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Teyl lynne cameron

  1. 1. Teaching Languages toYoung LearnersLynne Cameron
  2. 2. P U B L I S H E D B Y T H E P R E S S S Y N D I C AT E O F T H E U N I V E R S I T Y O F C A M B R I D G EThe Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RP, United KingdomCAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESSThe Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011±4211, USA477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, AustraliaRuiz de Alarcon 13, 28014 Madrid, Spain ÂDock House, The Waterfront, Cape Town 8001, South Africahttp://www.cambridge.org# Cambridge University Press 2001This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exceptionand to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,no reproduction of any part may take place withoutthe written permission of Cambridge University Press.First published 2001Fourth printing 2002Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, CambridgeTypeset in Sabon 10/12 pt ceA catalogue record for this book is available from the British LibraryISBN 0 521 77325 3 HardbackISBN 0 521 77434 9 Paperback
  3. 3. Contents Preface page xi Acknowledgements xvi 1 Children learning a foreign language 1 1.1 Taking a learning-centred perspective 1 1.2 Piaget 2 1.3 Vygotsky 5 1.4 Bruner 8 1.5 From learning to language learning 11 1.6 Advantages to starting young with foreign languages 16 1.7 The foreign language: describing the indivisible 17 1.8 Summary of key learning principles 19 2 Learning language through tasks and activities 21 2.1 The task as an environment for learning 21 2.2 Task demands 22 2.3 Task support 25 2.4 Balancing demands and support 26 2.5 The importance of language learning goals 28 2.6 De®ning `task for young learner classrooms 29 2.7 Stages in a classroom task 31 2.8 Hanis Weekend: Possible preparation and follow-up activities 32 2.9 Task-as-plan and task-in-action 35 3 Learning the spoken language 36 3.1 Learning the spoken language: guiding principles 36 3.2 Discourse and discourse events 37 3.3 Meaning ®rst 38 3.4 Analysis of a task-in-action 42 3.5 Discourse skills development in childhood 51 vii
  4. 4. Contents 3.6 Effective support for childrens foreign language discourse skills 58 3.7 Short activities for learning the spoken language 60 3.8 Supporting the spoken language with written language 66 3.9 Using dialogues 68 3.10 Summary 70 4 Learning words 72 4.1 Introduction 72 4.2 Vocabulary development in childrens language learning 73 4.3 Organisation of words in a language 81 4.4 Learning and teaching vocabulary 83 4.5 Childrens vocabulary learning strategies 92 4.6 Summary 94 5 Learning grammar 96 5.1 A place for grammar? 96 5.2 Different meanings of `grammar 98 5.3 Development of the internal grammar 101 5.4 A learning-centred approach to teaching grammar: background 105 5.5 Principles for learning-centred grammar teaching 110 5.6 Teaching techniques for supporting grammar learning 111 5.7 Summary 121 6 Learning literacy skills 123 6.1 Introduction 123 6.2 Literacy skills in English 124 6.3 Factors affecting learning to read in English as a foreign language 134 6.4 Starting to read and write in English as a foreign language 139 6.5 Continuing to learn to read 150 6.6 Developing reading and writing as discourse skills 154 6.7 Summary and conclusion 157 7 Learning through stories 159 7.1 Stories and themes as holistic approaches to language teaching and learning 159 7.2 The discourse organisation of stories 160 7.3 Language use in stories 163 7.4 Quality in stories 166 7.5 Choosing stories to promote language learning 167viii
  5. 5. Contents 7.6 Ways of using a story 169 7.7 Developing tasks around a story 175 7.8 Summary 179 8 Theme-based teaching and learning 180 8.1 Issues around theme-based teaching 180 8.2 Theme-based teaching of a foreign language 181 8.3 Planning theme-based teaching 184 8.4 Learning language through theme-based teaching 191 8.5 Increasing target language use in theme-based teaching 195 8.6 Summary 197 9 Language choice and language learning 199 9.1 Introduction 199 9.2 Patterns of ®rst language use in foreign language classrooms 200 9.3 Dynamics of language choice and use 205 9.4 Taking responsibility, making choices 209 9.5 Summary 213 10 Assessment and language learning 21410.1 Issues in assessing childrens language learning 21410.2 Principles for assessing childrens language learning 21810.3 Key concepts in assessment 22210.4 Teacher assessment of language learning 22810.5 Self-assessment and learner autonomy 23310.6 Use of assessment information 23810.7 Messages from assessment 240 11 Issues around teaching children a foreign language 24111.1 Review of ideas 24111.2 The need for research 24211.3 The need to develop pedagogy 24311.4 Teaching foreign languages to children 246 References 247 Index 256 ix
  6. 6. 1 Children learning a foreign language1.1 Taking a learning-centred perspectiveWhat is different about teaching a foreign language to children, incontrast to teaching adults or adolescents? Some differences are imme-diately obvious: children are often more enthusiastic and lively aslearners. They want to please the teacher rather than their peer group.They will have a go at an activity even when they dont quite understandwhy or how. However, they also lose interest more quickly and are lessable to keep themselves motivated on tasks they ®nd dif®cult. Childrendo not ®nd it as easy to use language to talk about language; in otherwords, they do not have the same access as older learners to meta-language that teachers can use to explain about grammar or discourse.Children often seem less embarrassed than adults at talking in a newlanguage, and their lack of inhibition seems to help them get a morenative-like accent. But these are generalisations which hide the detail ofdifferent children, and of the skills involved in teaching them. We needto unpack the generalisations to ®nd out what lies underneath ascharacteristic of children as language learners. We will ®nd thatimportant differences do arise from the linguistic, psychological andsocial development of the learners, and that, as a result, we need toadjust the way we think about the language we teach and the classroomactivities we use. Although conventional language teaching terms like`grammar and `listening are used in connection with the young learnerclassroom, understanding of what these mean to the children who arelearning them may need to differ from how they are understood inmainstream language teaching. In the learning-centred perspective taken in this book, knowledgeabout childrens learning is seen as central to effective teaching.Successful lessons and activities are those that are tuned to the learningneeds of pupils, rather than to the demands of the next text-book unit,or to the interests of the teacher. I distinguish a learning-centredperspective from `learner-centred teaching. Learner-centred teachingplaces the child at the centre of teacher thinking and curriculumplanning. While this is a great improvement on placing the subject orthe curriculum at the centre, I have found that it is not enough. Incentring on the child, we risk losing sight of what it is we are trying todo in schools, and of the enormous potential that lies beyond the child. 1
  7. 7. Teaching Languages to Young LearnersImagine a child standing at the edge of a new country that representsnew ideas and all that can be learnt; ahead of the child are pathsthrough valleys and forests, mountains to be climbed and cities to beexplored. The child, however, may not be aware of the vast possibilitieson offer, and, being a child, may either be content with the ®rst streamor ®eld s/he comes across, or may rush from one new place to the nextwithout stopping to really explore any. If a teachers concern is centredon the child, there is a temptation to stay in that ®rst place or to followthe child. I have seen too many classrooms where learners are enjoyingthemselves on intellectually undemanding tasks but failing to learn asmuch as they might. The time available in busy school timetables forlanguage teaching is too short to waste on activities that are fun but donot maximise learning. The teacher has to do what the child may not beable to do: to keep in sight the longer view, and move the child towardsincreasingly demanding challenges, so that no learning potential iswasted. A learning-centred perspective on teaching will, I believe, helpus to do that more effectively. In this chapter I give an overview of theory and research relevant tochildrens language learning. The ®eld of teaching young learners,particularly in teaching English, has expanded enormously in the last 10years but is only just beginning to be researched. We need therefore todraw on work from beyond language classrooms: in child development,in learning theory, in ®rst language development, and in the develop-ment of a second language in bilingual contexts. Implications forteaching young learners are taken from each of these and used toestablish guiding principles and a theoretical framework to be devel-oped in the rest of the book. I begin with the work of two of the majortheorists in developmental psychology, Piaget and Vygotsky, high-lighting key ideas from their work that can inform how we think of thechild as a language learner.1.2 Piaget1.2.1 The child as active learnerPiagets concern was with how young children function in the world thatsurrounds them, and how this in¯uences their mental development. Thechild is seen as continually interacting with the world around her/him,solving problems that are presented by the environment. It is throughtaking action to solve problems that learning occurs. For example, a veryyoung child might encounter the problem of how to get food from herbowl into her mouth. In solving the problem, with a spoon or with2
  8. 8. Children learning a foreign language®ngers, the child learns the muscle control and direction-®nding neededto feed herself. The knowledge that results from such action is notimitated or in-born, but is actively constructed by the child. What happens early on with concrete objects, continues to happen inthe mind, as problems are confronted internally, and action taken tosolve them or think them through. In this way, thought is seen asderiving from action; action is internalised, or carried out mentally inthe imagination, and in this way thinking develops. Piaget gives a muchless important role to language in cognitive development than doesVygotsky. It is action, rather than the development of the ®rst languagewhich, for Piaget, is fundamental to cognitive development. Piagetian psychology differentiates two ways in which developmentcan take place as a result of activity: assimilation and accommodation.Assimilation happens when action takes place without any change to thechild; accommodation involves the child adjusting to features of theenvironment in some way. Returning to the example of feeding, letsimagine what might happen when a child, who has learnt to use a spoon,is presented with a fork to eat with. She may ®rst use the fork in just thesame way as the spoon was used; this is assimilation of the new tool toexisting skills and knowledge. When the child realises that the prongs ofthe fork offer new eating opportunities ± spiking food rather than just`spooning it ± accommodation occurs; the childs actions and knowledgeadapt to the new possibility and something new is created. These twoadaptive processes, although essentially different, happen together.Assimilation and accommodation are initially adaptive processes ofbehaviour, but they become processes of thinking. Accommodation isan important idea that has been taken into second language learningunder the label `restructuring, used to refer to the re-organisation ofmental representations of a language (McLaughlin 1992). We willencounter it again when we consider the development of grammar. From a Piagetian viewpoint, a childs thinking develops as gradualgrowth of knowledge and intellectual skills towards a ®nal stage offormal, logical thinking. However, gradual growth is punctuated withcertain fundamental changes, which cause the child to pass through aseries of stages. At each stage, the child is capable of some types ofthinking but still incapable of others. In particular, the Piagetian end-point of development ± thinking that can manipulate formal abstractcategories using rules of logic ± is held to be unavailable to childrenbefore they reach 11 years of age or more. The experimental studies used to support Piagets theories have beencriticised for not being suf®ciently child-friendly, and for underesti-mating what children are capable of. In a series of ingenious experi-ments, Margaret Donaldson and her colleagues have convincingly 3
  9. 9. Teaching Languages to Young Learnersshown that when appropriate language, objects and tasks are used, veryyoung children are capable of many of the ways of thinking that Piagetheld too advanced for them, including formal, logical thought(Donaldson 1978). These results undermine some of Piagets theoreticalviews, particularly the notion of discrete stages and the idea thatchildren cannot do certain things if they have not yet `reached thatstage. An example of how stage theory can lead to restricting childrenslearning occurred in the UK in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Beforechildren were allowed to start writing sentences, they had to completesets of `writing readiness activities that worked on part-skills. Inspending so long on writing patterns and bits of letter shapes, they weremissing out on the more holistic experiences that also help childrenunderstand the purposes of writing as communication. An important dimension of childrens lives that Piaget neglects is thesocial; it is the child on his or her own in the world that concerns him,rather than the child in communication with adults and other children.As we will see, Vygotskys ideas give a much greater priority to socialinteraction.1.2.2 Implications of Piagetian theory for language learningThe child as sense-makerWe can take from Piaget the very important idea of the child as anactive learner and thinker, constructing his or her own knowledge fromworking with objects or ideas. Donaldsons work emphasises that (the child) actively tries to make sense of the world . . . asks questions, . . . wants to know . . . Also from a very early stage, the child has purposes and intentions: he wants to do. (Donald- son 1978: 86, my emphasis)Children also seek out intentions and purposes in what they see otherpeople doing, bringing their knowledge and experience to their attemptsto make sense of other peoples actions and language. Realising thatchildren are active `sense-makers, but that their sense-making is limitedby their experience, is a key to understanding how they respond to tasksand activities in the language classroom that we will use throughout thisbook.The world as offering opportunities for learningIf we take Piagets idea that children adapt through experiences withobjects in their environment, and turn it around, we can see how that4
  10. 10. Children learning a foreign languageenvironment provides the setting for development through the opportu-nities it offers the child for action. Transferring this idea metaphoricallyto the abstract world of learning and ideas, we can think of theclassroom and classroom activities as creating and offering opportu-nities to learners for learning. This view coincides with `ecologicalthinking that sees events and activities as offering affordances oropportunities for use and interaction that depend on who is involved(Gibson 1979): for example, to a human being, a tree `affords shelterfrom the rain or ®rewood, to a bird, the same tree `affords a nest site orbuds to eat.1.3 Vygotsky1.3.1 The child as socialVygotskys views of development differ from Piagets in the importancehe gives to language and to other people in the childs world. AlthoughVygotskys theory is currently most noted for his central focus on thesocial, and modern developments are often labelled `socioculturaltheory, he did not neglect the individual or individual cognitivedevelopment. The development of the childs ®rst language in thesecond year of life is held to generate a fundamental shift in cognitivedevelopment. Language provides the child with a new tool, opens upnew opportunities for doing things and for organising informationthrough the use of words as symbols. Young children can often be heardtalking to themselves and organising themselves as they carry out tasksor play, in what is called private speech. As children get older they speakless and less aloud, and differentiate between social speech for othersand `inner speech, which continues to play an important role inregulating and controlling behaviour (Wertsch 1985). Adults sometimesresort to speaking aloud when faced with a tricky task, like ®nding theway to an unfamiliar place, verbalising to help themselves think andrecall: Turn left then right at the roundabout . . . In considering the early speech of infants and its development intolanguage, Vygotsky (1962) distinguishes the outward talk and what ishappening in the childs mind. The infant begins with using singlewords, but these words convey whole messages: when a child says juice,s/he may mean I want some more juice or my juice has spilt. As thechilds language develops, the whole undivided thought message can bebroken down into smaller units and expressed by putting togetherwords that are now units of talk. Underlying Vygotskyan theory is the central observation that 5
  11. 11. Teaching Languages to Young Learnersdevelopment and learning take place in a social context, i.e. in a worldfull of other people, who interact with the child from birth onwards.Whereas for Piaget the child is an active learner alone in a world ofobjects, for Vygotsky the child is an active learner in a world full ofother people. Those people play important roles in helping children tolearn, bringing objects and ideas to their attention, talking while playingand about playing, reading stories, asking questions. In a whole rangeof ways, adults mediate the world for children and make it accessible tothem. The ability to learn through instruction and mediation is char-acteristic of human intelligence. With the help of adults, children can doand understand much more than they can on their own. To illustratethis idea, lets return to the example of the baby learning to feed herselfwith a spoon. At some point in learning to use a spoon to eat with, thebaby may be able to get the spoon in the food and can put a spoonful offood in her mouth, but cannot quite manage the middle step of ®llingthe spoon with food. A helpful adult may assist the baby with thedif®cult part by putting his hand over the babys and guiding it in ®llingthe spoon. In this way, adult and child together achieve what the babywas unable to do by herself, and the baby receives some useful trainingin turning the spoon at the angle needed to get hold of the food. Beforelong the baby will master this step and can be left to do the wholefeeding process by herself. The adult could have helped the baby inmany different ways, including just doing it all to save time and mess!The kind of spoon-®lling help, targeted at what the baby can nearly butnot quite do herself, is seen as particularly useful in promoting develop-ment; ®lling the spoon with food was an action in the babys zone ofproximal development (or ZPD). We can note before we leave thisexample that parents are often very `tuned-in to their own children andknow exactly what help is needed next, and that skilful teachers alsomanage to do this in a class of thirty or more different ZPDs. Vygotsky used the idea of the ZPD to give a new meaning to`intelligence. Rather than measuring intelligence by what a child can doalone, Vygotsky suggested that intelligence was better measured bywhat a child can do with skilled help. Different children at the samepoint in development will make different uses of the same help from anadult. Take as an example seven or eight year olds learning to doarithmetic and perhaps meeting subtraction problems for the ®rst time.For some pupils, a demonstration by the teacher using counting bricksmay be all they need to grasp the idea and do other sums of the sametype. Others will be able to do the same sum again but not be able togeneralise to other sums. In foreign language learning, we mightimagine children listening to the teacher model a new question: Do youlike swimming? and being encouraged to ask similar questions. One6
  12. 12. Children learning a foreign languagechild may be able to use other phrases he has learnt previously and sayDo you like drinking orange juice? whereas another may be able torepeat Do you like swimming? and yet another would have troublerepeating it accurately. In each case, the ZPD, or what the child can dowith the help of the adult is different; this, Vygotsky suggested, is amore useful measure of intelligence or ability. Learning to do things and learning to think are both helped byinteracting with an adult. Vygotsky saw the child as ®rst doing thingsin a social context, with other people and language helping in variousways, and gradually shifting away from reliance on others to indepen-dent action and thinking. This shift from thinking aloud and talkingthrough what is being done, to thinking inside the head, is calledinternalisation. Wertsch (1985) emphasises that internalisation forVygotsky was not just a transfer but also a transformation; being ableto think about something is qualitatively different from being able todo it. In the internalising process, the interpersonal, joint talk andjoint activity, later becomes intrapersonal, mental action by oneindividual.1.3.2 Implications of Vygotskyan theory for language learningWords and meaningsThe importance of the word as unit has been downplayed by those whohave developed Vygotskys theories (e.g. Lantolf 2000). However, Ibelieve that words do have a special signi®cance for children learning anew language. The word is a recognisable linguistic unit for children intheir ®rst language and so they will notice words in the new language.Often too we teach children words in the new language by showingthem objects that they can see and touch, and that have single wordlabels in the ®rst language. From their earliest lessons, children areencouraged to think of the new language as a set of words, although ofcourse this may not be the only way they think of it. The importance of the word as unit is underscored by recent researchinto word frequency and use undertaken by corpus linguists, and thediscovery that much of our knowledge of our ®rst language can beaccounted for by the information we build up over time about statisticalprobabilities of which words are used with which other words.The zone of proximal developmentMany of Vygotskys ideas will help in constructing a theoretical frame-work for teaching foreign languages to children. In deciding what a 7
  13. 13. Teaching Languages to Young Learnersteacher can do to support learning, we can use the idea that the adulttries to mediate what next it is the child can learn; this has applicationsin both lesson planning and in how teachers talk to pupils minute byminute. In the next chapter I develop a framework for analysingclassroom tasks that incorporates the notion of the ZPD. We can lookat stages in tasks for how well they help a child to move in languageskills from the interpersonal to the intrapersonal.Learning as internalisationThe concept of internalisation will be used in later chapters to under-stand learning processes in the foreign language. The new language is®rst used meaningfully by teacher and pupils, and later it is transformedand internalised to become part of the individual childs language skillsor knowledge1.4 Bruner1.4.1 Scaffolding and routinesFor Bruner, language is the most important tool for cognitive growth,and he has investigated how adults use language to mediate the worldfor children and help them to solve problems (Bruner 1983, 1990). Talkthat supports a child in carrying out an activity, as a kind of verbalversion of the ®ne-tuned help given in the baby feeding example above,has been labelled scaffolding (Wood, Bruner and Ross 1976). In experi-ments with American mothers and children, parents who scaffoldedtasks effectively for children did the following:. they made the children interested in the task;. they simpli®ed the task, often by breaking it down into smaller steps;. they kept the child on track towards completing the task by reminding the child of what the goal was;. they pointed out what was important to do or showed the child other ways of doing parts of the tasks;. they controlled the childs frustration during the task;. they demonstrated an idealised version of the task.Moreover, good scaffolding was tuned to the needs of the child andadjusted as the child became more competent. Scaffolding has beentransferred to the classroom and teacher±pupil talk. Wood (1998)suggests that teachers can scaffold childrens learning in various ways:8
  14. 14. Children learning a foreign languageTable 1.1Teachers can help children to Byattend to what is relevant suggesting praising the signi®cant providing focusing activitiesadopt useful strategies encouraging rehearsal being explicit about organisationremember the whole task and goals reminding modelling providing part±whole activities (from Wood 1998)Each of these teaching strategies can be applied to language teaching.The notion of helping children attend to what is important will recur invarious topics, and echoes discussions in English language teachingabout `noticing (e.g. Schmidt 1990). In directing attention and inremembering the whole task and goals on behalf of the learner, theteacher is doing what children are not yet able to do for themselves.When they focus on some part of a task or the language they want to use,children may not be able to keep in mind the larger task or commu-nicative aim because of limits to their attentional capacity. Betweenthem, teacher and pupils manage the whole task, but the way in whichthe parts and aspects are divided up varies with age and experience. Theteacher does most of the managing of joint engagement on a task. Bruner has provided a further useful idea for language teaching in hisnotions of formats and routines. These are features of events that allowscaffolding to take place, and combine the security of the familiar withthe excitement of the new. Bruners most useful example of a routine isof parents reading stories to their children from babyhood onwards (seealso Garton and Pratt 1998). I will develop it at some length, bothbecause it clari®es the important idea of routines, and also because itwill be used in later discussions of the role of stories in languageclassrooms. In situations where parents read bedtime stories to their children(Bruner researched middle-class American families), the routine that isfollowed at the same time each day goes something like this: the childsits on the parents lap with a large picture story book, and parent andchild turn the pages together. As the child gets older, the type of bookchanges and the roles of adult and child change, but the basic formatremains. When action and language use are analysed, another layer ofroutine emerges. With very young children, adults do most of thetalking, describing the characters and objects in the pictures and 9
  15. 15. Teaching Languages to Young Learnersinvolving the child with instructions, tag questions and talk aboutsalient images, such as Look at the clown. Hes got a big nose, hasnthe? The child can be further involved by being asked to point to knownpictures: Wheres the clown? and wheres his big nose? As the childlearns to talk, so the childs verbal involvement increases as she or hejoins in naming pictures and events. Over any short period of time, thelanguage used by the parent includes a lot of repetition, and uses ®nelytuned language that the child, helped by the pictures, can make sense of.The book-reading event is scaffolded by the adult to let the childparticipate at the level he or she is capable of. The repeated languageallows the child to predict what is coming and thus to join in, verballyor non-verbally. At a later stage, when the ®ve or six year old child is beginning toread, the format may be much the same, with the routine and languagemore advanced. At this stage, the parent may read the story aloud aswell as ask questions about the pictures. The child may ®nish sentences,recalling how the story ends from memory of previous reading events.Later still, the child may read the story to the parent. Notice how novelty and change are incorporated alongside thefamiliar security of the routine, and how the child can participate at anincreasingly more demanding level as the parent reduces the scaffolding.Again, language use is predictable within the routine, but there is a`space within which the child can take over and do the language her/himself. This space for growth ideally matches the childs zone ofproximal development. Bruner suggests that these routines and theiradjustment provide an important site for language and cognitive devel-opment.1.4.2 Routines in the language classroomTransferring to the language classroom, we can see how classroomroutines, which happen every day, may provide opportunities forlanguage development. One immediate example would be in classroommanagement, such as giving out paper and scissors for making activities.As a routine, this would always take basically the same form: forexample, the teacher talking to the whole class, organising distribution,perhaps using children as monitors; the scissors might be kept in a box,the paper in a cupboard. The language used would suit the task and thepupils level; so early stage learners might hear, George, please give outthe scissors. Margaret, please give out the paper. The context and thefamiliarity of the event provide an opportunity for pupils to predictmeaning and intention, but the routine also offers a way to addvariation and novelty that can involve more complex language: Sam,10
  16. 16. Children learning a foreign languageplease ask everybody if they want white paper or black paper, or Giveout a pair of scissors to each group. As the language becomes morecomplex, the support to meaning that comes from the routine and thesituation helps the children to continue to understand. The increasedcomplexity of language provides a space for language growth; if thenew language is within a childs ZPD, she or he will make sense of itand start the process of internalising it. Routines then can provide opportunities for meaningful languagedevelopment; they allow the child to actively make sense of newlanguage from familiar experience and provide a space for languagegrowth. Routines will open up many possibilities for developing lan-guage skills.1.5 From learning to language learning1.5.1 First, second and foreign languagesThe ®rst sections of this chapter have reviewed important theories oflearning that yield valuable tools for theorising the teaching of lan-guages to young learners. They have been largely concerned with thelearning of children in general rather than the learning of language. Inthe second half of the chapter, I review theory and research that arerelevant to the learning of foreign languages by children. To help us understand the nature of language learning, we can drawon studies of ®rst language acquisition and from North Americanresearch into second language development in children. However, thelanguage learning that is studied in these contexts is different inimportant ways from the learning of a foreign language. When we makeuse of theory and empirical research from these other situations, weneed always to do so with care, extracting what is transferable, and ifpossible, carrying out research to check that it does transfer. The central characteristics of foreign language learning lie in theamount and type of exposure to the language: there will be very littleexperience of the language outside the classroom, and encounters withthe language will be through several hours of teaching in a school week.In the case of a global language like English, however, even very youngchildren will encounter the language in use on video, TV, computers and®lm. What they might not be exposed to is `street use, i.e. people usingthe language for everyday life purposes all around them, as mighthappen in a second language immersion context such as learning Frenchor English in Canada, or an additional language context, such aschildren of Pakistani heritage in England. In foreign language teaching, 11
  17. 17. Teaching Languages to Young Learnersthere is an onus on the teacher to provide exposure to the language andto provide opportunities for learning through classroom activities. The cultural `foreign-ness of countries in which the language is anational language, e.g. Australia, USA or UK for English; France orCanada for French, may be brought into the learning of the language,or it may be considered irrelevant because the motivation for teachingthe language is to use it as a lingua franca between non-native speakers.1.5.3 Learning the ®rst languageIt was thought until quite recently that by the age of 5, ®rst languageacquisition was largely complete. We have come to understand that thisis not the case. Formal literacy skills are still in the early stages ofdevelopment at ®ve and six years of age, even though the beginnings ofliteracy can be traced back to experiences in infancy, such as listening tostories. Some structures in spoken language are acquired late because oftheir connection with the written language. In English, relative clausesare one example of this: Perera (1984) reports that children of 11 yearstend not to use relative clauses beginning with whose, or preposition +relative pronoun e.g. in which. She suggests that this is because suchstructures occur mainly in written text and so children have littleexperience of them in their early years. Children also have problemsusing words that express logical relations between ideas, like cause andeffect. The full use of co-ordinators, including but and yet, is still to bedeveloped after the age of 11 years, and clauses introduced withalthough or unless can cause problems even for 15 year olds. Themeanings of these linking terms are logically complicated and correctuse requires the child to have developed both logical understanding andthe language in which to express it. If young ®rst language children ®ndsuch aspects of English dif®cult then there seems little reason forincluding them on syllabuses for child learners of English as a foreignlanguage, and the same would be true for similar aspects of otherlanguages. Discourse skills in the ®rst language continue to develop throughoutthe early school years. At 7 years of age, children are still acquiring theskills needed for extended discourse. In telling narratives, for example,children are still learning how to create thematic structure throughlanguage, and are still developing the full range of uses of pronouns anddeterminers (Karmiloff-Smith 1986; Snow 1996). Given the importanceattached in the methodology literature to using stories in foreignlanguage teaching (e.g. Wright 1997), teachers need to remember thatchildren may still be ®nding it dif®cult to use pronouns correctly in their®rst language to control reference to characters across a sequence of12
  18. 18. Children learning a foreign languageevents and plot actions, and not to demand unreasonable skills in theforeign language. Important work from the USA is showing that ®rst language pro®-ciency does not develop as a single, global phenomenon, but thatdifferent domains of language use develop differently (Snow 1996). In aproject to investigate the language development of children aged 14±32months, language was measured across the linguistic domains ofphonology, morphology, lexis, syntax, conversation and discourse, andhave been shown to be largely independent. Extended discourse seemsto develop differently from conversation. Furthermore, a connectionhas been found between childrens early experiences with language usein their families, and their language development in various domains. Infamilies where narratives are told around the dinner table, on topicssuch as what happened to parents at work or siblings at school, childrendevelop narrative and discourse skills faster; children whose families usea wide vocabulary develop faster in the lexical domain. One implication for teachers of foreign languages to young children isthat children will come into foreign language learning at the earlieststages bringing with them differently developed skills and learningabilities in their ®rst language. By the age of ®ve, individual differencesin language domains will be established and so, for example, somechildren will ®nd it easier to learn vocabulary than others, or childrenwith more developed conversational skills may transfer these to the newlanguage more easily than others. From the same language lesson, it islikely that different children will learn different things, depending partlyon what they ®nd easier to learn. In Vygotskyan terms, it seems likelythat a second or foreign language ZPD may not be global, but thatdifferent aspects of language will have different ZPDs.1.5.2 Learning a second languageAge and second language learningIt has long been hypothesised that children learn a second languagebetter than adults, and this is often used to support the early introduc-tion of foreign language teaching. The Critical Period Hypothesis is thename given to the idea that young children can learn a second languageparticularly effectively before puberty because their brains are still ableto use the mechanisms that assisted ®rst language acquisition. TheCritical Period Hypothesis holds that older learners will learn languagedifferently after this stage and, particularly for accent, can never achievethe same levels of pro®ciency. While some empirical studies offersupport for the Critical Period Hypothesis, other studies provide 13
  19. 19. Teaching Languages to Young Learnersevidence that there is no such cut-off point for language learning.Lightbown and Spada (1999) present some of the evidence for andagainst the Critical Period Hypothesis, and remind us to attend to thedifferent needs, motivations and contexts of different groups of learners.They suggest that where native-like pro®ciency in a second language isthe goal, then learning bene®ts from an early start, but when the goal iscommunicative ability in a foreign language, the bene®ts of an earlystart are much less clear. Further support for making this key distinction comes from a recentstudy into brain activity during language processing (Kim et al. 1997).This study discovered that the brain activity patterns of early bilinguals,who learn two languages at the same time from infancy, differ fromthose of learners who begin learning a language after about 7 or 8 yearsof age; different parts of the brain are used for language recall andactivation. Foreign language learning of the sort we are concerned withis thus an essentially different mental activity from early simultaneousbilingualism and from L1 acquisition.The in¯uence of the ®rst language on the secondThe `Competition Model of linguistic performance is a theory thatexplains how ®rst language learning may affect subsequent second orforeign language development (Bates and MacWhinney 1989). In thismodel, different languages have different ways of carrying meaning,and the particular ways in which a language encodes meaning act as`cues to interpreting the meaning of what is said. For example, wordorder in English is a very reliable and helpful cue that helps listenersidentify Subject and Object, i.e. who is acting and on what. In asentence like the cat ate the snake, the cat and the snake do not haveendings that show which is the `eater (the agent or Subject of the verb)and which is the eaten (acted-on or Object). It is their position in thesentence, or the word order, that reveals this; we can tell that the cat isthe Subject and does the eating because it comes before the verb, whilethe snake, which comes after the verb, has to be the Object. Otherlanguages, such as Italian, do not have restrictions on word order insentences, and so the order of the words does not offer as muchinformation about meaning as in English; word order is a stronger cuein English than in Italian (Liu et al. 1992). All levels of language canprovide cues, including lexis, morphology (word endings or pre®xes)and phonology (the sound system of a language). Sometimes one sourceof information reinforces another, and sometimes they con¯ict, or are incompetition, in which case the most reliable cue wins out. Studiescarried out across different languages have led to the important conclu-14
  20. 20. Children learning a foreign languagesion that children become sensitive to the reliability of cues in their ®rstlanguage from early infancy (Bates et al. 1984). As babies, they learn topay attention to particular cues which hold useful information formeaning. Later, if faced with trying to understand a second language,they will transfer these ®rst language strategies to make sense of L2sentences, trying to ®nd information in familiar places. Where twolanguages make use of very different types of cues, the transfer ofstrategies from L1 to L2 may not be very fruitful. Learners may need tobe helped to notice and pay attention to the salient cues of the newlanguage. In the case of English, word order is most salient, but so tooare word endings that show tense (e.g. walk ± ed) and plurality(shop ± s) (Slobin 1985).Age and ®rst languageThe cue effect is compounded by an effect of age. In studies ofimmersion language learning, younger children (7±8 years) seem to paymore attention to sound and prosody (the `music of an utterance),whereas older children (12±14 years) are more attentive to cues of wordorder (Harley et al. 1995). Children are generally less able to giveselective and prolonged attention to features of learning tasks thanadults, and are more easily diverted and distracted by other pupils.When faced with talk in the new language, they try to understand it interms of the grammar and salient cues of their ®rst language and alsopay particular attention to items of L2 vocabulary that they are familiarwith (Harley 1994; Schmidt 1990). These ®ndings will not surpriseexperienced primary teachers, but they give further empirical support tothe idea that teachers can help learners by focusing their attention onuseful sources of information in the new language, as also suggested byBruners scaffolding studies (section 1.4 above). Which cues needexplicit attention will vary with the ®rst language of the learners. Howto help pupils do this will be considered in more detail in later chapters,but here I present directing attention as a key principle with manyapplications in the young learner classroom. The competition model of understanding a second language, andempirical ®ndings that support the view that ®rst language experiencein¯uences second language use, remind us that in learning a foreignlanguage, students are learning both the whole and the parts. In thiscase, the `parts are tiny aspects of grammar or phonology that arecrucial in reaching a `whole interpretation. 15
  21. 21. Teaching Languages to Young LearnersIn¯uence of teaching on second language learningThere is mounting evidence from foreign language learning contexts ofthe in¯uence of teaching method on what is learnt. The range oflanguage experiences that children get in their foreign language lessonsis likely to in¯uence how their language develops; for example, iflessons provide opportunities to participate in question and answer typetalk then they will be good at that but not necessarily at other, moreextended, types of talk. Mitchell and Martin (1997) document thedifferent teaching styles and beliefs of teachers of French to 11 year oldchildren (English L1), and show how this seems to result in childrenproducing certain types of language rather than others. Weinert (1994)details how 11±13 year old learners of German (English L1) reproducein their talk the language types used by their teachers. Further research is needed into the extent of this teaching effect onlanguage learning, and at what levels of speci®city it operates (see alsoChapter 5). Current knowledge reinforces an intuitively obvious notion:foreign language learners who depend on their teachers and texts formost of their exposure and input, will not, if this is restricted in type,develop across the full range of the foreign language. A particularaspect of this concerns extended discourse, i.e. talking at length, andlater, writing at length. If, as seems to be the case from the ®rst languageresearch reported above, conversational skills develop independently ofextended discourse skills, then we cannot assume that teaching childrenconversational language will lead to them being able to speak at lengthin the foreign language, but rather must work on the principle that if wewant children to tell stories or recount events, they need to haveexperience of how this is done in the foreign language. Modelling oflanguage use by teachers, already seen as an important step inscaffolding (section 1.4), needs further to be genre-speci®c.1.6 Advantages to starting young with foreign languagesMany advantages are claimed for starting to learn a foreign language inthe primary years; more evidence is needed to judge how far claims turninto reality. Experience in the UK twenty years ago found that languagelearning in primary schools was not as positive as expected, although inretrospect this seems likely to be due to how it was implemented and, inparticular, to the lack of attention that planners paid to what wouldhappen at secondary level, when FL teachers were faced with mixedclasses of beginners and more advanced learners. The social, culturaland political issues around policies of teaching foreign languages early16
  22. 22. Children learning a foreign languageare complex and in¯uence teaching and learning at classroom level.Comparative studies of different socio-political contexts would beuseful in investigating these in¯uences and their impact. Published data on the outcomes of early language learning come fromthe North American experience with immersion teaching, where nativespeakers of English are placed in French-speaking nursery and infantschools, and vice versa (Harley and Swain 1994; Lightbown and Spada1994; Harley et al. 1995). In these contexts, children who have an earlystart develop and maintain advantages in some, but not all, areas oflanguage skills. Listening comprehension bene®ts most, with overallbetter outcomes for an earlier start; pronunciation also bene®ts in thelonger term, but this is restricted to learning language in naturalisticcontexts, and will not necessarily apply to school-based learning.Younger children learn the grammar of the L2 more slowly than olderlearners, so that although they start earlier with language learning theymake slower progress, and overall gains are not straightforwardlylinked to the time spent learning (Harley et al. 1995). Learning a secondlanguage through immersion differs from learning a foreign language asa subject lesson several times a week; immersion pupils study schoolsubjects through the second language and thus have more exposure andmore experience with the language. However, it is unlikely that thedifference in quantity of language learning experience will affect thebalance of bene®ts; in foreign language learning too, receptive skills arelikely to remain ahead of productive skills, and grammatical knowledge,which is linked not just to language development but to cognitivedevelopment, is likely to develop more slowly for younger children.1.7 The foreign language: describing the indivisibleIn this section, I present a ®rst dissection of the whole that is `languageinto the parts that comprise the content of teaching. In appliedlinguistics over the last decades, it has been common to divide languageinto `the Four Skills: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing, andthen to add Grammar, Vocabulary and Phonology to them. This divisionis not as logical as it may seem and has been challenged (Widdowson1998). Some syllabuses also deal in Topics, Functions and Notions,describing language in terms of how it is used in communication ratherthan seeing it as a linguistic system or a set of skills. Because children who start learning a foreign language very youngmay encounter nothing but the spoken language for several years, thecustomary division into the four skills seems somewhat inappropriate,and an alternative division of language has been attempted. 17
  23. 23. Teaching Languages to Young Learners The ®rst cut into the holism of language learning separates literacyskills from the rest, on the basis that learning to read and write in aforeign language presents distinct learning tasks that require teaching. Iwill argue that teachers need to plan and support literacy skillsdevelopment informed by speci®c knowledge and understanding ofliteracy issues, although of course the learner will, and should,experience literacy development as integrated within spoken languagedevelopment. Having separated out literacy skills development from of the totalityof the foreign language, what then remains is much wider than Speakingand Listening as perceived in secondary or adult language teaching. Foryoung learners, spoken language is the medium through which the newlanguage is encountered, understood, practised and learnt. Rather thanoral skills being simply one aspect of learning language, the spokenform in the young learner classroom acts as the prime source and site oflanguage learning. New language is largely introduced orally, under-stood orally and aurally, practised and automatised orally. My solutionto the problem of how to divide up oral language learning comes fromthinking about how children seek out meanings for themselves inlanguage, and to focus on words and on interaction. For Vygotsky,words label concepts and are an entry point into thinking and networksof meaning. In language teaching terms, the development of words,their meanings and the links between them will be covered under theterm Vocabulary. Interaction will be labelled as Discourse skills, and in Chapter 3, willbe further divided to re¯ect the distinction between conversationalexchanges and longer stretches of talk that Snows work in ®rstlanguage development has identi®ed. Instead of thinking about childrenas `doing Listening and Speaking, we will think about how they learnto interact in the foreign language. Classroom activities can also be seenand analysed as discourse in their own right. Grammar will be seen as emerging from the space between words anddiscourse in childrens language learning, and as being important inconstructing and interpreting meaning accurately. The development ofphonology is not considered separately in this book, since children seemto develop native-like accents without speci®c training through expo-sure to good models; it will, however, link into the development ofspelling and rhyme (Chapter 6). The organisational scheme for language is summarised in Figure 1.1.The carving up of language learning in this way seems to re¯ectreasonably well the real experience of young learners, and the structureof some, at least, of the course books written for them.18
  24. 24. Children learning a foreign language learning the foreign language learning oral skills learning the written language vocabulary discourse conversation extended talk grammarFigure 1.1 Dividing up `language for child foreign language learningThis division is, though, and can only ever be, an arti®cial breaking upof what grows through an `organic process in a childs mind. This isone reason why it is not always possible to predict what will be learntfrom what is taught, and why attending to the opportunities offered byactivities will be important.1.8 Summary of key learning principlesThe chapter concludes with a summary of the principles that haveemerged as most important in thinking about young children learning aforeign language. Each of these will be used throughout the rest of thebook as we consider concrete examples of what students are asked todo in lessons.Children actively try to construct meaningChildren actively try to `make sense, i.e. to ®nd and construct ameaning and purpose for what adults say to them and ask them to do.They can only make sense in terms of their world knowledge, which islimited and partial. Teachers thus need to examine classroom activitiesfrom the childs point of view in order to assess whether pupils willunderstand what to do or will be able to make sense of new language. 19
  25. 25. Teaching Languages to Young LearnersChildren need space for language growthIn both language and cognitive development, the ZPD or immediatepotential of the child is of central importance for effective learning.Routines and scaffolding are two types of language-using strategies thatseem to be especially helpful in making space for childrens growth.Language in use carries cues to meaning that may not be noticedChildren need skilled help in noticing and attending to aspects of theforeign language that carry meaning. Since they cannot bene®t muchfrom formal grammar, other ways of doing this have to be found.Development can be seen as internalising from social interactionLanguage can grow as the child takes over control of language usedinitially with other children and adults.Childrens foreign language learning depends on what theyexperienceThere are important links between what and how children are taught,and what they learn. Within the ZPD, the broader and richer thelanguage experience that is provided for children, the more they arelikely to learn. Foreign language lessons often provide all or most of achilds experience of the language in use; if we want children to developcertain language skills, we need to ensure they have experiences inlessons that will build those skills. The activities that happen in classrooms create a kind of `environ-ment for learning and, as such, offer different kinds of opportunitiesfor language learning. Part of teaching skill is to identify the particularopportunities of a task or activity, and then to develop them intolearning experiences for the children. In the next chapter, the idea ofidentifying the language learning opportunities offered by classroomtasks is developed further.20