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Worldwide survey on practice and policy in Young Learners Teaching


 

Shelagh Rixon
Centre for English Language Teacher Education
The University of Warwick

This is a worldwide survey of what is happening in teaching English as a foreign language to Young Learners at the levels of public policy, beliefs and practical implementation.

In recent years there have been two survey articles on the state of the art of Young Learner teaching, both published in the journal Language Teaching. The first (Rixon, 1992) had a focus on English but also drew insights from projects in which other languages were being taught. The more recent article (Kubanek-German 1998) had a European focus and concerned all languages. A common experience for those interested in Young Learner teaching has been that there are sources available for theoretical perspectives and for evaluative comments on the more high profile and prestige projects such as the Bangalore project, but that it is more difficult to discover what exactly is going on on a day-to-day basis in schools and teacher training institutions in different countries. Most information comes through journalism, personal experience and anecdotes. It was felt useful therefore to try to collect information from more authoritative sources and to display it in a way that allowed it to be updated rapidly as situations changed.

We feel that reliable information on Young Learners Teaching is of considerable practical importance in the following ways:

  1. Course providers such as universities, colleges and language schools need to be on firm ground when they tailor teacher education courses to the needs of YL teachers from different countries whether they be at Master's, Diploma or Certificate level or shorter in-service courses.

  2. As many have pointed out, David Nunan amongst the most recent in an article for TESOL Matters- 'Does Younger = Better?', there is a very widespread public faith in the 'Younger = Better' equation. Parent power and the lure of votes seems to be a strong factor in the decision in many countries to lower the age at which a foreign language (English especially) is taught. It could be beneficial for those in countries thinking of embarking on a new project to teach English to young children to have information on the decisions taken in other places and on some of the practical consequences they have had, both positive and negative.

  3. For many who work in this field, the issue is not so much the discussion of age-related concerns, but the need for some closely focused research to meet the conditions in which most Young Learners learn - that of instructional situations with relatively low exposure to the language. Trying to identify factors that add up to 'optimal conditions' rather than 'optimal age' could be very useful. Age might be one of the conditions, but just one amongst issues such as amount of exposure to the target language, competence of teachers in the language and in language pedagogy. One more question that needs more carefully collected data concerns the level of actual achievement that is the publicly endorsed aim, and how realistic it is.

It seems that these issues are starting to become of more concern at a public level in a number of countries. Evidence of this is the number of enquiries seeking expert advice on YL that have been made to British Council offices worldwide. These have often come from high officials, from a Minister of Education's private office for example, sometimes after an introduction of YL teaching had not brought the publicly desired swift results, or for reasons such as a change of government and a desire to reevaluate the activity in terms of its cost-effectiveness. Some have come from countries wishing to make a start and wishing to do so in the most effective way possible.

It was proposed that the British Council should fund a series of investigations, whose 'products' it could in the first place use as a more economical and effective way of coping with the demands made on it for expert YL advice. Other points of interest from the British Council point of view came from the work already in hand in tracking present and even future trends in English teaching in both public and private sectors (see The Future of English, Graddol 1997) and their role in keeping interest groups such as publishers and course providers supplied with useful intelligence through Sector Reviews of different areas of the world.

The audience for the results of these investigations is therefore a professional as well as an academic one, and the questions include 'facts and figures' and practical issues that would be of use to decision makers.

However this information can be of use only if it is made public and of easy access. The British Council, with its worldwide network and its websites, provides the ideal arena for this to happen.

Project plan and design

There are two main stages

Stage one: Basic 'Facts and Figures'

It is felt valuable to have reliable data on such things as which countries are active in YL English, in particular which ones have implemented recent changes and which ones have changes in prospect in the near future. The ages at which YL begin to learn English in state schools, the numbers of teachers and pupils involved, the preparation and qualifications of eligible teachers, the degree of guidance in syllabus terms, the amount of freedom over materials used, the relationship between state and private sector YLT, and the relationship between English and other FL taught.

This information has been gathered by questionnaire, through the British Council network in the first instance. The British Council office concerned was responsible for identifying a reliable source either within their own staff or from contacts within the profession in the country. By this means, data from over 30 countries have been collected.

A second stage of data gathering for countries not responding or not covered by the British Council is now proposed using other networks.

In due course it is proposed to return to the informants to ask for more information on issues emerging that seemed of particular interest.

Phase two

A survey article is in preparation whose proposed audience is decision makers and interested members of the profession or the public. The data gathered in Phases One and Two as well as other sources on the subject will be used to prepare a document that will be attractive enough for the general reader to enjoy, but nonetheless accurate detailed and grounded enough to be used by decision makers and administrators. The working title is 'Learning languages for the very young. What people believe and what the evidence tells us'. Alongside a literature review of the language acquisition and learning issues, examples of different practical strategies for making sucess in EYL feasible would be focused upon. Areas covered would be experiences in different countries with issues such as the total amount of hours per year dedicated to EYL, the 'dosing' of the time in terms of decisions about whether to have many short lessons or to teach in longer blocks of time, strategies for teacher deployment, and what it is realistic to expect in terms of achievement.

The aim is to make this available on a website, but also in a printed form with the possibility of versions translated into other languages.

February 2000

 

Produced in United Kingdom by The British Council © 2000. The British Council is the United Kingdom's international organisation for educational and cultural relations. Registered in England as a Charity.









Summary of EYL in public primary schools





 

Argentina

Austria

Bahrain

Bangladesh

Brazil

Colombia

Croatia

Is EYL taught as a compulsory part of the curriculum?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

Yes

When was it introduced?

1998 (regionally)

1983

1920

1992

Not applicable

Not applicable

1997

At what age do students begin EYL?

Not stated

8 years

9 years

6 years

Not stated

11 years

6/7 years

Is there any widespread teaching of English before compulsory EYL begins?

Not stated

Not stated

Not stated

Not stated

Not applicable

Some, in upper primary

Not applicable

How many hours a week/school year are officially allocated for EYL?

Not stated

1 hour/week for 35 weeks/year

Not stated

44-82 hours/year

Not applicable

2.25 hours/week

105-170 hours/year

How many EYL (a). teachers and (b). students are there in the public education system?

Not stated

Not stated

Not stated

(a). 228,000
(b). 18,030,805

Not stated

(a). 154,543
(b). 4,101,135

Not known

% breakdown of how EYL teaching is supplied(1)

(a). 5%
(b). 5% (est.)
(c). 10% (est.)
(d). 40% (est.)
(e). 40% (est.)

(a). 99%
(b). 1%

(b). 100%

(a). 100%

Not stated

(a). 100%

(a). 10%
(b). 80%
(d). 10%

Who is qualified to teach EYL in the public education system?(2)

h

h

b, d, h

h

Not stated

Not stated

d, e

Nationwide are schools able to recuit enough eligible teachers?

No

Yes

Yes

No

Not stated

Not stated

No

What official guidelines exist for EYL teaching?(3)

d

d

d

c

Not stated

b

d

Do EYL teaching materials have to be approved?(4)

a

d

e

e

Not stated

b

d

What materials are typically used?(5)

b, c

a, b

a, b, c, d

Not stated

Not stated

a, b, c, d

c, d

What other foreign languages are taught?

Not stated

French, Italian

None

None

Not stated

None

French, German, Italian

Are any changes in EYL provision planned or anticipated?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Not stated

Yes

Not stated

(1) (a). the students' regular class teacher; (b). a specialist teacher of English who works in only one school; (c). a specialist teacher of English who gives lessons in more than one school; (d). a person who is not a qualified teacher but who knows English and who works in only one school; (e). a person who is not a qualified teacher but who knows English and who gives lessons in more than one school.

(2) (a). an established primary teacher who has passed a local test of English; (b). an established primary teacher who has passed an internationally recognised language test; (c). a primary teacher who has successfully completed a special in-service training course in English and/or EYL methodology; (d). a teacher who has pre-service training at college pr university and is qualified to become a teacher of English at primary level; (e). a teacher qualified to teach English at secondary school but who is willing to work in a primary school; (f). a university graduate of English who has not taken courses in education or teaching methodology; (g). a native speaker of English who has no recognised qualifications as a teacher; (h). other.

(3) (a). no published guidelines or syllabus; (b). a general description of aims for EYL but no specific advice about content; (c). a fairly detailed outline of suitable content, e.g. listing topic areas. functions, skills; (d). a more detailed specification of content, e.g., word lists, structure lists, examples of phrases and sentences to be included; (e). other.

(4) (a). teachers have to make their own materials as there is no school budget for books; (b). teachers may choose any published materials provided that they are within the school budget; (c). teachers may choose any published materials provided that they are within the school budget and that the materials have been officially cleared or approved; (d). there is an officially approved list of locally published material and teachers may choose anything on it, within their budget; (e). there is only one approved book and this is published specially for schools in the country/region. No other choice is allowed; (f). other.

(5) (a). original materials devised by teachers themselves; (b). lesson materials adapted by teachers from several published sources; (c). international published coursebooks; (d). local published coursebooks; (e). other.

 

Produced in United Kingdom by The British Council © 2000. The British Council is the United Kingdom's international organisation for educational and cultural relations. Registered in England as a Charity.