Challenges in Early Foreign Language Learning and Teaching

Teaching English to young learners presents an exciting challenge to the practitioner who loves children and aspires to render them into effective communicators. Research on teaching English in the early years has highlighted a number of gains, demonstrating how young learners can benefit from an early start and suggesting teaching practices that can lead to successful learning outcomes.

In response to the recent developments in the Greek educational policies regarding the introduction of English in the first and second grades of primary school, this workshop aims to offer insights into aspects related to early foreign language learning and teaching as well as to innovative and effective teaching practices.

More specifically, the following issues will be addressed and discussed: (a) implementing Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) in Spain and Greece, (b) developing young learners’ intercultural identities, (c) promoting young learners’ interest and motivation, and (d) adopting alternative assessment in class.

Organised by Areti-Maria Sougari and Thomaï Alexiou


1) CLIL: Challenge and Opportunity for European Teachers

Maria Jesús Frigols, Valencian International University, Spain

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) refers to any educational situation in which an additional language and therefore not the most widely used language of the environment is used for the teaching and learning of subjects other than the language itself.

In CLIL, content and language are learnt in integration, and both subjects are dealt with as a whole. Language teaching and learning is integrated into content classes and content teaching and learning is integrated into language classes.

The dual focus on having simultaneous content and language learning outcomes is quite different to conventional language teaching practice. CLIL constitutes a major change, and as such it also requires knowledge of how to best manage change.

The overall major challenge in teacher education in CLIL is its integrative nature. With the exception of primary teachers, other educators are often trained to teach just one subject be that a content subject or a language, as opposed to both. Even where teachers are trained in both a content subject and a language, training in the integration of language and content is not widespread. Teachers undertaking CLIL will need to be prepared to develop multiple types of expertise: among others, in the content subject; in a language; in best practice in teaching and learning; in the integration of the previous three; and, in the integration of CLIL within an educational institution.

CLIL has been defined as a catalyst for change because it provides teachers with considerable opportunities for re-thinking educational practice and reaching out for an upgrading of performance.

2) To CLIL or not to CLIL? The Case of the 3rd Experimental Primary School in Evosmos

Marina Mattheoudakis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Thomai Alexiou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Chrysa Laskaridou, 3rd Primary School of Evosmos

While there is no agreement with respect to the onset age in foreign language learning, nonetheless, as interest in the significance of early language learning continues to grow, so too does interest in primary-level CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning). Researchers who believe that ‘earlier is better’ and that the introduction of an additional language should be as ‘naturalistic as possible’ following the framework of ‘incidental learning’, support the introduction of CLIL at an early age (see Garcia Mayo and Garcia Lecumberri, 2003; Johnston, 2002). CLIL is a “dual-focused educational approach in which an additional language is used for the learning and teaching of both content and language” (Coyle, Hood and Marsh, 2010). CLIL does not refer to a new type of language or subject education. It is actually an innovative integration of both, even if the emphasis is greater on one or the other at a given time.

This presentation aims to report on the implementation of CLIL at the 6th grade of the Experimental primary school of the School of English in Evosmos, Thessaloniki. This is an innovative project as, to our knowledge at least, it is adopted for the first time in a Greek primary school. In our context, CLIL has been chosen for the teaching of one subject, Geography; this is taught exclusively by an English language teacher for two hours a week, according to the school curriculum. The syllabus of the subject has been slightly modified by the English language instructor in order to be adjusted to the linguistic level of the learners but it mainly follows the Geography textbook and the syllabus set by the Pedagogic Institute. The methodology is mainly task-based and project-oriented and to this end, the English language teacher cooperates regularly and closely with two regular class teachers.

As this is a first-ever implementation of CLIL at the primary level education in Greece, our aim is to explore its linguistic, cognitive, and affective effects on learners’ progress. To this end, we have carried out a research that compares two 6th grade classes in the same school. One of them (experimental class) follows the CLIL method, while the other (control class) attends the Geography class as this is taught by the regular class teacher. For the purpose of this study, we have carried out a triangulated research that includes (a) Likert-type questionnaires which allowed us to identify learners’ views and feelings about CLIL at the beginning of the school year and trace possible changes during its implementation, (b) class observations through videotaped lessons to evaluate cognitive aspects during learning (c) language and geography tests which allowed us to assess learners’ progress in both the foreign language and the particular subject. Students’ progress in both classes (experimental and control) is being recorded throughout the school year and their test results will be analysed and compared.

The data of our research are expected to shed light on the effectiveness of using CLIL in the classroom and the multifaceted benefits that language learners seem to acquire. The comparison of the two language tests provides evidence for the variety and richness of linguistic input provided in CLIL classroom. Cognitive advantages are likewise noted along with the enhanced motivation and the impressive increase in learners’ self esteem in the CLIL classroom.

3) Shaping Teaching and Learning through Assessment in the Young Learners’ Classroom

Keti Zouganeli, EFL Teacher-Teacher Trainer

The presentation discusses classroom assessment as a process which can provide feedback to the teacher and to the learner about both the process and the outcomes of learning, thus helping to readjust practices and develop awareness of strengths and weaknesses.

Focusing on the area of Young Learners, the implications of children’s characteristics and their nature are discussed and compared with some common practices in classroom assessment which fail to capture important aspects of children’s cognitive and linguistic development, as well as their mental growth and need for socialisation.

Under this perspective, Alternative Assessment is suggested as a learner-centered means of collecting feedback about teaching and learning as well as about children’s personal and mental capacities and, also, as one which involves children in investigating the way they learn.

The nature of Alternative Assessment is discussed and its implications for the TEYL classroom are presented through concrete examples of ways for designing and managing alternative assessment and its feedback. Examples from classroom practice are also presented in order to highlight the teachers’ role as designer of the teaching practice and facilitator of the learning process.

The underlying aim of the presentation is to stress the need for a shift in assessment practices, so that the emerging changes in Greek Primary EFL education and in our society will be catered for.

4) Developing Intercultural Identities in the Greek Primary EFL Classroom: Some Considerations

Areti-Maria Sougari, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Nicos Sifakis, Hellenic Open University

Language is the main tool through which children engage with the world around them. The family environment is responsible for initiating socialisation, which later on is reinforced in the school setting. This socialisation engenders the development of children's multiple identities. The fact that children at an early age have yet to develop inhibitions and stereotypical images can facilitate the development of an intercultural identity, which, in its simplest form, involves the associating of an individual's own socio-cultural identity with that of another. Intercultural identity development is pertinent to foreign language learning environments as the latter can offer opportunities that can prompt learners to both become critically aware of different cultural backgrounds and negotiate their own intercultural identity.

In this paper, we raise a number of considerations for the development of children's intercultural identities as seen in the light of the current curriculum for English as a Foreign Language in Greek primary education. Based on the tenets of the cross-curriculum approach, the curriculum addresses the development of literacy, multilingualism and multiculturalism. We problematise these three axes and seek ways whereby learners can enhance their intercultural identities and perform as autonomous communicators in an interculturally and multiculturally rich context.

5) Fun EFL Activities in the Young Learners’ Classroom

Paul Bouniol, University of Athens

This workshop will focus on fun EFL activities in the Young Learners’ classroom. It will start off by highlighting why Young Learners are so different from other learners and how they typically behave in the EFL classroom.

After presenting the main characteristics of young learners, there will be reference to why fun activities should be incorporated in the EFL curriculum: as probably expected, such language activities develop the learners’ character and personality, keep a balance between their left and right hemisphere, motivate them, help them achieve conscious language learning and subconscious language acquisition, involve them actively as they are often asked to communicate, cooperate and care for each other, etc.

The workshop will then focus on the main criteria for choosing or designing one’s own fun activities, such as taking into consideration the learners’ age, level or class size; the duration of the selected activity, its objective(s), the necessary preparation and adaptation, the various limitations, etc. Details will also be given on the different steps that need to be followed in order to carry out a successful session.

There will be reference to the most successful types of fun activities. Among others, the speaker will recommend activities involving responding physically to written cues, reordering visuals, finding links, caption finding, problem solving, etc. The many different roles of the teacher during such fun activities will also be highlighted and justified.

Finally, a number of fun activities will illustrate the more theoretical points of the presentation, and practical tips will also be shared for the novice or busy EFL teacher.