English primary children learning foreign languages at home and at school : a sociocultural approach to the development of language learning strategies
Primary school children in England will have an entitlement to learn foreign languages in 2010. One of the desired outcomes is the development of language learning strategies. While both language learning and language learning strategies have been well researched, there is a dearth of studies on the experiences of children learning foreign languages and on their strategy development. While mainstream research on strategies holds that they are cognitive skills that need to be taught, sociocultural theories explain the development of these skills through a novice's participation in activities involving language. In this study I investigated six children's development of learning strategies while learning Japanese, French and German at home, on holiday and at school over the course of one calendar year. I took an ethnographic approach using participant observation, interviews, surveys and elicitation techniques to collect data, which I combined with conversation analysis. In addition, I asked children to document their linguistic environment and learning processes using a diary, a camera and a tape recorder. I argue that these young children developed language learning strategies through participation in language learning activities in the absence of direct strategy instruction. They drew on their varied experiences of using languages in a range of settings to define and refine language learning strategies. Over the course of the year they transformed unfocused techniques into precise and specific strategies adapted to their needs. The six children differed in the number of strategies and their understanding of strategy use. The differences can be explained by their motives rather than the differing language learning practices at home. However different, all parents unintentionally and consciously offered children a range of opportunities to encounter and learn languages. How children made use of learning opportunities at home and at school depended on their goals. Pupils with strong communicative motives developed an active task approach and pursued more varied and effective strategies which had the potential to make them more successful language learners than pupils with weaker personal goals.