LINGUIST List 24.4586

Mon Nov 18 2013

Review: Applied Linguistics: Elsner & Kessler (2013)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 21-Aug-2013
From: Sarah Hart <>
Subject: Bilingual Education in Primary School
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Daniela ElsnerEDITOR: Jörg U. KeßlerTITLE: Bilingual Education in Primary SchoolSUBTITLE: Aspects of Immersion, CLIL, and Bilingual ModulesSERIES TITLE: narr studienbücherPUBLISHER: Narr Francke Attempto VerlagYEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Sarah Hart, University at Buffalo

SUMMARYBilingual Education in Primary School: Aspects of Immersion, CLIL, andBilingual Modules contains a brief introduction followed by six chaptersdiscussing various aspects of bilingual education in primary schools,specifically in Germany. In this volume, CLIL refers to content and languageintegrated learning and primary school refers to the school attended bychildren roughly from the ages of five to eleven, depending on the country.The editors hope that this volume will assist other educators in successfullycreating and maintaining bilingual education programs.

Chapter 1: Daniela Elsner and Jörg-U. Keßler. Aspects of Immersion, CLIL, andBilingual Modules: Bilingual Education in Primary School.This introductory chapter describes what bilingual education is, no easy task.Bilingual education entails instruction in at least two languages, regardlessof the balance or duration of each languages. In CLIL, a more specific form ofbilingual education, up to fifty percent of the school subjects are taught inthe target language.

Simply teaching in the target language during a language course for two tofive hours a week, however, does not constitute bilingual education. Giventhese definitions of bilingual education, this chapter offers seven researchquestions including the following: “which approach(es) to bilingual educationare most promising in primary school settings”, “could bilingual educationenhance both language and content learning or would it rather water down oneof those or even both areas”, and “how can bilingual education cater for theneeds of the specific subject content rather than just serve as additionallanguage input”. The book “combines results of research studies, literaturereviews and best practice examples of bilingual education from all acrossEurope and beyond” (p. 3). The final section offers an overview of theremaining chapters.

Chapter 2: Gregory Poarch. Some Thoughts on Bilingualism.Chapter 2 examines several definitions of bilingualism and effects ofbilingual acquisition and education; it explains that bilingualism covers alarge range of capabilities and unfortunately agreement on one specificdefinition does not exist. Given the lack of a clear definition, this chaptercontinues to explore positive and negative effects of learning multiplelanguages from a young age.

This chapter critically considers several of the principal questions thatopponents of early bilingual education ask. Mainly, does learning a secondlanguage at an early age confuse children, causing them to acquire a firstlanguage more slowly and confuse two languages with each other? Poarch thenoffers evidence of studies showing that not only are children who acquiremultiple languages not confused, but they even demonstrate more advancedcognitive abilities than monolingual peers including “greater mentalflexibility, a higher aptitude for abstract and divergent thinking, andsuperiority in the formation of concepts” (p. 11). The evidence outlined inthis chapter however only applies to children learning multiple languages inimmersive settings. Indeed, a certain level of proficiency must be gained inthe second language before the advantages of bilingualism become trulyapparent.

Chapter 3: Daniela Elsner and Jörg-U. Keßler. Bilingual Approaches to ForeignLanguage Education in Primary School.Chapter 3 surveys various forms of bilingual education offered in primaryschools: specifically immersion, CLIL and bilingual modules. Unfortunatelyrelatively few primary schools in Germany operate under the guidelines ofimmersion education, but those that do demonstrate high success in foreignlanguage development. The second approach is CLIL – content and languageintegrated learning. The authors explain that this is an umbrella term formany approaches in which any amount of specific content is taught in a secondlanguage. CLIL is more widely used throughout Germany, and although it showsless favorable results than immersion, it still offers a “valuablecontribution” to second language acquisition (p. 26). The third and finalapproach is considered a subcategory of CLIL: bilingual modules. In thisapproach, the frequency and intensity of L2 use is not as high as that ofCLIL, rather it is used for “time-limited and topic-specific phases oflessons” (p. 20). This approach is the easiest to employ although the resultsare obviously less favorable than those of immersion and CLIL.

Although this chapter places the success rates of these three approaches on ascale of highest to lowest, each approach is more successful than traditionalsecond language teaching, as they offer a more realistic context. Students arelearning the language for a purpose: rather than explicitly learning alanguage simply to learn the language. They are using language as “a medium ofnegotiation within the frame of learning processes” (p. 22). Although the useof a second language in content lessons may slow the process of acquiring thecontent knowledge at first, these students do catch up to peers taught intheir first language after a period of time. While this lag may seemproblematic, the authors of this chapter argue that it is offset by not onlymore successful L2 leaning, but also the higher development of socialcompetence, creativity, problem-solving ability and motivation in earlybilingual students.

Chapter 4: Thorsten Piske. Bilingual Education: Chances and Challenges.This chapter critically examines the faults with the current systems ofbilingual education, specifically in Germany. Piske first mentions the fourcrucial factors for success in second language acquisition: an early start,continuous and intensive exposure, frequent use of language in variouscontexts, and access to input from native-like speakers. While students inGermany are exposed to a second language at an early age, the other threefactors are not suitably addressed in those schools that offer second languageas a subject lessons. Most of these primary schools offer language instructionfor merely two lessons a week in a playful manner. In addition, most primaryschool teachers did not study languages as a university subject and are oftennot native-like in the language they teach. In contrast, those schoolsoffering immersion and CLIL bilingual programs address the four crucialfactors better by offering an immersion setting for at least part of each daycovering a variety of subjects.

The remainder of this chapter presents research evidence on the development ofL2, L1 and subject knowledge of immersion students in comparison to that ofnon-immersion students. In terms of L2 development, not surprisingly studiesshow that students in immersion primary schools had a richer vocabulary andmade fewer grammatical mistakes in English than peers who took English as asubject course. In relation to L1 development, studies show two results: thatimmersion students L1 reading fluency progressed faster than that of thosestudents in traditional schools, and that orthographical skills do not varysignificantly between the two groups. Finally, regarding development ofsubject knowledge, studies show that after grade 1, immersion students testedhigher in mathematical skills but that by grades 2 and 3 the differences hadequalized. Therefore, this chapter supports the view that immersion-type L2education is more successful than traditional L2 education and with nosignificant detriment to L1 or subject development.

Chapter 5: Jörg-U. Keßler and Daniela Elsner. Bilingual Education -- SubjectMatter(s).This chapter explores several subjects that are suitable for integration intobilingual education. The chapter is divided to address the following subjects:natural science (5.1), mathematics (5.2) and physical education, art and music(5.3).

Chapter 5.1: Natasha Aristov & Helga Haudeck. Natural Science.Natural science at the primary level is not the complex subject that itbecomes in secondary school. In primary school, science is “experiencing theworld” (p. 43). Many argue that teaching science in a CLIL settingunnecessarily complicates an already complex subject, and while this may betrue at the secondary level, the authors argue that primary level science isbasic enough to be taught in a second language. Primary school science classesare exciting; many children find the most exciting subject in school. It isideal for CLIL because it is highly motivating: students follow directionscarefully (to ensure the exciting outcome of the experiment occurs), and areeager to discuss the results.

Chapter 5.2: Britta Viebrock. Mathematics.Mathematics and languages are often compared to each other, as structures inone relate to the structures of the other. This section assures readers thatmathematics encompasses more than just symbols, and that it also hascommunicative requirements. The chapter then outlines topics and terms used inmathematics and offers resources for CLIL materials for a mathematicsclassroom. Although resources are scarce and the idea of CLIL for mathematicsis fairly new, the authors of this chapter are hopeful that it will be takenseriously in the future.

Chapter 5.3: Katja Heim. CLIL--Teaching the Art: Physical Education, Art,Music.The final section discusses the benefit of bilingual physical education, artand music. Physical education and music at the primary level include many ofthe same activities as beginner language lessons: action games and songs. Thusit seems natural to overlap these subjects. These two are especially ideal forbeginning language learners as physical education starts with comprehension(following rules) more than speaking, and music consists primarily ofrepetition and memorization rather than producing original speech. Theseactivities are ideal beginning steps for language learners. Art is also afitting subject for bilingual education as the topics at the primary levelinclude describing basic topics such as colors, shapes and textures.

Chapter 6: Ute Massler & Daniel Stotz. Assessment in Bilingual Classrooms.This chapter outlines the difficulties of assessment in bilingual classroomsand offers appropriate criteria to do so. It first explains the differencebetween formative and summative assessments, where formative assesses progressthroughout a topic and summative assesses knowledge at the end of a topic.Both types of assessments should be used in order to gauge the success of thelesson while in progress (with the option of readjusting the lesson as needed)and to measure the students’ success against some sort of standard at the end.The chapter then states several crucial requirements for assessment in CLILsubjects: there should be discrete and separate assessment for language andsubject content in addition to a section where the two are assessed together,and assessment should reflect the type of input received in class. Inaddition, educators must take into consideration the age and developmentalstage of the learners: younger students often understand the material but maynot be able to express it, especially in a second language. For very younglearners, assessment should use very little written or spoken language(visualization is key). As CLIL itself varies among educators, assessment mustalso so that it properly relates to the style of instruction each studentreceives.

Chapter 7: Kristin Kersten & Andreas Rohde. On the Road to Nowhere? TheTransition Problem of Bilingual Teaching Programmes.The seventh and final chapter of this volume discusses the academic problemsencountered during transition from one institution to another (home topreschool, preschool to primary school, primary school to secondary school).The authors argue that transitions for content-based language courses areeasier than those of language oriented courses because they lack a specificlanguage curriculum and therefore an expectation of certain linguistic skillsbefore students can successfully move on. After administering surveys, theauthors of this chapter also found that the inherent stress and difficulty intransition can be lessened by following certain measures (regulated transitionmeasures). These measures include information exchange between teachers atboth institutions regarding both goals and methods of class, exchange ofmaterials between institutions and informational meetings for parents.

EVALUATIONThis collection of chapters from various authors reads much more like a bookthan an edited volume. Chapters flow easily from one to the next, eachcontaining new information and no repetition. The volume as a whole covers agreat amount of material from the various interpretations of what constitutesbilingualism, to explanations of different bilingual education approaches, tocritical studies on those approaches in classrooms. It ends with a glossaryand an appendix of lesson materials mentioned throughout the text.

This volume would likely appeal most to language educators and their students.The chapters within the volume are ideal for a language pedagogy class: eachbegins with a short abstract followed by preparation questions to promotethought and discussion before reading the chapter. Each also includes asection titled “review -- reflect -- research” which encourages students tocritically analyze what they have just read. Finally, each chapter ends with alist of suggested further readings. Beyond being ideal for a language pedagogyclass, it is also a superb read for language educators who wish to employforms of bilingual education in their classrooms.

The editors’ goal is to not only analyze certain forms of bilingual educationin Germany, but to assist others in becoming successful bilingual educators.This goal has certainly been met as the chapters within offer detaileddescriptions of different methods and demonstrate through research andcritical analysis the success rates of various methods. This volume not onlyshows how successful bilingual education can be, it acts as a manual andexplains how to bring this success to the reader’s own classroom.

Two brief criticisms are that the acronym CLIL, which appears in the title ofthe book and throughout many of the chapters, is not actually explained untilchapter 3. Both the first and the second chapter used the acronym withoutstating its full name and although many people who will read this book alreadyknow the acronym, many others will not. Second, several quotes in German arenot translated.

Introducing bilingual education at the primary school level can be extremelybeneficial and rewarding to both students and teachers alike. This volume doesa wonderful job of clearly explaining the current and past situation ofprimary bilingual education in Germany, as well as motivate the reader andconvince him/her of the many benefits to introducing bilingual education toour youth.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERSarah Hart is a PhD student in Spanish linguistics at the State University ofNew York at Buffalo. Her research interests include comparative and historicalRomance linguistics, especially concerning Spanish of the 13th century. She iscurrently working on her dissertation on the loss of the Old Spanish -udoparticiple, in addition to teaching Spanish language courses.

Page Updated: 18-Nov-2013