The age factor and early language learning

The age factor and early language learning. Ed. by Marianne Nikolov. (Studies on language acquisition 40.) Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2009. Pp. x, 424. ISBN 9783110218275. $140 (Hb).

Reviewed by Ingrid Pufahl, Center for Applied Linguistics

While foreign language instruction in U.S. elementary and middle schools has sharply declined over the past decade, countries abroad are introducing foreign languages to increasingly younger students. The seventeen articles in this volume provide important insights into how educational context contributes to early language learning (ELL) and much-needed information about how best to teach and learn foreign languages.

The first two chapters introduce the range of topics. The editor’s opening chapter, ‘The age factor in context’, discusses the critical period hypothesis, different ELL program models, their goals, and time frames, as well as recent themes, issues, and challenges in empirical ELL research. Peter Edelenbos and Angelika Kubanek, focusing on recent European research, identify pedagogical principles and good practices underlying ELL.

The subsequent four chapters discuss assessment. Helena Curtain provides a detailed account of proficiency-based assessment instruments and underlying performance guidelines used in U.S. programs. Ofra Inbar-Lourie and Elana Shohamy propose an assessment construct for meaningful language use embedded in relevant content, providing examples from young Israeli English learners. Joanne Jalkanen, revisiting the critical age hypothesis, reports how teaching and assessment are integrated in a total English immersion program for Finnish preschoolers/kindergarteners, while Andrea Haenni Hoti, Sybille Heinzmann, and Marianne M­üller describe how previous language knowledge, affective and attitudinal factors, and learning strategies affect young learners’ English oral proficiency in Switzerland.

The next two chapters address how age affects language proficiency. Carmen Muñoz compares the quantity, quality, and intensity of language input with long-term outcomes in formal and naturalistic language learning settings. She concludes that the extended and non-intensive language input, typical of formal language learning settings, favors older learners, who outperform younger learners in traditional foreign language classrooms. In contrast, Chise Kasai, comparing the sound acquisition of Japanese children and adults, confirms that a young age is advantageous when aiming for native-like pronunciation.

The subsequent three chapters address individual differences in ELL. Jelena Mihaljević Djigunović discusses how young learners’ attitudes and motivation, anxiety, and strategies affect learning outcomes. Marina Mattheoudakis and Thomaï Alexiou report how socio-economic factors affect English learners in Greece, while Csilla Kiss reports on the development of a foreign langauge aptitude test for young Hungarian students.

This is followed by three chapters focusing on Asian contexts. Qiang Wang reports on English in China, from policy to a large-scale teacher survey on implementation. Jayne Moon examines the teacher factor in ELL programs in Vietnam, and Jing Peng and Lili Zhang study interaction in English classrooms in China.

The last three chapters focus on the status of languages. John Harris discusses how insights from long-standing heritage language programs in Ireland can be applied to ELL programs. Janet Enever examines attitudes and language choice in primary foreign language education in the UK. Rivi Carmel’s critical discourse analysis examines the social, educational, and individual implications of the English for Young Learners program in Israel.

Overall, the book provides an interesting and useful overview of issues, research methods, and educational contexts of early language learning and teaching for both practitioners and researchers.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .