Why have they forgotten their English?

In the previous article, “Oh No, my Child’s Forgotten English”, we pointed that many parents are being deeply disappointed that their children are forgetting what they learned and we made some suggestions to both parents and schools to help avoid that but…
Why do we forget? How does it happen? Naturally, when we talk about forgetting, we’re talking about memory. As I was developing Aiwin‘s curriculum, I decided to do intensive research on memory, “why” and “how” we remember things. The reason that I wanted to delve into how the brain works and specifically remembers is that it’s crucial for successful teaching and of course learning. When we teach, we give new information to, in our case, little children and they choose to keep it…or not! As an educator, the part I’m obviously interested in is when they choose to keep it as opposed to choosing to throw it out the brain’s window.

How does memory work?

First, let’s take a look at the mechanism of how we collect information. We collect information with our senses. We see, we hear, we feel, we touch and we taste. When it comes to memory though, it seems that there are two senses that work side by side with memory, which are the eyes and ears.
There are roughly three stages for memory: Immediate memory, working memory and long-term memory. Immediate memory lasts literacy a couple of seconds, working memory can hold on to details for a limited amount of time before it either transfers them to the long-term memory or dumps them out. In the case of teaching children, specifically English learners, it’s quite challenging for teachers to get the children to pass the information from their immediate memory to their working memory, and twice as challenging to get them to store the information in their long-term memory.

boredWhat do children need to transfer the teacher’s input from their immediate memory to working memory?

The answer is…interest. The children have to be interested in what they see and hear in order for them to hold on to it for a while. If they’re not interested, they’re not paying attention. That is as true for children as it is for adults. Try to sit in a lecture and listen to someone ramble on for 2 hours about something you have no interest in whatsoever. It’s excruciating. Adults though have more control, and the brain can find many ways to help them retain the information they see and hear. A teen with no interest in math can still force himself to pay attention in the classroom if his dad promises to buy him his dream skateboard at the end of the month, sometimes it works, others it doesn’t, but that’s a different story and beyond the scope of this article. With very young children however, things are far more complicated and the incentives are very different. The teacher has to understand that very well before walking into a classroom full of toddlers or preschoolers. The children’s brain is very difficult to trick. You can’t bluff with a child, you’ll get caught :)

What do children need to transfer the teacher’s input from their working memory to their long-term memory?

Strong emotions. Again, that also applies to adults. If I ask you now “where were you when 9/11 happened?” You will most probably remember because of the emotional element. You probably remember your husband’s face expressions during your child’s birth. That’s essential to store information in our long-term memory. That’s what sets one teacher apart from a bunch of other teachers, it’s his or her ability to help the child transport information from the working memory category to the long-term category. Repetition alone is not sufficient and many Japanese learners of English learned that lesson the hard way. Rote learning or memorization based on repetition only never works. I have seen hundreds of Japanese students who tried to memorize the dictionary and might have succeeded but eventually forgot it all. Why? Because the interest is not there and the emotional connection is not there either. The first thing I used to do with my students is to help them see the connection between their English education and their career success. Most of them are motivated by that, even emotional about it especially if they are not very pleased with their current situation.
Once again, unfortunately, children are stimulated by different factors. Imagine a teacher talking to a kindergartner about the importance of having a great career! For teachers to help the children learn, they have to enter their world, a world that is governed by different rules. In Robbin William’s Hook, Peter pan could never fly until he remembered the kid in him, and the teacher can never teach a child until he or she understands what it means to be a child.

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Aiwin International School