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LINGUIST List 25.1306

Mon Mar 17 2014

Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition: Lobo (2013)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>

Date: 24-Oct-2013
From: Christina Giannikas <christina.giannikascut.ac.cy>
Subject: Teaching L2 English at a very young age
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-2726.html

AUTHOR: Vanessa Ruth Lobo
TITLE: Teaching L2 English at a very young age
SUBTITLE: A study of Dutch schools
PUBLISHER: Netherlands Graduate School of Linguistics / Landelijke (LOT)
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Christina Nicole Giannikas, Cyprus University of Technology

SUMMARY
“L2 Teaching at a Very Early Age: A study of Dutch schools” is a doctoral
dissertation that describes the early language learning situation in The
Netherlands. The project was motivated by the researcher’s involvement in and
commitment to early language learning theories and practices, and compares the
Dutch situation to that of the rest of the European Union. The author presents
the policy of the Dutch government on the matter, which support the notion of
‘younger is better’.

The study began in 2006, a time when early language learning in The
Netherlands was not as widespread as at present. Since then, the government
has funded research projects and has shown interest in teacher training,
assessment of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and provisions for earlier
EFL instruction. The purpose of the present classroom-based experimental study
is to introduce a method for implementing English Language Teaching (ELT) in
lower primary grades. The researcher aims to integrate new teaching methods
where English is not considered another school subject. She concentrates on
the subjects of arts and crafts and Physical Education (PE), which were
delivered via the foreign language.

Lobo compares two starting ages in her study, grade 1 and grade 3, subject
content and lesson frequency. The main question in the current project is
whether the Dutch early bird can catch the worm. The participating students
were taught ten hours of art and crafts or PE in English, concentrating on
improving L2 vocabulary, students’ pronunciation in the L2, the behavior of
the children and their interaction with the teacher, the participants’
opinions of the learners L2 learning experience and language learning in
primary education. In order to address the research questions, the researcher
applied the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and an 11-word Imitation task. The
two tests were not part of the curriculum. Practical issues yielded
information on how and when the foreign language should be taught within the
context in question. Evidence was gathered on three levels: the child, the
classroom and the school level. Parents, teachers and students took part in
the study and contributed their knowledge and viewpoints on the issue.

Lobo provides a detailed description and analysis of the project. Chapter 1,
which is the Introduction of the dissertation, discusses the pervasiveness of
‘the earlier the better’ belief and the links made between age and language
learning, additionally, the research questions of the study are presented,
raising the issues of L2 vocabulary, pronunciation, behavior and opinions of
other stakeholders, such as teachers and parents. The introduction of the book
also discusses and describes the diverse nature of education systems in the
European Union in order to make to make direct comparisons of research
outcomes. In Chapter 2, ‘Dutch Primary Education’ the Dutch primary school
system is presented, against the background of the native language and the two
foreign languages policy supported by the European Union. The early foreign
language learning situation in The Netherlands is presented in more detail,
where particular attention is paid to the changes of the past decade. More
specifically, the author focuses on the growth of the early language learning
provision in Dutch education. In Chapter 3, ‘The Age Factor’, the age factor
is briefly discussed and reviewed, and an early start is justified. The author
describes the principles of the Critical Period Hypothesis and relevant
research on the age effect in the language education setting. Chapter 4,
‘Research Design and Method’, describes the research methodology used, along
with practical issues and considerations that arose as a result of the design.
In Chapter 5, ‘Results at the Child Level’, the author addresses the first two
research questions: did the English lessons have an effect on receptive
vocabulary development and L2 pronunciation? The use of the Peabody Picture
Vocabulary Test and Imitation Tasks, which was used to measure the participant
children’s knowledge, are presented. The current chapter presents the results
of the overall vocabulary development and the outcomes of an 11-word imitation
task which was used to measure L2 pronunciation. Chapter 6, ‘Results at the
Classroom Level’, presents an analysis of the L2 interaction process, where
there was specific focus on the behavior of the students and their reaction to
L2 exposure at the initial stages of their learning and the level of their
enjoyment of this exposure. The results on the school level were discussed in
Chapter 7, ‘Results at the School Level’ where the researcher analyzes
children’s and teachers’ interviews, and parental questionnaires. A summary of
the main study is presented in chapter 8, ‘Discussion and Conclusion’, where
the author also discusses the implications of the study in relation to the
wider context of early language learning in The Netherlands and proposes
recommendations to the research community, educational practitioners and
policy-makers.

EVALUATION
The documentary evidence and the outcomes of the study suggest that there are
benefits to starting language learning early. This, however, is not new to the
research community in the field of applied linguistics. More intriguing for
researchers is the subject of ‘the later the better’. As mentioned earlier,
the research focuses on first and third graders, and the data gathered was
compared, leading to the conclusion that even though children should start
learning foreign languages at a young age, there should be a definition of how
young they should be for them to benefit. The innovative twist this study
carries is that arts and crafts and PE are taught using English as the medium
of instruction, and data is collected through the teaching/assessment of these
two subjects, whereas, in most studies data derives from the English language
class where the focus of the lesson is entirely on the L2.

The book presents the reader with more than a description of a research
project. A large portion of the study is devoted to applying teaching methods
that will increase students’ linguistic skills and improve their language
learning behavior. At the same time, it integrates an appropriate approach
that will enhance the benefits of an early start. Researchers who have studied
this specific age group in Europe will be familiar with the points the author
makes. The optimal starting age has been a subject of great discussion,
however, the optimum conditions have not always been provided. This book
develops valuable insights regarding Dutch language learning policies, and
contributes to our understanding of primary EFL in Europe. The book also
provides a vivid description of the research design employed that could be
used as a design model in a similar context in European countries and future
doctoral studies. Additionally, the text is written with great clarity and
coherence, which makes it widely accessible.

The book will be of great interest to language teachers, policy makers and
researchers in applied linguistics, especially to those who focus on this
particular age group. There has been a great focus on early language learning
and optimizing children’s learning potential. Whether or not young learners
are exposed to beneficial learning conditions has raised great concerns in
Europe and beyond., resulting in more data and a fuller picture of the early
language learning situation and needs, another research project could bring
about more data as to why third graders enjoyed language lessons more than the
first graders, for instance. Furthermore, the current study has great
potential and can be adapted for use in other European countries as well. The
context may differ, but the research design can be adjusted to fit the needs
of any educational system.

The researcher is well aware of the limitations of the study. For example, as
noted in Chapter 5, the author informs her readership of problems encountered
with rating imitation task samples. The author emphasizes on the need to
distinguish between bilingual and foreign language learners, and bilingual and
foreign language education in relation to early language learning in early
primary education in The Netherlands and beyond. Lobo not only describes early
language learning, but explores a number of L2 learning phenomena and
settings, which makes the book a valid contribution with a view to improving
and developing the language learning situation on an international level.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Christina Nicole Giannikas, PhD, is a researcher at the Cyprus University of
Technology and the Social Media Coordinator for IATEFL YLTSIG. She has taught
English to adults and young learners in the UK and Greece and was a seminar
tutor/guest lecturer at London Metropolitan University. Dr. Giannikas was also
an assistant researcher for the ELLiE project (Early Language Learning in
Europe). Her research interests include communicative language teaching, the
use of the mother tongue in language teaching, diglossia, educational
policies, early language learning and the use of new technologies in the
foreign language classroom.
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