Teachers Workshop 2018

Second Language Learning in the Primary Years

This workshop was hosted at Chandler House, University College London, 2 Wakefield Street, WC1N 1PF, on Monday 11th June 2018, 10AM – 3PM.

The purpose of the workshop was to bring together researchers and teachers, providing a unique opportunity not only for teachers to learn more about current research looking at second language learning and teaching in the primary years, but also for researchers to gain important feedback from those working in the classroom.



Dr Elizabeth Wonnacott (University College London)

Learning New Speech Sounds through Computerised Training: Are Multiple Talkers Helpful?
Gwen Brekelmans (PhD Student, University College London)

Having more variation in teaching materials has been shown to help learning in adults. The idea behind this is that if you learnt from one speaker, you will become very good at understanding that particular speaker, but if you come across a different pronunciation it may be harder to adjust. However, if you heard multiple people when you learnt, you might find it easier to understand a new person or pronunciation. In acquiring a foreign language, vowels are often harder to learn than consonants. In this talk we present a study in which Dutch children in Year 3 and Year 6 were trained to distinguish English vowels which are particularly difficult for Dutch learners. We aimed to find out if training the children on multiple speakers would be beneficial for how much they learnt. We explored this by investigating how well they learnt to distinguish sets of vowels after being trained on them using a computerised learning game.

Acquisition of Mandarin Tones: Does Explicit Information about the Pitch Changes Help?
Dr Helen Brown (Nottingham Trent University)

In English, word meaning is determined by the phonology (speech sounds) in the word. However, up to 70% of the world’s languages use both phonology and tones (which are like pitch changes in music) to determine word meaning. Previous work has explored whether adult speakers of non-tone languages acquire this in a second language. We describe a series of experiments exploring this learning in 7-8 year old English children learning Mandarin Chinese. Our first question was whether children could “pick up” on tone differences by playing word learning game, without any explicit teaching about tones. We developed a computerized training game in which children learn to associate Chinese words with pictures. One group of children simply played this game without prior instruction (pictures-only training); another group were told about the role of tone in Japanese words and played a version of the game where we also included diacritics (arrows that represented the direction of the pitch change in a word), which are commonly used in teaching adult learners). We tested generalization of tone learning in discrimination and comprehension tasks using novel (untrained) nouns. We found that children showed learning of the tones in both conditions, and we did not find that providing explicit teaching about the pitch changes benefitted their learning. In a follow up experiment, we tried incorporating gestures, rather than the abstract diacritics, since other work suggests that these are helpful in language learning. Interestingly, although these helped children’s learning when playing the training game, if they were then tested without the gestures present their performance was impaired compared with the pictures-only computerized training.

Gaming Grammar: Developing a Digital Game for Foreign Language Grammar Learning.
Dr Rowena Kasprowicz (University of Reading)

This talk will report on the development of a digital game designed to support foreign language grammar learning in primary schools. First, the design of the game will be described, including how the game achieved engaging and fun game play, whilst also providing repeated opportunities for meaningful practice of the grammar features in focus (verb endings for person, number, and tense in French). Second, the results of the game evaluation, conducted with 210 children (aged 8 to 11) in seven UK primary schools, will be presented and the benefits of the game for developing knowledge of grammar in a foreign language will be discussed.

Learning Japanese Word Order and Spatial Terms through a Computerised Training Game: Does More Variable Input Help?
Dr Elizabeth Wonnacott (University College London)

As well as using different words, different language use different word orders. For example, in English we would say “Put the cup on the table” whereas in Japanese the equivalent sentence would have the order “The cup on the table put”. In this talk we will present a study examining how children beginning a new language can learn to understand these types of new sentence structures and the factors that may affect this learning. Seven year-old children played a computerized game exposing them to instructions in an unfamiliar language (Japanese). The instructions asked the children to move objects above/below one another on a computerized grid. To play the game, children needed to learn the new word order, as well as the Japanese words for the prepositions “above” and “below”. Comprehension of both trained and new sentences was later tested to establish whether the children could generalize knowledge of Japanese word order beyond the sentences that they had heard in training. Critically, the amount of variability in the training sentences was manipulated, with half of the children of the children receiving repetitive, unvaried training (many repetitions of the same four sentences) and half receiving more varied exposure (the same number of sentences, but each one was different). The results showed that although children in the repeated sentences condition performed much better in training than children in the varied condition, they were worse than that group when asked to comprehend new sentences, suggesting that hearing varied examples of sentence structure is important when learning novel word orders in a second language.

OASIS: Open Accessible Summaries in Language Studies
Dr Emma Marsden (University of York) & Dr Rowena Kasprowicz (University of Reading)

This event was sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council (http://www.esrc.ac.uk/), and was organised by Dr Elizabeth Wonnacott and Dr Helen Brown