Progression in Primary Languages: A longitudinal study tracking language learning in primary school in England

In September 2014, foreign languages became a compulsory part of the primary school curriculum in England, with the clear expectation that learners should make “substantial progress in one language” (DfE, 2013) throughout the four years of language learning at primary school (age 7-11). However, schools face considerable difficulties (e.g., limited time, low teacher confidence and expertise, limited guidance), in particular due to lack of clarity regarding core content and learning outcomes for language learning at this level. Existing research exploring young learners’ linguistic progression in instructed settings demonstrates progress in vocabulary size and grammatical knowledge development (Courtney et al., 2017) and in listening, reading and speaking skills (Cable et al., 2012). However, progress tends to be slow, variable and influenced by the amount and quality of language input available (Graham et al., 2017). Further research is thus needed to examine the route and rate of language learning in contexts where teaching time is limited and out-of-school exposure is minimal.

In this talk, I will present the Progression in Primary Languages project, a longitudinal study examining young learners’ linguistic development in French, German and Spanish over four years of learning at primary school in England. Learners (aged 7-11) are completing a battery of language tests twice per year (starting February 2023) to enable longitudinal and cross-sectional analyses of language development, including understanding and use of target language vocabulary, grammar, and phoneme-grapheme correspondences, receptive (listening, reading) and productive (writing, speaking) skills. This presentation will focus on the process of test development, and particularly on how young learners’ developmental characteristics and the contextual factors influencing children’s language-learning experience shaped the design and administration of the language tests, using the receptive vocabulary test as a case exemplar. Ultimately, the findings of the study will build a full and detailed picture of how foreign language knowledge develops in young learners in a primary school setting and shed light on the individual, instructional and contextual factors that affect language learning in this context.

Nicola Morea is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the Institute of Education of the University of Reading, where he works on the Progression in Primary Languages project, a longitudinal study exploring additional language learning in primary school in England. Nicola completed a PhD in Education at the University of Cambridge, where he investigated the multilingual identities and beliefs about multilingualism of pre-service teachers in England, exploring new ways in which Teacher Education and Training providers can prepare future teachers to confidently teach in multilingual classrooms. Prior to his doctoral studies, Nicola has worked as a secondary-school languages teacher, head of department and PGCE mentor.

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