English Exposure and Vocabulary Proficiency at the Onset of English Instruction
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This chapter reports findings of a study that explores 4th grade students’ attitudes towards English and examines which contributing factors influence their motivation for learning English, specifically English vocabulary. The study then maps out students’ actual English vocabulary proficiency at the mandated onset of formal instruction, and after one to four years of formal instruction. The study is part of the author’s PhD study of over 400 4th graders in different compulsory schools throughout Iceland. Data was collected through surveys, interviews and receptive and productive vocabulary tests. Tests showed themselves to have internal and external validity and reliability. Results support previous assumptions of the extensive English proficiency of young learners, which exceeds curriculum goals for the 4th grade. However, onset of English instruction was not a strong factor in accounting for the learners’ lexical proficiency. The results show a strong relationship between proficiency and personal needs to use English to understand television programs and music lyrics, while using computers and speaking to foreigners. Further, these results suggest a disconnect between official curriculum goals and guidelines, including what is the most appropriate age to begin formal instruction and from the linguistic reality in which these children find themselves. Young children do not seem to equate English as a school subject with the English they use outside of school. The findings are that children’s language proficiency is acquired largely extramurally and motivated by a need to use English in their daily lives rather than within the school setting.
KeywordsLexical Proficiency Vocabulary Test Receptive Vocabulary Size Lexical Success Young Foreign Language Learners
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