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Metalinguistic awareness in early foreign language learning

Kasprowicz, R. ORCID:, Roehr-Brackin, K. and Macrory, G. (2022) Metalinguistic awareness in early foreign language learning. In: McManus, K. and Schmidt, M. S. (eds.) How Special are Early Birds? Foreign Language Teaching and Learning. EuroSLA Studies. Language Science Press, pp. 93-117. ISBN 9783985540471

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The introduction of language teaching at younger ages in schools around the world has prompted debate about the role of explicit teaching techniques in developing young learners’ language knowledge. In particular, there is discussion regarding the extent to which form-focussed instruction can effectively develop young learners’ metalinguistic awareness and the usefulness of this knowledge for early foreign language learning. This chapter first explores the main findings to date on the development of metalinguistic awareness and evidence for explicit knowledge and learning in children. Contrary to the common assumption that their language learning is implicit, it has been shown that children of primary-school age can and do learn explicitly at least to some extent, provided that certain conditions are met. To further examine this issue, we present findings from a classroom-based, quasi-experimental study, with young learners (aged 9 to 11) of German as a foreign language in primary schools in England. The study explored the efficacy of input-based explicit grammar instruction for developing learners’ metalinguistic knowledge of the target structure (nominative and accusative case marking on masculine definite articles in German). Pre- and post-test data indicated that the learners were able to consistently and accurately discuss the grammatical role of the target structures and make use of appropriate metalinguistic terminology when doing so. In contexts such as England, children starting a foreign language at the age of 7 have already been exposed to extensive explicit training in their first language English, including in relation to their understanding and use of core metalinguistic terminology. Therefore, the findings highlight the value of harnessing learners’ existing metalinguistic knowledge when introducing new L2 structures.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education > Language and Literacy in Education
ID Code:105595
Publisher:Language Science Press

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