Early Language Learning: Complexity and Mixed Methods is presented by the editors Enever and Lindgren as the first collection of mixed methods research (MMR) studies in the field of early language learning (ELL) in an instructed context. The publication of this volume is timely: as Riazi and Candlin (2014) point out, MMR is experiencing a rise in numerous academic disciplines, including language teaching and learning, with studies posing research questions that increasingly are suited to inclusive approaches applying both qualitative and quantitative methods. Enever and Lindgren stress the importance of MMR in strengthening the validity and contributing to the depth and scope of a study. In addition, collecting both qualitative and quantitative data contributes to enhancing the credibility of the study and is common practice for case study research (Dörnyei, 2007). The volume focuses predominantly on recent, world-wide MMR studies on the learning of English as an additional, foreign and second language, and their mixed methodologies. The studies originate in Africa, Europe, Asia and Latin America, representing countries that have experienced growth in early English language learning. In their closing chapter, Enever and Lindgren reflect on the recent growth of MMR in the field of ELL and suggest that an international journal devoted to ELL would be a ‘natural home for discussions of research methodologies’ (306). Part 1 is titled ‘Overview of Research Findings’ and lays a solid foundation for the various international studies which follow. It consists of three chapters that, unlike the chapters in parts 2, 3 and 4, focus on the contexts of ELL in primary education, offer general insights and thus pave the way for the studies to come. Van Ginkel’s study is the first chapter in Part 1 and looks at different models of language education currently implemented in a number of African countries (Kenya, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana) to facilitate the move from minority to majority language and finally to English as a classroom language. However, as van Ginkel shows, there is a mismatch between policies and observed classroom practices, which influences children’s achievement. She argues that a better approach to supporting children would be a shift from minority to majority classroom language and then, from the age of nine, teaching English first as a subject before making it the medium of instruction. This conclusion is not surprising and in fact van Ginkel refers to numerous studies showing that children learn languages faster at an older age. In chapter 3, one of the few chapters that do not deal with English, Driscoll focuses on the teaching of intercultural understanding in foreign language education at primary level in the UK. She claims that current provision must move from a foreign culture emphasis towards a child-centred approach which focuses on developing and sharing children’s realizations and self-reflections. Chapter 4, by Murphy, looks at the existing literacy skills gap of young English as an additional language (EAL) learners. Murphy argues that good literacy skills of EAL learners are a sign of good integration and of successful educational policies. She asserts that greater attention must be paid to the low literacy skills of primary-aged EAL learners, as the young age of these learners cannot in itself guarantee successful language learning, and discusses possible solutions such as immersion and translanguaging. Part 2 consists of five studies gathered under the rather general title of ‘Empirical Studies Using Mixed Methods’. Chapter 5, by Porter, investigates the link between verbal working memory (VWM) and foreign language learning (proficiency and literacy) of young language learners learning French. The study concludes that VWM plays a significant role in language learning, although Porter found that even if VWM is high, young language learners perceive foreign language learning as a challenge. Chapter 6, by Jiang, Zhang, Liang, Yuan and Xie, discusses a study that combined elicited metaphor analysis and a questionnaire to investigate the motivation of young language learners in China. The results indicate that the participating 7- to 10-year-old children have a positive attitude and strong intrinsic motivation towards English language learning. Children were aware of the importance of English for their present and future. Moreover, parents believed in learning English, a factor that positively influenced young learner motivation. Jiang et al. consider that the underlying dynamics justify further creative MMR studies into young learner foreign language learning motivation. Chapter 7, by Buendgens-Kosten, Hardy and Elsner, looks at receptive code-switching which, unlike productive code-switching, is a ‘language practice often overlooked’ (111). Underpinned by research in story-based teaching and the use of stories in foreign language teaching, Buendgens-Kosten et al. studied German primary classrooms with children fluent in Turkish and German learning English, using multilingual digital storybook software (English, German and Turkish) to study the link between receptive code-switching and comprehension. The results show that although multilingual books might aid comprehension, it is not clear what specific aspect supports this positive development. Hilton (chapter 8) describes a study researching first- and third-grade children who were part of a new national English programme in France. The study sought to establish the possible advantages of such a programme and the contextual characteristics that might influence the language-learning process. Hilton concludes that primary English is a complex process with multiple variables interacting in ‘unexpected ways’ (141). Hilton also briefly reports on findings from a longitudinal follow-up study, which interestingly results in her questioning the significance of the functional syllabus for young English learners as proposed by the Council of Europe, if the allocated teaching time is below two hours per week. In chapter 9, Pižorn investigates three CLIL-related questions: how a CLIL approach can enhance young Slovenian children’s English language proficiency, how it can impact on their attitudes, and how young learners’ perceive CLIL teaching. Based on her results, she comments that CLIL will not automatically result in improved proficiency across all skills. Furthermore, she notes that although content-related and cognitive activities were more appreciated by students than regular language-learning activities, unexpectedly students’ least-favoured activities included revising other subject matters in English. Pižorn stresses the importance of this finding as it questions the development of young learner’s ‘meta-abilities and their learning of learning processes’ (160). Part 3 is titled ‘Longitudinal Perspectives Using Mixed Methods’. Butler (chapter 10) takes the reader out of Europe and once more a study centres on motivation of young English language learners in China. Butler offers a detailed and convincing account of how and why young learners’ motivation, self-confidence and anxiety change, considering factors such as time and socioeconomic status. The next three chapters will be of great interest to readers and researchers familiar with Enever’s (2011) pioneering Early Language Learning in Europe (ELLiE) study, with chapter 11 by Lopriore and chapter 12 by Lindgren and Enever expanding directly on research undertaken during this project. Lopriore looks at the language-learning development of Italian young English learners from a longitudinal perspective. Lindgren and Enever focus on the use of mixed methods for the construction of thick descriptions of ELL. They offer insights into the contexts and attitudes of three young English language learners in Sweden, showing that even if the school context is the same, the home context can play an influencing role on children’s interest in language learning and on their progress. Lindgren and Enever state that their two lower-level students remain positive towards language learning over the years but the more advanced student encountered boredom. Although not a direct follow-up study, chapter 13 (by Mihaljević Djigunović) is also rooted in the ELLiE study and focuses on motivation, self-concept and achievement of the young English language learner. Eighty-one Croatian 10- to 11-year-old children participated in this study, which combined instruments used in the ELLiE study with newly designed test instruments. Mihaljević Djigunović concludes that unlike previous findings, factors such as changes in teaching methodologies or the addition of new subjects might contribute to a reduced learner motivation but it would be oversimplifying to call it a permanent development. Thus in such cases young language learners do not have decreasing but rather fluctuating levels of motivation and self-concept. The combination of these three European ELLiE-based studies and Butler’s diverse study from China ultimately offers a very cohesive unit. Part 4 presents three chapters gathered under the title of ‘Evaluating Early Language Learning Programmes’. Chapter 14 returns to the topic of CLIL. García Mayo and Agirre aim to assess whether conversational strategies of children learning English in a mainstream or CLIL context are affected by the learner’s age and learning context and if these conversational strategies vary over time. Sponsored by the Mexican Ministry of Education, chapter 15 by Sayer, Ban and López de Anda has a clear focus on evaluating the educational outcomes of an EFL programme in Mexico. Although the programme is implemented state-wide, challenges have resulted in only 25 per cent of elementary children receiving English education. This impact study documents findings in various areas, including learning and educational outcomes, social impact, and level of satisfaction. It provides insights into how, for example, English teachers are less aware of creating cross-curricular links in their lessons or how the sociocultural approach based on social practices in the curriculum remained predominantly an ‘academic exercise’ (283). Finally, the study by Porsch and Wilden (chapter 16) is based in Germany and centres on the C-Test (Klein-Braley, 1985), which, although well established, is still controversial: according to Dörnyei and Katona (1992), who confirmed both the reliability and validity of the C-Test, the controversy stems from the lack of clarity regarding the construct this test is intended to measure. Porsch and Wilden studied the validity and quality of the C-Test in order to establish whether it could become a tool for primary teachers to establish and individually foster young learners’ competences. After testing 201 primary English learners, Porsch and Wilden conclude that the C-Test offers a ‘reliable and valid measurement of English proficiency’ (300). In their concluding chapter, Enever and Lindgren summarize the importance of mixed methods in early language learning research and then briefly review all studies. Their short analysis of applied research methods and the researchers’ reasons for choosing MMR offers not only a comprehensive final overview but also additional or overlooked points referring to scale, process and design. Overall, the varied studies gathered in this book make an excellent beginning to a discussion of the importance of the MMR in ELL. In current times of migration, Murphy’s outstanding chapter 4 is most timely and will hopefully instigate future MMR research in the field of EAL. Also noteworthy is the value of this book for researchers and educators in primary English teacher education. Studies such as van Ginkel (chapter 2), Jiang et al. (chapter 6) and Hilton (chapter 8) highlight the significance and role of the teacher, teaching methodologies and materials. Undoubtedly, these areas merit future attention in order to continue the push forward within ELL. Ultimately, Enever and Lindgren’s choices of contributions support their view of the importance of sharing MMR expertise and the possible benefits of multidisciplinary research teams. Another strength is the way in which some studies overlap in their field of research, contributing to a nuanced view of the field. Having said that, not all chapters are equally strong, for varying reasons, as so often with edited books. More importantly, the subtitle—Complexity and Mixed Methods—raises a number of issues. Whereas the volume has much to offer in terms of mixed methods, it is not immediately obvious what the term ‘complexity’ refers to. Although the editors briefly refer to work by Larsen-Freeman (2), it looks as if they use the word ‘complexity’ not necessarily as a theoretical construct, but as evidence that the study of complex systems in second-language research requires a variety of methodologies. A number of chapters illustrate this complexity and by doing so also challenge current assumptions. Murphy (chapter 4) illustrates that young age cannot be considered a guarantee for successful language learning; Pižorn (chapter 9) shows that CLIL does not inevitably develop all language skills; and Mihaljević Djigunović (chapter 13) provides interesting corrections to our view of the motivation and self-concept of young learners. Thus it soon becomes clear that complexity can also refer to the complexity, in an everyday sense, of the research design, the results, the analysis, the limitations. Indeed, this complexity may well be the source of the unexpected inconclusiveness of some chapters. Another issue is the accessibility of information, especially taking into account the broad readership indicated on the back cover, which includes trainee teachers, in-service teachers, graduate TESOL students, educators, researchers and policymakers. Not all the data in some of the studies is presented accessibly, and at times the shortness or the density of the account might leave one or the other readership wondering. A simple chart with an overview of the studies’ themes, countries, participants, methods used, key findings, limitations and future research suggestions would have been a welcome addition. Not only would it support the various readerships by offering organizational alternatives, it would also illustrate, for example, frequent themes and MMR designs. Ultimately, though, this publication is an exciting development and the importance of this book and its value for future MMR and researchers in ELL and primary English teacher education must be stressed. Enever and Lindgren have created the necessary stepping stone to finding a ‘natural home’ (306) for this research field so that expertise can not only be shared but also further developed. The reviewer Tatia Gruenbaum taught EFL, EAP and ESP at a number of higher and further education institutions in London and is now an English lecturer at the Avans University of Applied Sciences in Breda (NL) and a PhD candidate at the UCL Institute of Education. She holds an MA TESOL from the IoE and her PhD research centres on the use of picturebooks as a tool in pre-service primary teacher education in the Netherlands. References Dörnyei, Z. and L. Kantona. 1992. ‘ Validation of the C-Test amongst Hungarian EFL Learners’. Language Testing 9/ 2: 187– 206. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Dörnyei, Z. 2007. Research Methods in Applied Linguistics . Oxford: Oxford University Press. Enever, J. 2011. ELLiE Early Language Learning in Europe. Available at https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/sites/teacheng/files/B309%20ELLiE%20Book%202011%20FINAL.pdf (accessed on 1 March 2018). Klein-Braley, C. 1985. ‘ A cloze-up on the C-Test: a study in the construct validation of authentic tests’. Language Testing 2/ 1: 76– 104 Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Riazi, A. M. and N. C. Candlin. 2014. ‘ Mixed-methods research in language teaching and learning: opportunities, issues and challenges’. Language Teaching 47: 135– 173. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
ELT Journal – Oxford University Press
Published: May 28, 2018
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