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Young EFL Learners. Dr. Ofra Inbar Beit Berl College &Tel-Aviv University Teacher Education and School Reform and Development Sixth Israeli-German Symposium, October, 2005. The content of the talk. Language learning at a young age The spread of English

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Young EFL Learners

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young efl learners

Young EFL Learners

Dr. Ofra Inbar

Beit Berl College &Tel-Aviv University

Teacher Education and School Reform and Development

Sixth Israeli-German Symposium, October, 2005

the content of the talk
The content of the talk
  • Language learning at a young age
  • The spread of English
  • Learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at a young age
  • Knowledge-Base for teaching EFL to young learners
  • Research in-progress: Home Room teachers teaching English in grade One
should a language be introduced at a young age
Should a language be introduced at a young age?

Informal (home) environment

vs. formal school setting

Home (natural) environment:

  • Caretaker’s fluency and comfort in the language
  • Recognition of the advantages of bilingualism – contribution to complex cognitive skills (Baker,1998; Bialystock, 2002; Hornberger, 2003)
formal schooling 2 schools of thought
Formal Schooling: 2 schools of thought


  • Interference with L1
  • Research shows efficient learning takes place at older ages- ability to utilize and transfer skills from L1 (Cenzos, 2005; Mclaughlin, 1992 Singleton, 2001)
  • Learning Fatigue
  • Early exposure and more teaching hours: not enough to ensure success
  • Affective factors: less inhibited; greater motivation
  • Oral ability, particularly pronunciation enhanced at a young age (Johnstone, 1994; Marinova-Todd et al, 2000)
  • Confidence as a language speaker
  • Need to know language(s): Multilingualism is a key to success
but beliefs regarding language learning at school
But: Beliefs regarding language learning at school

Depend on: Purpose, setting, frequency, teacher, resources, language

Discussion: Somewhat Passé

Especially with regard to English


english as a lingua franca
English as a Lingua Franca

Emergence of English as a World Language due to

  • British colonialism
  • US power
  • Advent technology
  • About a billion people engaged in studying English as a Second (ESL) or Foreign (EFL) Language: Only about 300,000 million L1 English speakers (British Council, 2004; Crystal, 2000)
the spread of english 3 circles kachru 1982
The Spread of English: 3 Circles (Kachru, 1982)

Inner: Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, etc.

Outer: Nigeria, Singapore, India (New Englishes)

Expanding: Israel, Netherlands, Germany, etc.





currently distinction blurred
Currently: Distinction Blurred
  • New Englishes in Outer Circles (Periphery) asserting their rights:

Singlish in Singapore

Japanese English

Indian English

  • Expanding Circle countries (like Israel and Germany) embracing English as a semi-official language
native and non native english speakers
Native and Non-Native English speakers
  • Who is a native speaker? Central or Periphery?
  • Who is the best English teacher:

Native of standard (inner Circle) English or bilingual, non-native English speaker?

  • Criteria for material selection and for assessment: Central? Local? English as a Lingua Franca?
young learners of english
Young Learners of English
  • Wide spread
  • Language prestige
  • Parental pressure: social mobility
  • The younger the better regardless of research findings
how young is young
How Young is Young?
  • Home environment: birth


  • Foreign language teaching in the US- 12
  • Europe: varies: often 9-10 (or earlier)
  • Cambridge Young Learners’ test: 7-12
  • Israel and other “expanding countries”

The younger the better move to lower age. Currently: grade one

Sometimes kindergarten

what knowledge base is required for teaching efl to young learners
What Knowledge-Base is required for teaching EFL to young learners
  • Knowledge of the language
  • Knowledge about the language
  • Knowledge how to teach he language
  • Knowledge about teaching young children
  • Knowledge about teaching the language to young children
home room teachers teaching english
Home Room Teachers Teaching English
  • A common phenomenon in some European and Asian countries
  • In Israel: Began 5 years ago in the town of Ra’anana


  • Rooted in educational philosophical thought
  • Availability, convenience
  • Economically viable
knowledge on how to teach english to young learners
Knowledge on how to teach English to young learners

Who has the advantage

Till recently: Lack of training in EFL teacher education programs

(Program component in Beit Berl since 2001)

programs for teaching efl to young learners pertinent issues
Programs for teaching EFL to young learners: Pertinent issues
  • Goals: exposure, fun, or academic?
  • Listening/speaking or literate skills?
  • Use of target language (English) vs. local language (Hebrew; German), and for what purpose?
  • Integration with in-going topics (taught in the local language)
  • Literacy?
  • Assessment?
  • Coordination with programs for the older learners?
relevance to israel
Relevance to Israel
  • The Younger the better: move to introduce English at younger ages
  • One of the flagships of the current Ministry of Education policy
  • Vast spread of first grade English initiatives

In-Progress Research:Home Room teachers teaching English in Grade OneHeaded by Prof. Elana Shohamy, Tel-Aviv University Initiated and Funded by the Israeli Ministry of Education

pertinent issues
Pertinent Issues

Programs (3 programs are being examined)

Teacher’s Knowledge-Base (English teachers vs. home room teachers)

Attitudes of the public (high level administrators, principals, parents)

Students: achievements, attitudes, self-assessment

research tools
Research Tools

Large Sample

  • Teachers’ questionnaires (home room and English)
  • Principals’ questionnaire
  • Interviews (administrators, program developers)

Sample of 7 schools:

  • Parents’ questionnaire
  • Classroom observations
  • Teacher interviews
  • Students’ research tools
students research tools
Students’ Research Tools
  • Listening comprehension quiz (N=250)
  • Individual oral interaction interviews (N=54)
  • Attitude questionnaires (N=250)
  • Self-Assessment questionnaires (N=250)
some initial observations
Some initial observations
  • Teaching of English in grade 1 in Israel is extremely common
  • Both teaching models exist (home room and English teachers)
  • Programs: different objectives and modes of implementation (one program – home room teachers only)
student research tools
Student Research Tools

Specific age appropriate and language level considerations

  • format (whether individual, group or class)
  • choice of item and task types
  • choice of contexualized, age-relevant stimuli
comparative research study
Comparative Research Study?
  • Similar phenomena in Germany?
  • Possibilities for joint and comparative research?

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