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Title: Young learners and foreign language learning : the words they hear and the words they learn
Author: Donzelli, Giovanna
Awarding Body: Swansea University
Current Institution: Swansea University
Date of Award: 2009
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This dissertation describes and analyzes the learning environment of the low-level EFL classroom, in the Italian primary sector, mainly focusing on the lexical exposure available to learners from course books and teacher speech, as well as on the relationship between what children hear in class and what they actually learn. It is axiomatic that language learners will rely on language input in order to provide the material for learning but a recurrent methodological weakness of previous studies of classrooms as lexical environments is the polarized types of investigations they have produced - they have either taken into account the spoken input produced by the teacher, in class, or they have focused on the vocabulary available to learners from course books. In truth we have rather more information about the vocabulary of textbooks and very little knowledge about the language of the teacher and what this brings to the learning process. The data reported in this thesis allow for a comprehensive picture of the total vocabulary exposure, of the low-level class, to be drawn. This dissertation offers an insight into the interaction between written and spoken input. It suggests that teaching materials seem to comprise less than 50% of the total lexical exposure available to learners in the low-level class. On the other hand, they also seem to work as important guidelines for teacher speech - which appears to strictly meet the requirements of the primary syllabus. The data seem to suggest that the words that are more salient in the thematic contents of course books are likely to be better acquired by learners of different proficiency levels. Similarly, young learners seem to favour the acquisition of more imageable words to lexical items which do not allow for a mental image to be easily aroused. Variations in learning strategies, adopted by children of different proficiency levels, have been identified. Pupils with no previous exposure to the language seemed to rely more heavily on teacher speech while more advanced graders appeared to distinguish between parts of speech, with nouns being easier to learn than verbs. Finally, frequency of occurrence in the classroom micro-environment is likely to have an impact on learnability of vocabulary; nevertheless, this does not seem to apply equally to learners of all levels of proficiency. In consideration of the lexical gap that seems to exist between the input available from course books and the language produced by the teacher, in class, implications for teaching have been evaluated - with particular reference to the degree of lexical autonomy and general linguistic skills expected from teachers, in the light of the current regulations for recruitment of language teaching staff in primary education, in Italy.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available