Stefania, a business-woman in the clothing industry, and her husband Antonio, who works in the Ministry of Defense, live in Castel di Lama, in the province of Ascoli Piceno, Italy. They enrolled their son Cristian in his first Helen Doron English course when he was three and a half years old. Cristian has already benefited from the following courses: Fun with Flupe, More Fun with Flupe and Jump with Joey and now, at the age of seven, he is in his fourth year at Helen Doron in the More Jump with Joey programme.
Stefania spoke to us about Cristian, his personality and his progress. Naturally, she compared her son’s current level of English with her own personal experience as a language student. “Cristian is a very inquisitive and lively child, and sometimes he is even a bit impatient. He is always eager to learn and discover new things! So, I’ve noticed that this experience has interested him a lot. I am satisfied with his progress! His pronunciation has improved so much and he seems to speak like a native. I feel that his pronunciation is very different from mine, which is only at a school-girl level. At school I was good at writing English, certainly, but not at speaking it. Then, when I went to work abroad I became aware of this. Cristian’s English, on the other hand, is active. If you ask a simple question in English he answers; he knows a lot of vocabulary.”
This year Cristian has just started the More Jump with Joey course and is also using the Workbook, which introduces reading and writing elements. “A child is like a sponge, absorbing everything, with the information going around in his/her head all the time. I think that starting English at nine or ten does not have the same effect. The transition to reading and writing with the Workbook, after three years of the course, seems completely normal. Cristian is now also beginning to put together English words in a written form! It is as it should be, since that is the natural way. First of all you learn to speak and then to write. At school it often happens the other way round.”
The family found Helen Doron when looking for the right setting for their toddler. “At that particular point, my husband was looking for an English course for Cristian, who was then three years old. I attended the sample lesson and I saw immediately that the child was quiet, he was comfortable, reacted positively and this convinced me about it. I would recommend this experience to other parents and, I must say, as a mother I felt good about it! When I take him to the class usually I wait for him in the waiting room and it is a period of time that I do not mind, because the atmosphere is comfortable and has created a sort of family.”
The proud Mom continued, “English is crucial not only to travel and work, but also to mental development, because learning a language teaches you a different way of living and thinking. During the week Cristian also takes part in other activities in the afternoon, and yet, despite the fact that his interests and his habits have changed over the years, he continues with English. Indeed, if he misses a lesson because of flu, he is really upset! What my husband and I have been doing for four years is making an investment for the future, whatever Cristian chooses to do one day.” Furthermore, according to Stefania, in Italy, English is still not considered the first choice as second language: “It should have more importance. Many people discover it at school with lessons in grammar and writing and it goes no further, as it was in my case. But then if work takes you abroad, or you are just on holiday, you feel uncomfortable when you have to express yourself, you feel like a fish out of water.”
Reflecting on the Helen Doron English methodology, Stefania told us, “In my opinion, one of the things that works in this method is using games. Usually at school a child at a desk in a classroom, possibly after two hours of another subject, does not enjoy the lesson. I’m certainly not saying that English in school is not important, but to really learn you have to play and be active. Here there are games: you move about, you sing, and you learn – it’s a different way of learning. There are so many varied and interesting activities: listening in the background at home to the songs on the course; watching the episodes of the story; and then I also really like the fact that when there are special events, such as Halloween, the children in class do projects on the topic, that develop their manual skills a great deal.
The small groups are another thing that makes me confident about this method: the relationship with the classmates who started this journey with him has become well-founded, perhaps because there are not twenty, twenty-five children in the class and so the activities they do together don’t get out of hand. It’s all very organised, and there is so much attention to detail!”