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#IATEFL – Second language development in childhood: factors for success

content based language teaching and instructionVictoria Murphy, Professor of Applied Linguistics and author of Second language learning in the early school years: Trends and Contextsshares her thoughts on the importance of L2 development in childhood, ahead of her forthcoming talk at IATEFL 2015 on Tuesday 14th on the same subject.

How children learn second languages has long interested me. Looking back, even from a very young age I was fascinated with the notion of bilingualism. As a child growing up in Ottawa, Canada I was fortunate in that I had very early second language instruction – indeed I was taught French as part of my pre-school and kindergarten education. When I was in grade 3 I recall that a very nice lady came into the class and told us that if we were interested in having all of our school day in French in grade 4, that we should take the letter she was distributing home to our parents and get them to sign it. I vividly remember how excited I was then at the prospect of speaking French for the whole day! Little did I know then that I was to end up participating in an early cohort of French Immersion education, a form of bilingual education that I would later go on to study as an academic. That very early interest in bilingualism stuck with me and eventually motivated me to go on and study Linguistics and Psychology at undergraduate level and then as part of my graduate work examine more closely some of the mechanisms which underpin child L2 learning.

Why is child L2 learning important?

More than ever I believe the field of child L2 learning, and particularly the role that formal education has in developing plurilingual citizens, is critically important to our futures, for a variety of reasons, which include social, economic, political and cognitive perspectives. I think too that we need to have a much better understanding of the factors and influences that shape successful L2 development in childhood, and again, to identify more precisely the role that educational policy, schools and teachers can play in determining successful L2 outcomes. This understanding is all the more important because increasingly governments around the world are lowering the age at which children are being taught a foreign language as part of their formal primary education.  However, the evidence which directly examines questions about the most effective or appropriate age at which to teach foreign languages to younger children is mixed, where some studies clearly show advantages to older learners while other studies argue for benefits to young learners. One worries (at least I do) that the reason why governments are making these decisions is due to a generally held belief that ‘younger is better’ in language learning in general, and L2 learning in particular. Without a doubt there is plenty of evidence in the literature to demonstrate age of acquisition effects, and clear relationships between the age of the learner and their L2 outcomes.

Contributing factors for L2 learning

However, many other variables are implicated in this relationship in addition to age (i.e., it is not just the age of the learner that determines the ultimate success of L2 learning). This is the point of the volume Second language learning in the early school years:  Trends and Contexts. I wanted to show that by examining L2 learning across a range of young learner contexts – where the children in each context can be argued to be at an advantage age-wise – we see that age is not the only, and probably not even the most critical, variable in determining the success of L2 learners.  Implementing policy to formally teach L2/Foreign Language to children, or developing bilingual education programmes to help support different languages, ought to be considered within a solid understanding of the research that identifies what we can realistically expect of L2 learners across different contexts. Furthermore, particularly in those contexts where children’s bilingual development is being supported by the school, we need to pay very close attention to the nature of the provision in these different bilingual or L2 programmes so as to ensure that we offer maximal support for the development of the L2 (while at the same time maintaining and developing the L1). It is my hope that the discussions in the volume Second language learning in the early school years:  Trends and Contexts will be informative in identifying major themes and issues in different contexts of child L2 learning, and that possibly, future generations of educational policy makers will make decisions concerning educational provision with a greater awareness of the complexity of child L2 development.


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Supporting Young English Language and Literacy Learners

pass the bombMany believe that the acquisition of oral language must precede learning to read and write in a second language. Yet, the integration of reading- writing- speaking-listening- thinking may not only enhance, but also, clarify L2 language learning in communicative settings.  In this post Marylou M. Matoush, introduces her forthcoming webinar on supporting young second language learners as they develop biliteracy.

In our volume, Focus on Literacy, my colleague, Danling Fu, and I discussed the idea that “languaging pushes thinking while thinking pushes and extends languaging.” We used the term “languaging-as-thinking” to describe the process of “doing language, literacy, and learning while being and becoming (Fu & Matoush, 2014, pp. 14-15).” Active languaging-as-thinking while learning to read-write-speak-listen leads to bilingual/biliterate communicative competence, particularly when it is done for purposes that students see as meaningful and authentic.

Active languaging-as-thinking takes place during discussions before, during, and after reading. Just as significantly, it also takes place during the drafting of pieces of written communication and during interactions about the revision of those pieces of writing.  And, when teachers view reading as an opportunity for students to see, hear, and respond to language and view writing as an opportunity for students to give voice to their own interests, inclinations, and ideas, they lead students on the journey to becoming thoughtful biliterates via:

  • Language acquisition that’s connected to home language and cultures
  • Voiced, personally meaningful language and literacy
  • Opportunities to develop cognitive flexibility as well as linguistic flexibility

Instructional emphasis on active languaging-as-thinking impacts student’s understandings of L2 language and literacy and their feelings of self-efficacy regarding L2 language and literacy learning. Further, such an emphasis impacts their identity development as empowered biliterate language users who can choose how, when, where, and with whom they are able to communicate because they learn to make social, cultural, and linguistic choices that can reflect those identities.

Bilingual/Biliterate Development

Second language learners construct “one language system” not “two separate language systems” (Genesee, 2002). This newly acquired system develops gradually as students develop linguistic, cultural, social, and personal understandings. The developmental process is unique to each and learners develop at their own rates and according to their own particular sequence. This requires new language and literacy acquisition to be understood in terms of each student’s home language, culture and social interactions, their experiences with L1 literacy learning, as well as the personal interests, abilities, and inclinations that determine each individual’s use of language and literacy.  Because these factors are unique to each student, supporting each student through the process of becoming biliterate is not a simple task.

Supporting Bilingual/Biliterate Growth

“Don’t expect perfection, expect growth.”

– Linda Hoyt

Many instructional approaches focus on correct, native-like language use for L2 learners.  Yet, primary school learners are grounded in home-based language practices that are “transformed” (Grosjean, 1989) as a new interlanguage system develops. The “multicompetence” (Cook, 1991) that results from this process of transformation suggests that learning should be viewed in terms of “interlanguage” growth rather than in terms of the “target language” (Firth and Wagner, 1997). There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that this applies to both oral and written language development among primary school learners as well as among older students. In fact, Fu (2009) observed adolescent L2 writers and noted that many students visibly progressed from home language writing, to mixed language writing, to the clear use of interlanguage and that this progression occurred prior to the use of conventional English.

Similarly, many instructional approaches focus on bilingual or oral language development prior to biliterate or written language development. Yet, reading-writing-listening-speaking-thinking develop into a single, integrated interlanguage system in which written language supports oral language acquisition, just as oral language supports written language acquisition. Also, both oral and written language lacquisition are supported by:

  • realia (physical objects)
  • gestures, movements, and other kinesthetic involvement
  • illustrations and other representations
  • personal experiences grounded in home language and culture
  • shared events and experiences
  • meaningful social uses of language

The forthcoming webinar will focus on how these and other active languaging supports that enhance L2 biliteracy learning among diverse primary school students. A few practical, low-cost ideas for generating text that can be used for instructional purposes will be included.

 

register-for-webinar

 

Cook, V. (1991). The poverty-of-the-stimulus argument and multicompetence.  Second Language Research 7, 103–17.

Firth, A. & Wagner, J. (1997) On discourse, communication, and (some) fundamental concepts in SLA research. Modern Language Journal, 81. 285-300.

Fu, D. (2009). Writing between languages: How English language learners make the transition to fluency. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fu, D. & Matoush, M. M. (2014). Focus on literacy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Genesee, F. (2002). Portrait of a bilingual child. In Vivian Cook (Ed.), Portraits of the L2 User. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, 167-196.

Grosjean, F. (1989). Neurolinguists, beware! The bilingual is not two monolinguals in one person.  Brain and Language 36, 3-15.

 

 


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Integrating video content in the EFL classroom with International Express – Part 1

Learning onlineEFL teacher, teacher trainer and Principal of St. Giles International, Keith Harding has authored and co-authored several courses published by Oxford University Press. To mark the release of stunning new video material for International Express, Keith Harding and Rachel Appleby have prepared a series of four articles to be used alongside units within the course. Today, Keith shares some ideas and video resources for Elementary Unit 6 – Santiago, Chile, focusing on comparative and superlative adjectives.

The introduction of video as a learning medium in the classroom needn’t mean passive learning, or a risk of students ‘switching off’ from being engaged. The key to maximising learning potential, as with any listening or reading text, is to prepare and predict.

Before watching:

Here are some ideas for preparatory work, before watching the video:

  1. Countries and cities
  • Show the picture of Santiago from the video as a still image.
  • Where is it? Which continent? Which country?
  • Ask students in pairs to write down as many South American countries and cities as possible. This can be done as a team race – for example, the first team to name five countries and five cities.
  • Show an outline map of South America (from the Internet, or an atlas or wall map of the world if you’ve got one). Locate the cities and countries.
  1. Comparatives and superlatives
    Use the list of cities/countries (and the map) to make comparative and superlative sentences.
  • Which is the largest/smallest country?
  • Which is the most beautiful/the highest city?

Examples could be: Brazil is larger than Chile; Argentina is further south than Chile. Use Chile as much as possible, as the video is about Santiago and Chile.

  1. Practise the language
    What do you know about or think you know about Santiago? Consider:
  • Location
  • Scenery
  • Buildings
  • Things to do
  • Tourist attractions

To prompt show four stills from the video, such as:

  • Map of South America (1:40)
  • City buildings (2:16)
  • Church (2:50)
  • Scenery and city (3:11)

While watching:

To maximise the learning opportunities, set tasks for students to focus on throughout watching. Remember: tasks can be graded to the level of the learners, even if the content is not. This will involve you having to press pause, rewind, and also the sound-off or mute button, in some cases.

  1. Silent play

Play the whole video (or just a section) with the sound down. Have your students write down what they see, particularly the objects and places, and then compare with a partner.

If you wanted to make this more interactive, get the students to stand back-to-back with a partner – one will look at the screen, whilst the other looks away. The student facing the screen describes to their partner what they can see, and the student facing away writes down the words. They swap roles halfway through. Then rewind the video or section and have them watch it back together, to see how much they identified or what they might have missed.

  1. Stand up!

Give each student a letter – A, B, C, and D. They must stand up every time they hear a word from one of the following categories:

A: a word for a building
B: a word for scenery
C: a comparative
D: a superlative

After watching the video:

Follow-up tasks and activities will help to reinforce the language and will also provide the opportunity for more communicative and interactive language practice.

  1. Vocabulary work on other world places:
  • Country (e.g. UK)
  • Capital (e.g. London)
  • Language (e.g. English)
  • People (e.g. British)
  1. Speaking activities

Why not try out these activities, taken from the video worksheet that comes with the International Express Teacher’s Resource Book DVD. All the worksheets are also available for free here. You just need your Oxford Teacher’s Club log-in details to view them.

  1. Make a film

Ask students to make their own film about one of the cities they have researched on the Internet, or of their own city/country. It might not be possible to actually make the film (although this could always be filmed on a mobile phone, for ease), but the students can plan the film (frame by frame) and write the script (using the Santiago script as a model).

I hope you enjoy trying out some of these activities in class! In the next article in this series, Rachel Appleby will be exploring the Selexyz bookstore video from the Pre-Intermediate level. Look out for it next week.


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Classroom resources for Christmas

Christmas ESL resourcesChristmas nearly upon us, so we thought we’d share some classroom resources to help you and your class get in the festive mood.

Teacher trainers Stacey Hughes and Verissimo Toste from our Professional Development team have prepared some multi-level activities for you to use in your classroom.

 

 

 

Christmas Activities

Christmas Activities 2014, including:

  • Jigsaw Reading – pre-intermediate and above
  • Christmas Word Search – pre-intermediate and above

Christmas Cards Activities

Christmas Cards Activities, including:

  • Christmas Cards Activity – any level
  • Christmas Cards Worksheet – any level
  • Delivering the Christmas Cards – any level
  • The 12 Days of Christmas – pre-intermediate and above
  • A Christmas Wreath – young learners

Extensive Reading Activities

More Resources

There is a huge bank of free worksheets on the Christmas Corner area on Oxford University Press Spain’s website. Everything from Pre-Primary to Upper Secondary levels. All in English and all available for download.

Happy Holidays!


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Factors affecting the success of young L2/FL learners

Factors affecting the success of young L2/FL learnersAge is often considered the critical variable in determining the success of L2 learning. In this post Victoria Murphy, Professor of Applied Linguistics and author of Second language learning in the early school years: Trends and Contexts, introduces her forthcoming webinar on the subject and looks at other factors that influence L2 learning in classroom-based contexts.

For the past few decades there has been a growing interest in child second language (L2) learning, particularly evidenced by the fact that increasingly around the world children are required to learn a second language in the primary school classroom.  For example, Qiang (2002) reports that as of 2001 English language became a formal taught subject in the Chinese primary curriculum beginning at age 8 (grade 3) in order to increase the English language skills of China’s population.  Similarly in the UK, Modern Foreign Language (MFL) learning has been re-introduced into the English primary curriculum after a long absence.   As of 2014, native English-speaking children at Key Stage 2 (starting at 7 years old) are entitled to learn a MFL.   These two examples illustrate that governments are showing a greater commitment to learning a (second) language during the primary school years.  What has led to this decision?

Is age a critical factor?

One issue that appears in many of the reports available from the UK government highlights the ease with which children in primary school are able to pick up foreign language learning.  For example the DCSF report ‘Languages for all, Languages for Life’ states that If a child’s talent and natural interest in languages is to flourish, early language learning opportunities need to be provided, and their aptitude needs to be tapped into at the earliest opportunity when they are most receptive.” (DCSF, 2002).   Another example of this prevalent view is found in the text of the Romanes lecture given by the then Prime Minister of England, Tony Blair, in 1999 at the University of Oxford.  In his lecture Mr. Blair talked about the importance of learning languages in childhood (in discussing the National Curriculum) and at one point said “Everyone knows that with languages the earlier you start, the easier they are”.

Statements such as these underscore a widespread view that learning a second language in childhood is far easier than for older learners, presumably in part due to the research suggesting there is a critical period for language learning (e.g., Moyer, 2004).

The classroom context

Importantly however, the research that has led to this generalisation that ‘younger is better’ is based on research that was NOT carried out within the primary classroom context.  It is therefore an empirical question whether this same assertion about ‘younger is better’ is relevant to young learners in an L2 classroom context.   Indeed, the few studies that have been systematically focussed on this question indicate that when it comes to learning a second language within the primary school curriculum, older is actually better (Muñoz, 2006). Furthermore, whether the L2 is being taught in a language minority vs. language majority context can have a significant influence over the outcomes and success of an L2 program, whether a child is learning an MFL as part of an immersion curriculum or as part of a foreign language curriculum with only 1 hour a week of instruction in the L2 can have a significant impact on the extent and success with which the child learns the L2, and so on.

The focus of this webinar is to highlight the fact that the age of the L2 learner is arguably not as informative as other factors that relate to the context in which the learner is developing their L2 knowledge.  Some of these other factors will be identified and discussed.

Join Victoria for her webinar on 10th December at 15:30 – 17:00. Register here.

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