought to Britain by the Saxon tribe from Germany, ‘chef’ is borrowed from French and ‘chaos’ is borrowed from Greek. Many languages change the spelling of borrowed words to fit their written system, for example ‘sekolah’ and ‘teksi’ in Malay are both borrowed from English, but at a certain point this stopped happening in English, which adds to the difficulty of the language.

What does this mean for children?

This means that English can be a lot more difficult to learn for children in Malaysia. Whether their first language is Chinese, Malay or Tamil, because English is very opaque it requires both a good memory for whole words (like Chinese but unlike Malay or Tamil) and a good understanding of phonics (like Malay and Tamil, but unlike Chinese). This can mean that a child who has found reading and writing easy to learn in Chinese, Malay or Tamil may find English very hard. This can lead to frustration and some children may give up trying. It can also be very hard for parents to understand as the child has not had problems learning to read and write in their first language.

 What can we do to help?

Parents can sometimes feel that they don’t have the skills to help their child learn to write in English. But one of the most important skills that children need if they are finding English hard is the patience to keep trying even though they find it hard. Parents can support this through helping the child focus on the effort rather than being successful. Praise should be given for working hard and not giving up, rather than getting high marks.

If you would like more specific advice about how to support your child with phonics or remembering spelling of difficult words, please attend our follow up session ‘Supporting reading and writing development in English’ on the 23rd and 24th October.

Did you know…

  • The British Council is an enthusiastic supporter of STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) in Malaysia. as part of this support, the British Council recently worked with the Newton-Ungku Omar Fund to contribute a 1 hour science show during the Petrosains Science Festival. The show included participants from the Malaysian heat of the Famelab competition and included the international winner, Malaysian geneticist Dr Abhi Veerakumarsivam.
  • The British Council is a member of the Keeping Children Safe network. This is a network of organisations that work with children from around the world. The aim of the network is to provide member organisations with advice and assessment of their child safety procedures so we can be confident that children at British Council centres are safe from harm.
  • As a cultural organisation, the British Council has been a strong partner with the Cooler Lumpur Festival, a diverse festival that seeks to solve the serious challenges facing the world today. As South East Asia’s only festival of ideas, the British Council is privileged to host the festival in co-operation with PopDigital Sdn Bhd and bring together filmmakers, writers, musicians and thinkers from all over the world to share their ideas and generate new ones.