University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Second Language Education Group > Learning French from ages 5, 7 and 11: an investigation into starting ages, rates and routes of learning amongst early foreign language learners

Learning French from ages 5, 7 and 11: an investigation into starting ages, rates and routes of learning amongst early foreign language learners

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Ewa Illakowicz.

There has been a longstanding yet inconclusive debate about young children’s aptitude for foreign language learning, and their special characteristics as learners (see e.g. Nikolov & Djigunovic 2006). On the one hand it has been argued that young children are more likely to achieve native speaker like levels of ultimate attainment, especially in areas such as pronunciation. On the other hand, it has been shown repeatedly that older learners are more efficient and make more rapid progress at least in the short term, presumably because of their ability to draw on a wider range of cognitive strategies.

This talk will present a two-year ESRC project whose aim is to investigate the role of age in foreign language learning. Three groups of classroom learners of French as a foreign language, with English as their first language and with starting ages of 5, 7 and 11, are receiving 40 hours of instruction, taught by the same teacher following similar teaching methods, and their progress is assessed at intervals on a number of dimensions. In addition, the entire sequence of lessons is captured on video thus providing a complete record of target language input and children’s engagement with this input.

Preliminary results examining the relationship between target language input, interaction and the acquisition of receptive vocabulary will be presented. The analysis will relate the early learning of individual vocabulary items to the way these items were encountered in the classroom input, and to various other factors such as frequency, whether the children produced as well as heard the word, what syntactic category the word belongs to, etc. Conclusions will be drawn on the extent to which active meaning-focused manipulation of new words contributes to their acquisition, as compared with other types of exposure through classroom input.

This talk is part of the Second Language Education Group series.

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