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An example of production procedures : The Framework for Early Second Language Learning. Machteld Verhelst LANGUAGES OF SCHOOLING AND THE RIGHT TO PLURILINGUAL AND INTERCULTURAL EDUCATION Strasbourg, 8 – 10 June 2009. Background. Dutch Language Union, 2001

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an example of production procedures the framework for early second language learning

An example of production procedures :The Framework for Early Second Language Learning

Machteld Verhelst



Strasbourg, 8 – 10 June 2009


Dutch Language Union, 2001

Language proficiency as a key to school success (Dutch as a 1st (native children) or 2nd language (immigrant children))

Focus on young learners (switch from pre-primary to primary education, ISCED 0)

To define a 'sufficient' (mimimal) level of language proficiency in the language of schooling to benefit from education (no scaling)

International cooperation


framework of reference for early second language acquisition
Framework of Reference for Early Second Language Acquisition

The second language referred to in this Framework is the language of schooling of the migrant’s children host country

Central question:

“What should immigrant children be able to do with the language of schooling by the end of pre-school education?”

-> consensus:

objectives are applicable to all children


Production procedures for developing proficiency descriptors

Team of 7 linguists/pedagogues

A Conceptualisation

1) Analysis of relevant documents (30):

* all local documents enjoying a certain status in relation to objectives for early L2 acquisition

eg. The Flemish official (Governmental) ‘developmental goals’ (1997)

* the material available to organise L2 teaching for immigrant pre-school children


Production procedures for developing proficiency descriptors

2) First consultation of experts and practitioners in the Netherlands and Flanders on genereal themes/selection criteria, by written surveys

* educationalists, materials developers & policy makers (40)

* teacher trainers, school advisors, inspectors, teachers and managers (40)

3) Second consultation in a smaller committee with representatives of both groups

B Construction

4) Third consultation (large group): feedback on first version of the list of descriptors

5) Final consultation: consensus in a meeting


The description of objectives

Choices: How concrete? How general?

-> a sufficient degree of concreteness such that transference (and adaptability) to practice remains guaranteed

-> a sufficient degree of generality such that the number of objectives does not get out of hand and the main lines remain visible.

Concreteness is also ensured by giving a examples from classroom practice.


Three 'levels' of description

macro (fields/domains), meso (language acts/tasks) and micro (elements): the same reality, but from a different standpoint

1. Linguistic skill at the macro level:

= which are the main fields in which the pre-school child must understand and produce the language of schooling?

Three relevant fields:

- the field of school; “school” here means any situation occurring within the educational sphere and intended to stimulate the child’s development;

- the out-of-school field: social relationships with friends, family members and acquaintances;

- the media contact field: looking at TV, playing computer games in the language of schooling).


Selection criterium:

Focus on the school domain

> Perspective of possible achievement gaps

Children who do not sufficiently understand the language of schooling, and who fail to express themselves adequately within the school, risk running into problems at a very early stage of their development.

Language problems which threaten children early do not arise primarily in the other domains.


2. Linguisticskill at the meso level

= which specific language use situations are relevant to pre-school children and which language tasks must be carried out in this connection?

-> selection criterium: the starting-point is a functional paradigm: pre-school children are able to understand and produce linguistic messages to achieve a purpose that is relevant and of interest.

  • The parameters used for description at the meso level are:
  • skill : what skill is called upon in the language use situation? = listening, speaking, reading or writing (emergent literacy)
  • The list divides up the four skills, but the objectives for the four skills are not autonomous or mutually independent and shouldbe seen in relation to each other;
  • audience: who are the interlocutors in the language use situation?

= distinction between the child him/herself, known peers (e.g. classmates), unknown peers (e.g. children from other schools), known adults (e.g. the teacher) or unknown adults;

  • text type: the kind of message employed in the language use situation: written and oral messages

Examples of text types are an instruction, a story, an account (e.g. of one’s own experience), a question, an answer to a question;

  • subject: the subject of conversation in the language use situation concerned. Broad categories, described from a functional perspective, viz. what the child wants to/has to achieve in terms of understanding and producing messages.

Eg. it may be specified in the case of an instruction (text type) by the teacher that the instruction is one which calls for a physical act by the child (= subject).



  • context: whether the message which the child has to understand or produce is linked to a concrete here-and-now context or not.
  • This parameter has an impact on the child’s assessment of the functionality of the language utterance for him/herself, but of course also on the degree of difficulty of the message;
  • (cognitive) processing level: the level at which information in the message has to be processed by the child.
  • Does the child merely have to reproduce the information in the message (copying level), understand or describe it as it stands (describing level), restructure the information in the message him/herself (structuring level) or even evaluate it by comparing it with other messages and sources (evaluating level)?



The child understands instructions given to him/her in class by the teacher and requiring concrete action from him/her.

Translated into the above parameters, this becomes:

Listening (=skill): the child understands (=processing level) oral instructions (=text type) which are given to him/her (=audience) by the teacher (=interlocutor) in class (=reference to macro level) and which call for concrete physical action from him/her in a here-and-now situation (=subject).




The pre-school child is able to answer questions (= text type) about his/her own life in the concrete context of the here-and-now (= subject) intended for him/her (= audience), at the descriptive level (= processing level) and in a communicatively adequate manner.


3. Linguistic skillat the micro level

  • = which linguistic elements are necessary (as a minimum) in order to perform the language skill tasks listed above in the stated fields adequately?
  • Description of linguistic elements > traditional “disciplines” of linguistics:
  • - phonology: the extent to which pre-school children must recognise or produce particular sounds is indicated;
  • - lexis: the vocabulary which pre-school children must acquire in order to be able to perform the tasks at meso level;
  • - morphology/syntax: the morphological and syntactic rules;
  • - pragmatics and socio-linguistics: the conversational conventions and skills, in conjunction with register.

Relationship between the three levels

-> very closely interrelated:

not regarded as three separate “programmes” or “sets of objectives”

When determining, describing and evaluating objectives, all three levels are always needed together, precisely because they are always present together in the communication situation and influence each other.

For the pre-school child, taking all three levels into account in an integrated way is necessary in order to perform adequately in communication terms in the relevant situations.

-> Not advisable to consider (in teaching: in assessment) the micro level in isolation: the link with the meso and macro levels is always essential.

parameters of task complexity
Parameters of task complexity

Complexity is defined using different parameters:

-> The next level of complexity is reached when moving one of these indicators up.

  • Objective: ‘thechild can understand an oral instruction about a concrete physical action in a here-and-now situation, and is able to show its comprehension by reacting adequately’
    • Subject = concrete
    • Descriptive level
    • MICRO: simple vs. complex language use: short, simple vs. long, embedded sentences
  • Objective: ‘thechild can understand a spoken story that is meant for his age.’
    • Subject = there-and-then, less concrete (visual support is limited) and familiar, requires identification
    • Descriptive level; processing demands higher
    • MICRO: More complex language use: longer text, less frequent words

Status of the Framework

and applications

  • Status in F (no implementation in N):
  • - Although ‘approved’ by policy makers, not adapted as official objectives by the government (no need in Flanders: existence of developmental goals);
  • - Generally accepted as a Framework of Reference;
  • Considered as a more concrete version of the official developmental goals.
  • Applications:
  • - 2 tests (F)
  • - 1 observation instrument (F)
  • interactive website with HOW (N-F)
  • references in several handbooks on vocabulary acquisition
  • in teacher training: awareness raising on the WHAT-question