Reviews 2017

Teaching English to Young Learners: Critical Issues in Language Teaching with 3-12 Year Olds

Teaching English to Young Learners: Critical Issues in Language Teaching with 3-12 Year Olds. Ed. Janice Bland. London: Bloomsbury, 2015. 293 pages. $32.99 (paperback).

Teaching additional languages, as well as a student’s own native language, from the very earliest phases of compulsory schooling has been established as a general worldwide trend for more than fifty years. In most European countries children begin their obligatory education in a foreign language at the age of six or five. The popularity of English at primary level has been charted by three publications of Eurydice (2005, 2008, 2012). In 2005, in ten member countries of the EU English as a Foreign Language was introduced in over 50 per cent of all primary schools in each country. In 2012, that number increased to 72%. Consequently, the field of English language teaching to young learners has not only emerged but is also expanding in an exponential way. Despite the fact that there is a growing number of teachers and academics who conduct a plethora of research in this domain, there is an even greater demand for professional literature concerning the issues of early foreign language education. The book reviewed here makes a significant contribution to this literature.

The volume edited by Janice Bland presents a collection of studies covering a wide range of critical issues in foreign language teaching with 3-12 year olds, from both theoretical and practical perspectives. The book includes 15 research papers, preceded by a foreword written by Carol Read and an editor’s introduction. As Bland mentions, "many of the chapters are the result of research conducted foremostly in Europe and focusing on children and their learning in mainstream schooling" (1). What makes the volume even more informative is the fact that it includes research from several disciplines: linguistics, anthropology, psychology, sociology, education and literature. Additionally, the book includes studies of EYL based on empirical research, theoretical research, action research and teaching observation over many years.

In the opening chapter "The Advantages and Disadvantages of English as a Foreign Language with Young Learners," Janet Enever draws a historical perspective on EYL based on the research in the field over the past fifty years. Besides the rich description of advantages and disadvantages of "early start" in EFL, the chapter also includes profound analysis of the conditions that are necessary for generalized success. These include teacher expertise, sustained motivation over time, continuity, aims and out-of-school learning. In the conclusion Enever emphasizes that the factors that require urgent attention of researchers are realistically achievable outcomes and well established aims. In her opinion they pose the condition sine qua non for accurate evaluation of advantages and disadvantages of an early start.

The subsequent chapters explore those factors in early foreign-language learning which seem to be at the heart of teaching and learning success. They are even more important in the context of an educational climate which, as Read states in the Foreword, "increasingly seeks to standardize, measure and test language performance" (xii). The diversity of conditions that can be observed in the field of English language teaching to young learners across the world were revealed in the 2005 British Council survey conducted and analyzed by Shelagh Rixon. From this background Rixon draws a constructive conclusion about the ways of optimizing teaching approaches and teaching materials within different teaching contexts.

Another undeniable value of the book lies in its multifaceted approach to the issues discussed. Academics and researchers alike will find rich and profound information about the scientific background, while teachers and teacher trainers are given the opportunity to develop their knowledge about potential teaching practices in the classroom. The chapter "Grammar Templates for the Future with Poetry for Children" by Janice Bland illustrates this approach successfully. The author shows in a brilliant and thought-provoking way how poetry can be used as a tool to develop young learners’ phonological and grammatical sensitivity. The chapter is full of innovative and useful techniques which are not only analyzed from an academic perspective but also described in detail with instructions on how to implement them in the classroom. Bland is also the author of two other chapters: "Oral storytelling in the primary English classroom" and "Drama with young learners," both of which reflect Bland’s high quality of writing and insightful expertise. Everyone involved in and passionate about teaching English to young learners will enrich their knowledge in this field.

The volume also includes a separate chapter reviewing immersion programmes. Kristin Kersten and Andreas Rohde aim to clarify the objectives and outcomes of such programmes and show the benefits available to children who participate in them. The chapter by Kay Bentley includes a rich description of current CLIL scenarios to be used with young learners throughout Europe and introduces a number of key CLIL concepts. What makes the contribution even more informative and interesting both from the academic and pragmatic perspectives is the fact that the author includes his critical evaluation of certain teaching materials that purport to offer CLIL but which in fact do not fulfill the required criteria.

This volume edited by Janice Bland and consisting of essays written by well-recognized experts in the field of teaching English to young learners presents an important contribution to the field. It is obvious that the chapters were carefully selected according to clearly established criteria of the topic and of the quality of academic writing. As a result the book has significantly enriched the still new and yet rapidly expanding field of teaching English to young learners. This is clearly additional evidence that there are researchers whose professional life motto may be aptly illustrated by the words of Sandie Mourão: "It is vital we get it right from the start" (66).

Ewa Suchecka
University of Warsaw, Poland

Works Cited

Eurydice. Eurydice Key Data on Teaching Languages at Schools in Europe. Brussels: Commission of the European Communities, 2012.

Eurydice. Eurydice Key Data on Teaching Languages at Schools in Europe. Brussels: Commission of the European Communities, 2008.

Eurydice. Eurydice Key Data on Teaching Languages at Schools in Europe. Brussels: Commission of the European Communities, 2005.