Early Language Learning in School Contexts Series – Looking Back, Looking Forward

It’s two years since the first book in our Early Language Learning in School Contexts series was published. In this post the series editor, Janet Enever, reflects on how the series began and what the future holds.

The inspiration for this book series began a long time ago – working as a language teacher educator in eastern Europe in the mid-1990s I found it very difficult to identify any research collections which focused on the 3-12 years age group, despite the needs of my students. Bringing the series to fruition however, has spread over a long period of gestation – teaching MA students in London, leading the ELLiE research project in Europe, then taking up a professorial position in Sweden where it became possible to work with colleagues to launch a conference event focusing on Early Language Learning: Theory and Practice in 2014. The event proved seminal, precipitating my proposal to AILA for the launch of a global research network in early language learning (ELL-ReN) and my proposal to Multilingual Matters for the launch of the Early Language Learning in School Contexts series (launched in 2015).

I’m thrilled now to be able to say that the Multilingual Matters book series Early Language Learning in School Contexts has really taken off, with three titles already published, at least one more expected in 2019 and a further four being written as we speak!

The aim of the series from the start has been to take a very global look at how early foreign, second and additional language learning is developing in many parts of the world. We have really fulfilled this promise with publications on:

Mixed methods research: Early Language Learning: Complexity and Mixed Methods (Eds. Janet Enever & Eva Lindgren, 2017);

Pre-school language learning: Early Instructed Second Language Acquisition: Pathways to Competence (Eds. Joanna Rokita-Jaśkow & Melanie Ellis, 2019);

Teacher education: Early Language Learning and Teacher Education (Eds. Subhan Zein & Sue Garton, 2019);

Coming in August 2019: Integrating Assessment into Early Language Learning and Teaching (Eds. Danijela Prošić-Santovac & Shelagh Rixon, 2019).

Other themes in the pipeline include: assessment for learning, issues in researching young language learners in school contexts, and policy – no promises as to when these will be published yet though!

Looking back and looking forward:

Reflecting on the three years since the series was launched, I can remember initial questions about whether such a series was needed. Some suggested that a separate strand of publications focusing only on language learners from 3-12 years was unnecessary. However, for teachers, teacher educators and researchers working in this field it has been difficult to know where to look for research which really focuses entirely on young children’s foreign/ second and additional language learning experiences. With the ELLSC series we have at last established a ‘home’ for this specialist area.

The series has proved timely, as more and more young children begin their journey of learning additional languages in schools and kindergartens around the world, so teachers and teacher educators are seeking research-based evidence to guide them in implementing age- and context-appropriate approaches to teaching and learning. With every new volume published in the series we are aiming to provide this support.

However, we still need much more! There are still many gaps in the collection! So, if you have an idea that you would like to discuss – either formally or informally, do get in touch with the Multilingual Matters editor, Laura Longworth at: laura@multilingual-matters.com. Alternatively, contact me directly at: j.h.enever@reading.ac.uk.

For more information about this series please see our website.

Why use mixed methods in early language learning research?

This month we published Early Language Learning edited by Janet Enever and Eva Lindgren, the first book in our new series, Early Language Learning in School Contexts. In this post the editors discuss the use of mixed methods in their research.

Understanding how young children learn additional languages in classroom environments is complex. Children learn how to speak, interact, read and write with help from teachers, peers and parents. The surrounding world, as well as themselves, influences their motivation to learn, their self-concept and their attitudes, all of which are important for their learning of an additional language. This wide range of factors with the potential to impact on children’s learning presents serious challenges to traditional research methods. For example, can a qualitative study of say, the oral language production of four children in a few lessons provide us with any clarity as to how young children in general learn additional languages at school? Similarly, can a quantitative study of the oral language production of a whole cohort of children learning an additional language at school provide us with a nuanced understanding of how development for each individual child occurs? Both set-ups could include a variety of factors, in depth analyses in the qualitative approach and advanced statistical methodologies in the quantitative approach, but regardless of which approach is taken, it seems likely that neither will provide very satisfactory answers. For these reasons and many more, we have become interested in adopting a mixed methods approach to our research, with the idea that it might provide a more comprehensive view of how language learning unfolds in classroom environments.

As a theoretical frame, mixed methods research (MMR) is regarded as relatively new, although there is evidence of research approaches that have adopted some form of ‘mixing’ for centuries (Maxwell, 2016). Given current developments in the field, it is unsurprising that views differ on exactly how MMR might be conceptualised. However, recent understandings seem to be moving towards the idea that it can be understood as bringing together all dimensions ‘as an over-arching concept (…) at the philosophical, methodological, and methods levels’ (Fetters & Molina-Azorin, 2017, p.293). Arguing for a framework of integration, they propose an ‘MMR integration trilogy’ outlining the possible dimensions that may be integrated, including: the philosophical, theoretical and researcher positioning; the rationale, aims, data collection and analysis dimension; the approaches to interpretation, dissemination and research integrity. Their suggestion is that if researchers are attentive to all dimensions then ‘more advanced and sophisticated mixed methods studies’ will result (p.303).

As researchers interested in working with MMR we recognise that we are a long way from addressing such a strongly integrated approach at the outset of framing our research plans. Indeed, it may well be that a more fluid approach which allows for the emergence of some form of mixing during the research process may allow for greater creativity in some instances. The variety of research studies contained in our edited volume Early Language Learning reflect a good proportion of the approaches to MMR currently in use in the field of early language learning. As such, we hope they set the bar for future exploration of this research paradigm that may help to clarify whether a more strongly integrated approach to this field of research can contribute to an enhanced quality of research.

References

Fetters, M.D. & Molina-Azorin, J.F. (2017). The Mixed Methods Research Integration Trilogy and Its Dimensions. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 11(3) 291–307.

Maxwell, J.A. (2016) Expanding the History and Range of Mixed Methods Research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research 10(1), 12–27.

For more information about this book, please see out website. The editors have also produced a video in which they introduce their book, which can be watched here. If you found this interesting, you might also like Learning Foreign Languages in Primary School edited by María del Pilar García Mayo.