Success in teaching English

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This report discusses factors that have an impact on the quality of English as a foreign language education in primary schools in state education systems and relates these to factors that have an impact on the quality of education in general.
1. Factors influencing success
in teaching English in state
primary schools
David Hayes
© Mat Wright
2. Factors influencing success
in teaching English in state
primary schools
David Hayes
3. © British Council 2014 Design /E324
10 Spring Gardens
London SW1A 2BN, UK
4. The author
David Hayes is Associate Professor in the
Department of Applied Linguistics, Brock University,
Canada. He has extensive experience of primary
English curriculum development and in-service
teacher development in South and South-East Asia,
gained on projects managed by the British Council
and other agencies. His current research focuses on
the impact of second national language education
(Sinhala for Tamil children; Tamil for Sinhalese
children) on inter-ethnic attitudes among primary
school children in Sri Lanka.
5. Contents
1 Executive summary ................................................................................................................................................................................. 2
2 Introduction ................................................................................................................................................................................................ 4
3 High-performing education systems .............................................................................................................................................. 5
4 International comparisons of English provision in primary schools ................................................................................. 8
5 The Early Language Learning in Europe (ELLiE) project .....................................................................................................12
6 Country focus 1: The Netherlands .................................................................................................................................................16
7 Country focus 2: Korea .......................................................................................................................................................................18
8 Country focus 3: Finland ....................................................................................................................................................................21
9 Teacher education, curriculum and materials for primary English language education ......................................24
10 Conclusion: checklist of factors influencing success in teaching English in state primary schools ................28
References ........................................................................................................................................................................................................29
1 | Contents
6. 1
Executive summary
The following recommendations for effective Recommendation 7
primary English language education within national A curriculum that allows teachers and children
education systems are derived from the research opportunities to engage in meaningful language use,
and documentation reviewed in this report. The which also provides opportunities for considerable
recommendations are referenced to particular recycling of target language in new contexts and
sections of the report, which readers may consult which is age-appropriate should be developed;
for further detail. theme-based teaching is strongly recommended
(see Section 9.3).
Recommendation 1
English language teaching in primary schools should Recommendation 8
be conducted by generalist primary class teachers A realistic English language proficiency target to set
with appropriate training in primary English language for children by the end of the primary cycle is A1–A2
teaching methods (see Sections 5, 6 and 8). on the CEFR (see Section 5).
Recommendation 2 Recommendation 9
These generalist teachers should have an English Ideally, instructional time should be concentrated
language level of at least B2, but preferably C1 on towards the end of the primary cycle rather than
the CEFR (see Section 5). provided in smaller amounts over a longer time span,
though it is recognised that this may be difficult to
Recommendation 3 implement in practice (see Section 9.3).
An enabling condition for effective primary English
language teaching is a pre-service teacher training Recommendation 10
system in which school teachers are required to have Ideally, materials should be prepared by teachers to
masters degrees (see Section 8). respond to the specific needs of their own classes;
where materials are prepared by others, they should
Recommendation 4 be founded on an understanding of how young
Lifelong learning for teachers is at the heart of children learn languages and provide stimulating,
successful education systems; thus a school-focused theme-based activities promoting genuine
system of continuing professional development communicative language use (see Section 9.4).
should be developed which allows teachers adequate
time to reflect on new information about teaching- Recommendation 11
learning and to incorporate it into existing knowledge To promote children’s language learning, considerable
structures, both by themselves and in collaboration out-of-school exposure to English in the local
with colleagues (see Section 9.2). environment should be available, including through
films and television programmes in English that are
Recommendation 5 subtitled rather than dubbed into learners’ L1 (see
Once in schools, teachers should be respected, Sections 5, 6 and 8).
trusted and given the freedom to organise
instruction according to the needs of their pupils Recommendation 12
within a guiding national framework (see Section 8). Underpinning recommendations 1–10, a prerequisite
for effective primary English language instruction at
Recommendation 6 the national level is an equitable education system
Further to recommendation 5, teachers should in which socio-economic status is not linked to
demonstrate positive attitudes towards English. academic achievement (see Section 3).
This in turn will influence children’s motivation to
learn, their enjoyment of their English classes and,
ultimately, their achievement (see Section 5).
2 | Executive summary
7. Recommendation 13
Further to recommendation 12, private tuition in
English should not be regarded as essential for
academic success within the education system
(see Section 7).
Recommendation 14
Allied to recommendation 13, high-stakes testing
should not be seen as a means to promote English
language competence across the education system
(see Sections 7 and 8).
3 | Executive summary
8. 2
This report discusses factors that have an impact on
the quality of English as a foreign language education
in primary schools in state education systems, and
relates these to factors that have an impact on the
quality of education in general. It begins at the
general level by examining international comparisons
of educational achievement, such as the Programme
for International Student Assessment (PISA), which
measures performance in literacy, maths and
science, the English Proficiency Index and TOEFL
country results for English, as a means to identify
high-performing education systems (though
recognising the limitations of each of these
indicators). It then discusses international
comparisons of English provision in primary schools,
with a particular focus on the findings of the Early
Language Learning in Europe (ELLiE) project. This is
followed by three ‘country focus’ reports for the
Netherlands, Korea1 and Finland. The report then
discusses a range of factors that are important in
effective primary English language education and
education more generally, viz. instructional time and
intensity of instruction, teaching-learning materials,
initial teacher training, in-service teacher training
and continuing professional development (CPD) and
the status of teachers within society. Finally, the
conclusion presents a checklist of the factors
that may contribute to successful primary English
language teaching, while recognising that they
require consideration within particular socio-
political, cultural and educational contexts.
1 The country is officially known as ‘The Republic of Korea’, and comprises the southern half of the Korean peninsula. In most of the literature it is referred to simply as ‘Korea’
and I shall follow this convention. The north of the peninsula, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, has little engagement with the outside world.
4 | Introduction
9. 3
High-performing education systems
Governments are paying increasing attention Table 1: Highest-performing countries in mathematics,
to international comparisons as they search for PISA 2012
effective policies that enhance individuals’ social
Rank Country Mathematics
and economic prospects, provide incentives for
greater efficiency in schooling, and help to mobilise 1 Shanghai–China 613
resources to meet rising demands. (OECD, 2013d: 3) 2 Singapore 573
International comparisons of student achievement 3 Hong Kong–China 561
have taken centre stage in policy debates about 4 Chinese Taipei 560
education in recent years, with the Programme for
International Student Assessment (PISA) leading the 5 Korea 554
way in the global ‘accountability’ movement. Though 6 Macao–China 538
there are doubts about the validity and reliability
7 Japan 536
of the tests and criticism of their cultural neutrality
for failing to take account of the different socio- 8 Liechtenstein 535
economic and cultural backgrounds of test-takers 9 Switzerland 531
(Meyer and Benavot, 2013), success in the PISA
10 Netherlands 523
rankings is coveted by governments. Indeed, there
is much soul-searching when a country’s rankings
Table 2: Highest-performing countries in reading,
are not as high as hoped or, even worse, fall from
PISA 2012
one assessment period to the next, as happened to
Finland in the 2012 tests. In response to the fall the Rank Country Mathematics
Finnish Minister of Education declared: ‘The general
1 Shanghai–China 570
downturn in learning outcomes shows that we must
take strong action to develop Finnish education.’ 2 Hong Kong–China 545
(Finnbay, 3 December 2013) 3 Singapore 542
PISA is designed to provide a general indicator 4 Japan 538
of high-performing education systems in terms
5 Korea 536
of student achievement at age 15 in mathematics,
reading and science – but does not include 6 Finland 524
assessments of proficiency in any foreign language 7 Chinese Taipei 523
in schools, nor is there any direct focus on primary
8 Canada 523
education. However, to the extent that performance
at the secondary education level is built upon the 9 Ireland 523
foundations of primary education and that first
10 Poland 518
language literacy skills can aid in the learning of
another language (Ellis, 2008), the results have
sector-wide relevance. Other scholars (see, e.g.
Kang, 2012 on Korea) also make reference to these
results as a precursor to discussions of primary
English education.
In the 2012 PISA rankings, the scores for the highest-
performing countries for each subject area are
shown in Tables 1 to 3 below (source: OECD, 2013e).
5 | High-performing education systems
10. Table 3: Highest-performing countries in science, exclusive’ (OECD, 2013e: 14) with ‘above-OECD-
PISA 2012 average mean performance and a weak relationship
between socio-economic status and student
Rank Country Mathematics
performance’. (ibid.: 14) Essentially, what this means
1 Shanghai–China 580 is that it is not only the children of the financially
2 Hong Kong–China 555 better-off who score well on the tests. This is
important as it indicates that there seems to be
3 Singapore 551 a direct link between educational quality and
4 Japan 547 educational equality.
5 Finland 545 With specific reference to assessment of English
6 Estonia 541 language levels in particular countries, international
rankings are provided by organisations such as
7 Korea 538
English First (EF), a private educational company
8 Poland 526 which uses data from 750,000 takers of its own tests
in 60 countries to compile an English Proficiency
9 Canada 525
Index annually. In the 2013 index the countries listed
10 Germany 524 as having ‘very high proficiency’ were (in descending
order) Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Estonia,
As can be seen, the tables are dominated by Asian
Denmark, Austria and Finland. In accounting for this,
countries, though China’s agreement with the OECD
it is interesting that the EF report notes: ‘The seven
meant that it entered regions rather than the country
countries with the strongest English are all small
as a whole in the 2012 tests. It is unlikely that the
European nations, whose size compels them to adopt
results for China will be maintained when the country
an international outlook,’ (EF, 2013: 5) suggesting that
as a whole is included in the 2015 PISA tests, given
success in English correlates strongly with small size
that Shanghai spends four times the national average
and internationalisation. A number of countries that
on education and its economic success means that
scored highly in PISA, such as Hong Kong SAR-China
parents are able and willing to spend heavily on
and Korea, were only recorded as having ‘moderate
private tuition for their children (Mok et al., 2009).
proficiency’ and ranked 22 and 24 respectively out of
However, the fact that ‘higher expenditure is not
the 60 countries (EF, 2013: 6). Korea is in the ‘country
necessarily associated with better outcomes or the
spotlights’ in the 2013 EF report as its scores have
quality of education’ (OECD, 2013d: 211) is writ large
dropped slightly between 2007 and 2012, despite
in the performance of the USA, which ranks 13 points
massive national investment in English language
below the OECD average in mathematics, four points
education. The prevailing teaching paradigm in Korea
below the average in science and only two points
is singled out for blame: ‘Few are optimistic about
above it in reading, despite leading the world in
any significant improvements, given a traditional
spending US$15,171 per student per year on
system that forces students to drill and memorize’.
education (primary through to tertiary), far higher
(EF, 2013: 19) It must be remembered that, as the
than the OECD average of US$9,313. The figure for
EF test data is based on adults, what cannot be
primary education specifically is US$11,193; again,
determined from these results is whether language
well above the OECD average of US$ 7,974 per
teaching policy and practice in primary schools has
student per year (OECD, 2013d: 174). The OECD
any impact on proficiency levels – is an early start
notes that ‘beyond a certain level of expenditure
necessarily needed for proficiency later in life?
per student, excellence in education requires more
than money; how resources are allocated is just as Another measure of English language proficiency is
important as the amount of resources available’. to be found in the scores of candidates on the TOEFL
(ibid.: 24) series of tests. In the aggregated results for 2012
(ETS, 2013) the top five highest-scoring countries
A key outcome for national education systems is, of
are the Netherlands, Austria, Singapore, Belgium and
course, not just performance on international tests
Denmark. Again, these results are for learners who
such as PISA but the extent to which the system
need an international language test score, usually to
meets the needs of all of its students. In this respect,
enable them to study at the tertiary level or to work
excluding areas of China from consideration, the PISA
in English-speaking countries, and are not designed
results for other countries including Canada, Estonia,
for primary-age learners. Further, the test creators
Finland, Japan, Korea and the Netherlands show ‘high
specifically caution against the results being used
average performance and equity are not mutually
for ranking countries:
6 | High-performing education systems
11. ETS, creator of the TOEFL test, does not endorse
the practice of ranking countries on the basis of
TOEFL scores, as this is a misuse of data. [original
emphasis] The TOEFL test provides accurate
scores at the individual level; it is not appropriate
for comparing countries. The differences in the
number of students taking the test in each country,
how early English is introduced into the curriculum,
how many hours per week are devoted to learning
English, and the fact that those taking the test are
not representative of all English speakers in each
country or any defined population make ranking
by test score meaningless. (ETS, 2013: 6)
Their caveats notwithstanding, countries continue
to use the scores to rank their national performance
against others, particularly their neighbours, and
bemoan poor scores when these occur (see, e.g.
Khaopa, 2013). This misuse of test data is hardly
surprising when the link between proficiency in
English and increased economic competitiveness
for countries and individuals is regularly made
(EF, 2013; Ramaswami et al., 2012) and when TOEFL
scores are included as the criteria for English
proficiency in the World Competitiveness Yearbook
alongside PISA results for assessment of general
educational quality (IMD, 2013).
The backdrop of a global concern for strengthening
national education systems so that they may
compete more effectively in international tests such
as PISA, allied to a belief that proficiency in English
is essential for competitiveness in the globalised
economy, provides the foundation for the remainder
of this report. Though neither PISA nor English-
specific international comparisons have any direct
link to English teaching at the primary level, they are
a means to identifying high-performing education
systems, which may prove fruitful in establishing
basic conditions for the effective teaching of English
at the primary level. However, one factor not
explored either in the PISA or EF data is the teacher
– a crucial variable in any education system, and for
any subject taught.
7 | High-performing education systems
12. 4
International comparisons of English
provision in primary schools
International comparisons of English language in schools. This trend towards ever-earlier
teaching-learning and proficiency outcomes introduction of English can be clearly seen in Rixon’s
at the school level are generally absent from (2013) international survey of policy and practice in
the research literature. A 1995 study by the primary English teaching, which noted that one-third
International Association for the Evaluation of of countries had lowered the starting age since the
Educational Achievement (IEA) had originally first iteration of the survey some ten years
intended to assess student achievement but was previously, with 30 of the 64 countries surveyed
cancelled after its Phase 1 data collection on the now teaching English from Grade 1 (Rixon, 2013).
policy context due to lack of funding (see Dickson
and Cumming, 1996, for details of Phase 1). However, Some cross-national comparative research has
in response to the growing importance of English for focused on limited aspects of classroom behaviour,
economic globalisation, IEA has just launched a new such as in Abd-Kadir and Hardman’s (2007) study of
comparative study focusing specifically on English pupil participation and engagement in Kenyan and
in the participating countries, though the target Nigerian primary English classes, where English is the
population is Grade 10 students, and reports medium of instruction; or on related teacher factors
will not be available until 2018–19 (IEA, 2014). as in Butler’s (2004) study of self-perceptions of
actual and desired English proficiency levels that
Earlier research (Gika, 1997) compared primary primary school teachers have in Korea, Taiwan and
foreign language teaching across Italy, Spain, Japan. This research has important outcomes that
England and Greece, noting the hegemony of may be of relevance to other countries, such as the
English (which also led to the failure to focus on need to ‘focus on the school as the best level of
other languages in England), but did not report on intervention for improving the quality of teaching and
language outcomes for students, though teachers’ learning,’ (Abd-Kadir and Hardman, 2007: 12) and the
concern with their own language levels was noted. necessity ‘to identify what kinds and levels of English
Other previous research (Martin, 2000) also focused proficiency elementary school teachers need to
on foreign language teaching across Europe with a teach English’ as well as ‘to better understand what
view to improving provision in the UK, but again did types of competencies (regarding both knowledge
not assess language proficiency. Instead, general and the ability to use such knowledge) elementary
conclusions were made about the ability of children school EFL teachers must have’. (Butler, 2004: 269)
to learn languages under certain conditions, which
have relevance for effective primary English Other comparative research has focused on the
teaching, viz. that: impact of language policy and planning, notably
Nunan (2003) and Baldauf et al. (2011), both within
… children of primary age can effectively learn
the Asia-Pacific region, while Kaplan et al. (2011)
[original emphasis] aspects of a foreign language;
discuss general reasons for the failure of policy
that the teaching approaches must be appropriate
decisions to introduce English at the primary level.
to their age group; that continuity of foreign
Kaplan et al. (2011: 106) note two major ‘urban
language into the secondary school is important
legends’, which require analysis with respect to
and that the quality of the teaching must be high.
English teaching, viz.:
(Martin, 2000: 67)
People in many polities have come to believe
Lack of information on English language outcomes that their children would be guaranteed better
is surprising, given the importance attached to economic opportunities if they had English as
increasing English language skills by national part of their linguistic repertoire. This belief has
governments, who would be expected to be supported the addition of English to the school
concerned about the return on their investment in curriculum – initially at the secondary school level
education, and particularly so in light of the trend and then at the intermediate school level. A decade
towards lowering the age at which English is taught or more of experimentation demonstrated that
8 | International comparisons of English provision in primary schools
13. English at intermediate school was not sufficient to countries where English is a foreign language and is
develop proficiency, so another legend – that early thus deemed not relevant to this report.) The trend
introduction to English would be the panacea – towards the early introduction of English had:
spurred an international belief that English language … intensified under the pressure of economic
education should begin at the first grade, or even competition … despite the fact that such teaching
better in kindergarten. requires massive commitments of funds (i.e.
resourcing policy), special early childhood teacher
They assert that these legends have two inherent
training, teachers with excellent language skills
fallacies, that (ibid.: 106):
(i.e. personnel policy), and books and materials
■■ being English-knowing is not a guarantee of (i.e. curriculum, materials and methods policy).
an improvement in economic opportunity (Baldauf et al., 2011: 310)
■■ early English learning is not a guarantee of
near-native English proficiency. The challenges of inequitable access to effective
English language teaching, poorly trained teachers
The fallacies underlie policy changes in the countries with limited language skills and officially mandated
reviewed by Nunan (2003) – China, Hong Kong, curricula that did not match with actual classroom
Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan. Nunan came to practice, or were impossible to implement in the
the conclusion that the accelerating trend towards classroom conditions, were all reiterated in this
earlier English language instruction in the region review and are illustrative of many of the ‘12
was ill-considered and having no positive effect. reasons for educational language plans sometimes
failing’ discussed in Kaplan et al. (2011) and collated
The single most pervasive outcome of this study in Table 4.
is that English language policies and practices
have been implemented, often at significant cost Table 4: Reasons for the failure of educational
to other aspects of the curriculum, without a language plans
clearly articulated rationale and without a detailed
1 The time dedicated to language learning is
consideration of the costs and benefits of such inadequate.
policies and practices on the countries in question.
Furthermore, there is a widely articulated belief 2 Indigenous teacher training is not appropriate
or effective.
that, in public schools at least, these policies and
practices are failing. (Nunan, 2003: 609) 3 Native speakers cannot fill the proficiency
and availability gap.
Nunan also noted that the decision to introduce
English at the primary level was largely political and 4 Educational materials may not be sufficient or
based on folk wisdom that ‘the younger the better’
was axiomatic in language learning, irrespective of 5 Methodology may not be appropriate to desired
the context of learning. Other problems noted were outcomes.
‘inequity regarding access to effective language 6 Resources may not be adequate for student
instruction, inadequately trained and skilled teachers, population needs.
and a disjunction between curriculum rhetoric and
7 Continuity of commitment may be problematic.
pedagogical reality,’ (Nunan, 2003: 589) all of which
lead to the conclusion that governments wishing to 8 Language norms may be a problem.
introduce English into the primary curriculum need
9 International assistance programmes may
first of all to establish pre-conditions for success by not be useful.
tackling the problems Nunan has identified.
10 Primary school children may not be prepared
Eight years later the review by Baldauf et al. for early language learning.
(2011) revealed little different in a wider range of
11 Instruction may not actually meet community
countries – Bangladesh, China, Japan, Malaysia, and/or national objectives.
Nepal, Singapore, Taiwan, Timor-Leste and Vietnam
– with the exception of Singapore, where English was 12 Language endangerment may increase.
increasingly being used as a first language in many
These 12 causes for failure may be reformulated as
households and was displacing local first languages,
pre-conditions for success in the implementation of
Mandarin and Tamil. (As English has official status in
English in primary schools, as in Table 5.
Singapore, its experience is radically different from
9 | International comparisons of English provision in primary schools
14. Table 5: Pre-conditions for success in the implementation ■■ ensuring that curriculum materials and teaching-
of educational language plans learning approaches are appropriate to the
age group
1 The time dedicated to language learning must be
adequate. ■■ ensuring that adequate time has been allowed for
the preparation of new curriculum materials
2 Indigenous teacher training must be appropriate
and effective. ■■ ensuring that appropriate and timely in-service
training is given to teachers in the use of the
3 Native speakers should not be used to fill the
materials and teaching-learning approaches
proficiency and availability gap.
■■ ensuring that adequate in-school advisory
4 Educational materials must be sufficient and
support is available to teachers as they
implement the curriculum
5 Methodology should be appropriate to desired
■■ ensuring that appropriate evaluation procedures
are in place to evaluate the effectiveness of
6 Resources must be adequate for student the innovation
population needs.
■■ ensuring that adequate material and financial
7 Continuity of commitment should be ensured. resources are available to implement all of
8 Language norms should not be a problem. the above
9 International assistance programmes, if present, ■■ and, of course, ensuring that necessary
should be useful. adjustments are made to the curriculum and
materials for all subsequent grades, and that
10 Primary school children must be prepared for
teachers are given training to introduce them
early language learning.
to these changes in the higher grades.
11 Instruction should meet community and/or
national objectives. Elsewhere, Duff notes that a number of variables
related to the child learner, classroom organisation
12 Language endangerment should not be increased.
of teaching and the school curriculum are essential
The necessity of establishing pre-conditions such as variables to take into account when considering
these when introducing English into primary schools, earlier English instruction:
or lowering the starting point to earlier primary [T]he age at which FL learning commences and
grades, is widely acknowledged by educational the intensity, duration, and quality of FL instruction,
researchers. Hayes (2012b: 51–52) presented a the status of the FL course itself within the school
similar list of factors that needed to be taken into curriculum, and students’ metalinguistic efficiency
account when discussing this kind of educational are all variables that must be taken into account
innovation, based on his work on primary English when changing policies of this nature and evaluating
provision in Vietnam: the effectiveness of earlier FL instruction.
Changes are, however, not just necessary in the (Duff, 2008: 8)
new grade levels in which English is introduced but
Nevertheless, despite all of these policy prescriptions
throughout the entire system as earlier introduction
and analyses listing various factors to take into
of a subject inevitably requires adjustment to the
account for success in primary English teaching,
curriculum and materials in all subsequent grades.
it seems that decisions to introduce or lower the
The follow-on implications of a decision to teach
starting age for the teaching of English remain
English earlier in the school cycle are profound …
remarkably immune to research evidence and are
all manner of other factors come into play which
primarily political rather than educational (Baldauf
are common to systemic educational reform for any
et al., 2011). Even more troubling, given the fact that
subject area in the curriculum. These are, primarily:
teaching English in primary schools is predicated
■■ ensuring that there are adequate numbers on the belief (or fallacy) that it will lead to enhanced
of teachers to teach the subject to the proficiency, is that there remains a paucity of
particular grades research focusing on students’ English language
■■ ensuring that these teachers are well trained outcomes at the end of primary schooling.
for the task
■■ ensuring that instructional time is available in
the curriculum for the teaching of the subject
10 | International comparisons of English provision in primary schools
15. Of the few studies that measured language
proficiency, the Barcelona Age Factor (BAF) project,
as its name implies, dealt with a very restricted
context in Spain and focused primarily on
determining the impact of age of onset of learning
on attainment. The results of this study indicated that
there was no advantage to an early start to learning
English but that, in contrast, older learners (starting
at age 14) progressed faster than younger learners
(whether starting at age eight or 11) and younger
learners did not catch up over the six-year time span
of the project (Muñoz, 2009). The conclusion drawn
was that ‘second language learning success in a
foreign language context may be as much a function
of exposure as of age,’ (ibid.: 34) reinforcing the
notion that an earlier starting age as a panacea for
English language learning in school contexts is
indeed a fallacy (Kaplan et al., 2011).
A later study, the Early Language Learning in
Europe (ELLiE) project, remains one of the few major
transnational research undertakings to include
measurement of students’ language proficiency
at the primary level among its research goals.
This project is discussed in the next section.
11 | International comparisons of English provision in primary schools
16. 5
The Early Language Learning in Europe
(ELLiE) project
The final report of the ELLiE project (Enever, 2011a: 6) Since the rationale for teaching English in primary
states that it was designed specifically: schools is based on putative enhanced proficiency
To explore contexts for foreign/second language from starting earlier, it is interesting to examine the
learning in state-funded primary schools in Europe language outcomes for children involved in the ELLiE
with the aim of clarifying what can realistically be project. The broad characterisation of outcomes in
achieved in classroom contexts where relatively the Executive Summary of the final report is
limited amounts of curriculum time are available somewhat vague, as follows:
for language learning (as is commonly found Language achievements:
across Europe). ■■ Outcomes are moderate at this stage
ELLiE was unusual in that it was both transnational ■■ The range of outcomes varies substantially
and longitudinal in scope. The project began in 2006 across countries
with a one-year scoping study, with the main study ■■ Higher levels are achieved by learners of English,
running from December 2007 to November 2010. particularly where English is used more widely in
It involved research in seven countries – England, social contexts
Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and
■■ Speaking skills develop only gradually under
Croatia – with 1,400 students and their teachers in
conditions of limited curriculum time
48 schools, six to eight in each participating country.
The sampling of schools was based on convenience ■■ By the fourth year of learning, most children are
of access for the researchers, rather than able to read short comic strip stories
randomised to ensure that there was no bias in the ■■ As children develop a larger vocabulary, they
sample selected, which detracts somewhat from begin to syntactically complexify their language.
the generalisability of the results, even though they (Enever, 2011a: 3)
attempted to control for variables such as socio-
economic background and geographical location – Participating countries use the level descriptors in
urban, semi-urban and rural. As would be expected, the Common European Framework of Reference
over the lifetime of the project the research gave (CEFR) (Council of Europe, n.d.) as targets for
rise to a number of presentations and publications, language outcomes in the primary cycle, in spite
both country-specific (e.g. Mihaljević Djigunović, of the fact that these were not developed for use
2013, which focuses on Croatia) and thematic with young learners but ‘were formulated drawing
(e.g. Szpotowicz, Mihaljević Djigunović and Enever, from a corpus of adult language use, failing to
2009, which explores learning environments and capture the essential features of children‘s early
motivation among young learners). In this section foreign language (FL) learning experiences’.
I shall draw on the final report (Enever, 2011a) and (Enever, 2011a: 9) Though the ELLiE report concludes
an edited collection of chapters (Enever, 2011b), that CEFR level descriptors are inappropriate, they
as these provide details of all key findings. Where remain in use and of necessity influenced the
appropriate, I shall make occasional reference to project’s language assessment instruments, which
other supporting literature. were based on the ‘can do’ statements developed
by the Association of Language Testers in Europe
(ALTE, n.d.) for each CEFR level.
12 | The Early Language Learning in Europe (ELLiE) project
17. The actual CEFR targets set by each of the [T]he variation in listening and reading results can
participating countries are given in Table 6. be attributed to many factors, such as motivation,
the teacher, the school, parents and exposure to
Table 6: Intended language outcomes for primary children
the foreign language. In contexts where children
in ELLiE countries
are exposed to English on a daily basis, in addition
Country CEFR target/age to the national language, this provides a strong
foundation for FL development in the school
England A1 by 11 years
context. In those country contexts where English
Croatia A1 by ten/11 years is not particularly present in daily life alongside
Italy A1+ by 11 years the national language, or where another FL is
being learnt, then language development is slower.
Netherlands A2 by 12 years
(Szpotowicz and Lindgren, 2011: 141)
Poland A1 by 11 years
In Mihaljević Djigunović’s (2013) case study of
Spain A1 by 12 years Croatia, there is also an interesting (and amusing)
Sweden A1 by nine years; aside on pronunciation of the foreign language
A2.1 by 12 years among young children, an area where there is most
evidence that starting young is an advantage for a
Within the CEFR, the descriptors for levels A1 and ‘native-like’ accent (Singleton and Ryan, 2004).
A2 on the ‘global scale’ are as follows (Council of One teacher pointed out difficulties in pronunciation:
Europe, n.d.): ‘Pronunciation is a bit difficult because most first
Table 7: CEFR descriptors for A1 and A2 levels graders are missing front teeth. This problem is
A2 Can understand sentences and frequently usually solved by speaking in chorus.’
used expressions related to areas of most (Mihaljević Djigunović, 2013: 167)
immediate relevance (e.g. very basic
Instruction is organised in a variety of ways in
personal and family information, shopping,
local geography, employment). Can
different countries (see Table 8, below, which
communicate in simple and routine tasks excludes England as the foreign language taught
requiring a simple and direct exchange of there is not of concern in this report).
information on familiar and routine matters.
Table 8: Organisation of instructional hours in primary
Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/
schools (Enever, 2011d: 32)
Basic user
her background, immediate environment
and matters in areas of immediate need. Country Typical number of Lesson duration
lessons per week
A1 Can understand and use familiar everyday
expressions and very basic phrases aimed Italy Year 1 – one lesson; Recommendation
at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete Year 2 – two of 60 minutes per
type. Can introduce him/herself and others lessons; week but may
and can ask and answer questions about Years 3–5 – three vary at individual
personal details such as where he/she lives, lessons per week schools
people he/she knows and things he/she has.
Netherlands No specified Typically
Can interact in a simple way provided the
number Years 1–2 –
other person talks slowly and clearly and is
Typically one to 20 minutes;
prepared to help.
three lessons Years 3–8
Both A1 and A2 on the CEFR levels are characterised per week – 30–60 minutes
as ‘basic user’. In terms of these levels, Enever Poland Two 45 mins
assesses language outcomes among participating
learners as follows: Spain No specified Typically
number; may be 45–60 minutes
The average ELLiE learners have approached A1 anything from one
level (as described by the CEFR) in their oral and to four lessons
aural skills during the first four years of instruction. per week
(2011b: 7)
Sweden Years 1–3 – 20–30 minutes
Language outcomes in the ELLiE countries are indeed one lesson 40 minutes
‘moderate’ after four years of primary school though Year 4 – two lessons
there is some variation across the participating Croatia Two 45 minutes
countries, which is attributed to a complex range
of factors by Szpotowicz and Lindgren:
13 | The Early Language Learning in Europe (ELLiE) project
18. There is little difference in the intensity of instruction, The differences were attributed to cumulative
with the ‘drip feed’ approach (a little instruction on a experience of learning in the primary school in
frequent basis) prevailing. What is noticeable is that, general and the associated development of learning
with the typical number of lessons per week, children preferences as the children matured cognitively.
take as much instructional time to reach A1 level as is Children also expressed preferences for traditional
often expected to reach A2. For example, in Croatia, classroom arrangements with the teacher at the
two x 45-minute lessons for 35 weeks per year over front of the class and the students all facing her/him.
four years results in 210 instructional hours; whereas This seemed to be connected to their desire for
most publishers and English teaching websites give order and structure, and knowing their place in a
figures of around 180 to 200 instructional hours to particular social world, something which has also
reach A2 (see e.g. been found to be important for children in L1
levels-cef.htm). Of course, learning is not simply a acquisition (Mitchell et al., 2013). Children particularly
response to the number of hours spent in a disliked the disruptive behaviour of other children
classroom and other variables must be taken into where this occurred and clearly identified its
account such as out-of-class exposure to English, negative impact on learning. Mihaljević Djigunović
the context of learning, learning purpose, and so on. and Lopriore (2011: 49–50) comment that children
associate learning ‘with an experience that requires
Across the ELLiE countries the recommended English concentration and order … viewing it as a process
language teaching-learning method is broadly an that relies upon the teacher’s input as well as the
‘age-appropriate communicative approach’. However, joint effort of both the teacher and the learners.’ In
there is divergence between policy and practice in the ELLiE study it is interesting that the children who
this respect, which, as elsewhere, may be due to performed best at the start of the project were those
different understandings of the communicative who liked the traditional classroom arrangement, but
approach (see, e.g. Butler, 2005; Manghubai et al., by the end the best performers were those who
2004). This divergence may not be significant. preferred working in groups, suggesting that, with
Tragant and Lundgren (2011: 9) note ‘the mix of increasing cognitive maturity, high achievers were
teaching approaches found in the case studies, aware of the opportunities for language practice that
with classes where rather communicative playful this format offered.
practices were implemented and those where quite
traditional practices were observed,’ but go on to Research elsewhere confirms that ‘even primary
say that: school learners consciously perceive their learning
In spite of the variation, a few commonalities process and hold varied beliefs about the nature
seem to emerge from the case studies. A number of language learning’. (Kolb, 2007: 238) In her study
of teachers were fond of the FL they taught, of primary EFL classes in Germany Kolb found that
enjoyed teaching it and/or believed in the benefits if the teacher explained the reason for doing
of teaching a FL at this age. Importantly, some particular activities, children’s attitudes towards
teachers were good at creating a positive and safe the activity changed:
relationship with the children, at being supportive In this study most of the learners did not consider
towards them or at making sure they had successful the activity playing games to be very important for
experiences at these early stages of L2 learning. their learning. As a consequence the teacher talked
There were also a number of teachers who were about the value of the challenges of playing games.
especially good at keeping the students focused The students became aware of all the language
and on-task. (Tragant and Lundgren, 2011: 99) work the activity playing games included and rated
the activity higher than before. If students know why
Thus, what seem to be important are the teachers’ they do what they do, this will also increase their
confidence and enjoyment in their classes, a positive task involvement. (ibid.: 238)
classroom environment with good teacher–student
rapport and a concern for all children in the class to This kind of explanation may be particularly
have a successful language learning experience. important where language learning activities
These factors operate irrespective of particular contrast with the ways in which other areas of the
methods employed. primary curriculum are taught (Brewster and Ellis,
2002). It also reinforces the ELLiE conclusion that
When teachers enjoy teaching, children are the role of the teacher in motivating learners
motivated to learn and experience similar enjoyment remains ‘paramount in the first years of FLL
in their English classes. The research indicated that, (foreign language learning).’ (Mihaljević Djigunović
almost universally, children begin language learning and Lopriore, 2011: 58)
with high motivation and positive attitudes but that
differences emerged over the lifespan of the project.
14 | The Early Language Learning in Europe (ELLiE) project
19. In four of the seven countries, publishers’ textbooks notes that: ‘Observation evidence from the ELLiE
were used, with the three other countries reliant study indicates that a minimum entry level of B1 is
on locally designed materials integrated with the needed, with a desirable level of C1 for a teacher
general primary curriculum. The difference was to be fully functional in the informal and incidental
attributed to the greater visibility of international language regularly required in the primary
publishers in the wider EFL market for older learners classroom.’ Initial teacher training to provide
in those countries where textbooks were widely generalist primary teachers with the required
used – Croatia, Italy, Poland and Spain. Increasingly, language and pedagogic skills was not universal,
multimedia materials are being developed and though Croatia, Italy, Poland and Spain were strong in
introduced at the primary level, though the ELLiE this respect. Lack of appropriate pre-service training
research noted that publishers were being slow to is compensated for by in-service training provision,
respond to the needs of the primary classroom in with regular programmes of courses on language
terms of ‘supplementary materials’ such as posters, development for teachers as well as age-appropriate
puppets and picture cards. This deficiency may language teaching skills. However, only in Croatia was
provide the stimulus for teachers to use their own in-service provision said by teachers to be adequate
creativity, an area in which well-trained primary (and it was also compulsory), while in Poland, Spain
teachers are usually strong, though materials and Sweden it was reported to be insufficient. In Italy
preparation does place considerable demands on and the Netherlands course provision was sufficient
a teacher’s time. There was no indication that the but attendance was voluntary.
use/non-use of pre-packaged textbooks had any
impact on learning outcomes. Finally, findings from the ELLiE research project
underlined the complexity of factors at play in
Throughout the ELLiE literature one factor successful language learning, encompassing
repeatedly having an important impact on learning effective initial and in-service teacher training,
outcomes is exposure to English outside school, adequate and appropriate resources, enjoyable
particularly subtitled television and films. With class experiences and school conditions conducive
subtitles, children become more actively involved to learning the language. Though out-of-school
in decoding the language, as Muñoz and Lindgren contact with English was important it was not the sole
(2011: 118) comment: criterion for success. Enever (2011c: 148) concluded
The processes involved in watching a subtitled that irrespective of out-of-class exposure ‘it was
movie are complex. The FL is processed with possible to identify good levels of achievement by
support from the pictures at the same time as children in a number of schools within each region,
the corresponding L1 is read on the subtitles. with well-trained teachers, good resources, lively
Thus, what may seem a passive activity is really engaged classes and school environments conducive
a cognitively complex and highly active process. to FLL.’ These factors are replicable elsewhere but
(d’Ydewalle and De Bruycker, 2007) are dependent on effective planning, adequate
resourcing and sustained commitment.
Where foreign television and films are dubbed,
children do not have this exposure and are at I shall now examine primary English education in
a comparative disadvantage. However, other three countries to assess the extent to which these
studies cited in the ELLiE reports indicate that factors operate and whether or not they may be
skilled teachers may be able to overcome the associated with success in those contexts.
lack of exposure to the language outside class by
providing additional input in school (Alcañiz and
Muñoz, 2011; Tragant and Muñoz, 2009; cited in
Muñoz and Lindgren, 2011). Clearly, the demands
on teachers in this respect would be considerable.
With respect to the teachers and their qualifications,
this varied across countries though there was also a
gap between policy and practice identified in some
areas due to the rapid expansion of primary English
teaching. In most countries the favoured model for
an English teacher was a generalist primary teacher
trained in language teaching and with good language
skills. The language levels that teachers of English
were required to have, where they were specified,
ranged from B1 to B2 on the CEFR. Enever (2011d: 26)
15 | The Early Language Learning in Europe (ELLiE) project
20. 6
Country focus 1: The Netherlands
As we have seen, the Netherlands scores highly on Teaching- Schools free to choose; coursebooks
the EF English Proficiency Index and, indeed, there learning not generally used for six to ten year
is a widespread perception that the Dutch are ‘good materials olds; materials/resources available
at learning English’. (Law, 2007) It is interesting that for download; all schools have
interactive whiteboards
the link between achievement and out-of-school
exposure through subtitled television and films Type of teacher Generalist primary teacher with
that the ELLiE research project identified was language teaching skills
previously noted more subjectively by Law for
Teacher Primary teaching with English
the Netherlands and other Scandinavian countries: qualifications language component
‘In the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark,
where proficiency in English is very high, English- Teacher English B2 on the CEFR scale required for
language level entry to teacher education courses
language television programmes are subtitled. In
Germany, Spain and France, where fewer people
speak English well, the television programmes are In-service Widespread; attendance voluntary
dubbed’. (ibid.) Out-of-school exposure, of course, provision
interacts with other features of the system to bring
about successful learning and does not lessen the Though the age for children to begin learning a
need for effective teaching in schools. foreign language (not necessarily English) is set
at age ten, most schools in the Netherlands now
The basic features of English instruction in the introduce English as the first foreign language in
Dutch primary curriculum are summarised in the Year 1. Schools have a great deal of autonomy in
table below (collated from Enever, 2011b, unless how they organise English instruction and only the
otherwise specified). number of hours of instruction that learners must
receive by the time they exit Year/Grade 8 is
Table 9: Basic features of English instruction in the
stipulated. However, attainment targets of between
A1 and A2 on the CEFR scale by the age of 12 are
Formal school Five years; though many children specified centrally; it is up to individual schools how
starting age start at age four they achieve these. Similarly, teaching methods and
Status of Part of the core curriculum
use of particular materials are not specified but left
English in the to the discretion of the school.
curriculum education/primary-education
Dutch performance on international tests such as
Age at which Optional from age four to nine; many PISA is strong, with a high degree of equality – there
English schools start in Year 1 are few students who perform poorly. Equality is
instruction A foreign language is compulsory a major strength of the system. The Dutch School
starts from the age of ten; most schools Inspectorate (2013) reports, for example, that 97 per
choose English cent of all the 6,807 primary schools reach the basic
Organisation of Left to individual schools; only total quality standards and that 83 per cent of the
instruction number of hours specified for the 100,200 teachers are proficient in all the basic skills.
first eight years of schooling; This is a notable achievement and one which many
typically one to three lessons per countries would be proud of. Nevertheless, despite
week; Years 1–2 – 20 minutes; this overall quality, the system is not resting on its
Years 3–8 – 30–60 minutes laurels. The Dutch School Inspectorate has, for
Achievement Between A1–A2 on the CEFR scale by example, voiced concerns about the number of
level objective the age of 12 high-achievers in the education system. The 2011–12
Education Report, The State of Education in the
Teaching Not mandated; schools free to choose
Netherlands, highlighted the fact that ‘the number
methods (Source: Eurypedia, European of pupils in primary education with a score higher
Encyclopedia on National Education
than 548 in the Final Test in Primary Education has
decreased from 5.4 per cent to 4.9 per cent in the
16 | Country focus 1: The Netherlands
21. last two years’. (The Dutch School Inspectorate, 2013: How the Dutch government will work to see the
13) The inspectorate report is indicative of a concern status of teachers raised is not explicitly tackled,
that ‘there needs to be more effective differentiation though it is safe to assume that an increase in
to cater for the varying needs of students and qualifications will play a part. Though salary levels
groups of students,’ (ibid.: 8) alongside, inter alia, are mentioned, current financial conditions in the
improved pastoral care, more results-oriented Netherlands, as elsewhere in Europe, mean that the
teaching and improved quality assurance given that: government did not finance increases in salaries in
‘At the primary schools that score better in these either 2010 or 2011. Currently, the ratio of primary
areas, this is also reflected in better pupil teachers’ salaries to the earnings of other full-time
performance’. (ibid.: 8) workers with tertiary education is 0.70, significantly
below an OECD average of 0.82 (OECD, 2013c). At
A desire for continuous improvement – perhaps present the status of teachers is on a par with that
even a fear of moving backwards – is a hallmark of a of social work rather than law or medicine, which
high-achieving education system according to the the Kinsey reports indicate is desirable for the best
McKinsey education reports (Mourshed et al., 2010), education systems. However, according to the 2013
which also note that shaping the teaching profession Global Teacher Status Index (Dolton and Marcenaro-
so that its requirements and practices parallel those Gutierrez, 2013), which measures respect for
in professions such as law and medicine is also teachers and their social standing, teachers in the
important. In this vein and perhaps in response to Netherlands rank eighth on the index, the second
the declining intake in teacher training colleges for highest of the European countries (behind Greece
primary education in recent years (The Dutch School in second place), above Finland (13th) but below
Inspectorate, 2013), the Dutch government has set Korea in fourth place.
out its plans for quality improvement in Teaching
2020: a strong profession! (Ministry of Education, To conclude, the education system in the Netherlands
Culture and Science, 2011) with a number of produces learners with generally high achievement
recommendations designed ‘to make the teaching levels and there is a corresponding equality across
profession more attractive, not only in terms of learners, with few performing poorly. Some
salary and career earnings potential, but in terms weaknesses have been identified in the system
of the quality and status of the profession’. (ibid.: 18) in terms of differentiation, which the government
These were reiterated in a policy document Working is currently addressing. Success in primary English
in education 2012 (Ministry of Education, Culture and teaching seems to be attributable as much to
Science, 2012), which included a proposal to increase general education factors as it is to anything
teachers’ level of education, with a master’s degree specific to the teaching of English. Indeed, it is
the target for teachers by 2020. Interestingly, the only in access to English in out-of-school contexts
document draws attention to the experience of the that the Netherlands appears to have an edge that
two other countries focused on here, Finland and is specific to the language.
Korea, noting that: ‘All teachers in Finland are
university graduates, including teachers in primary
education. In other high-performing countries, such
as Korea and Singapore, only the very best students
are admitted to teacher training programmes after
a demanding selection procedure’. (ibid.: 17) To raise
the level of education to a master’s degree will
provide a challenge for the primary education sector
as, at present, while 87 per cent of teachers have a
degree only six per cent have a master’s degree. It is
notable that there are no recommendations specific
to English teaching in the primary sector (though
there are for secondary English teaching), indicating
that it has no special status as a subject and primary
teaching is considered as a whole.
17 | Country focus 1: The Netherlands
22. 7
Country focus 2: Korea
‘The driving force behind the astounding growth school life, and high expenditure for private tutoring’.
of Korea is education,’ as the Korea Educational (source:
Development Institute proclaims on its website Household expenditure on private
( Korea has been a remarkable tutoring for both primary and secondary sectors
success story in education over the last few decades, in 2005 was 2.9 per cent of GDP, very close to the
achieving a 99 per cent literacy rate and high 3.4 per cent of GDP in public expenditure on formal
enrolment rates in higher education: 50 per cent schooling, a massive private commitment (Kim,
of the 18–21 age group is enrolled in four-year 2005). There are indications that the emphasis on
degree programmes (Kang, 2012). Performance private tuition for English is having negative effects
on international tests such as PISA is, as we have on children’s motivation. In a recent study of 6th
seen, routinely high in all areas. English is seen as Grade pupils in Seoul, 65 per cent of the children
an essential component of educational success had negative attitudes towards the language,
to the extent that: ‘Koreans spend an average of characterising English as ‘something that takes my
20,000 hours between primary school and university freedom away,’ ‘prison for life,’ ‘something that should
learning English, including both school instruction never exist,’ and even simply ‘hell’. (Moon, 2013)
and private tutoring’. (EF, 2013: 18) In 2005 Koreans These attitudes should be a cause of serious concern
spent 15 billion dollars on private tuition in English for education officials if they are widely replicated.
(Song, 2011), a figure that can only have increased
since then, given that the private school (‘hagwon’) Despite massive investment in education, there is a
industry had an annualised growth rate of 20.5 per widespread consensus that English outcomes do not
cent between 2005 and 2009 (Kim, 2013). Song match the inputs and that the return on investment is
(2011: 36) notes that: ‘South Korea’s pursuit of English meagre. As we have seen from the English Proficiency
is probably unparalleled elsewhere in the world’. Index (EF, 2013), Korea ranks as a country with only
This is set within a context of intense commitment ‘moderate’ proficiency and scores actually declined
to education as a whole. Indeed, education is often from the previous year. This has led to much soul-
described as a ‘national obsession’, an obsession searching nationally with solutions for improvement
which results in children spending most of their time ranging from making English an official language
at school of one kind or another. Song observes that: (in spite of the fact that Korea is essentially a
monolingual nation where the correlation between
South Korean parents are completely blasé about
Korean nationals and speakers of Korean is almost
forcing their children to spend the bulk of their
100 per cent) and a proposal by the then President
waking hours studying school subjects in order
in 2008 to have all schools become English-medium
to be accepted into one of the best universities in
(quickly shelved due to public opposition) to the
the country. South Korean students typically leave
establishment of ‘English Villages’ that provide
home before 8am or even earlier and return home
opportunities for real-life language use, and the
well past midnight, with normal and supplementary
‘Teaching English in English’ (TEE) policy designed
school work, and private after-school instruction all
to limit L1 use in English classes.
packed in between. (Song, 2011: 45)
Though many parents send their children to
A recent BBC report of a Korean child talking about
private tuition much earlier, even in kindergarten,
her daily routine illustrates this schedule, which she
Korean children only start learning English formally
believes is necessary for her to fulfil her dream of
in school in Grade 3. The basic features of the
becoming an elementary school teacher (see www.
English education system in Korea’s 5,778 Recently, the
government primary schools are given in Table 10,
negative impact of the national ‘zeal for education’
below (sources: Ministry of Education, Science and
has begun to be recognised in official publications
such as a presentation developed by the Korea
Korea Institute of Educational Development,
Institute for Educational Development on ‘Education; Korea Institute for Curriculum
in Korea 2011’, which commented that it has ‘resulted
and Evaluation,
in such a highly competitive environment, which
often results in longest school work hours, unhappy
18 | Country focus 2: Korea
23. Table 10: Basic features of English instruction in Korea training’. (Jung and Norton, 2002: 259) However,
it was also found that success could still be achieved
Formal school Six years
if teachers were themselves positive about teaching
starting age
English and were well supported by school principals.
Status of Part of the National Basic Curriculum Jung and Norton conclude:
English in the
The implementation of the programme shows the
importance of support by principals and head
Age at which Eight years; Grade 3 teachers as well as the crucial role of teacher
English training. In schools with adequate support, and
instruction where teachers themselves believe that English
starts instruction is important, the conditions for effective
Organisation of Two x 40-minute classes for language instruction seem to exist. (Jung and
instruction Grades 3–4 Norton, 2002: 264)
Four x 40-minute classes for
The implementation of prescribed communicative
Grades 5–6
classroom methods was reported elsewhere to be
Achievement School curriculum specifies skills- problematic. Butler (2005) found that there was a
level objective based ‘accomplishment standards’ lack of understanding of teaching for communicative
for each grade of a general nature
purposes, which made it difficult for teachers to
Teaching Age-appropriate communicative, as implement the curriculum in the classroom as
methods appropriate to learning objectives intended by its designers: policy-makers and
Teaching- Criteria for textbooks and
teachers used terms such as ‘information gap’,
learning instructional materials prescribed by ‘student-centred activities’ and ‘authentic language’
materials law; textbooks must be approved by without a shared understanding with teachers of
Korea Institute for Curriculum and what they meant (ibid.: 435). Butler (ibid.) also found
Evaluation; schools choose textbooks that the policy to use English only seemed to the
from the approved list teachers to be inefficient in many respects and they
Type of teacher Generalist primary teacher with
continued to use Korean; for example, to maintain
language teaching skills (acquired order in the classroom. The English-only innovation
through in-service training for older known initially as the ‘Teach English through English’
teachers; pre-service for newer (TETE) policy, and now as ‘Teach English in English’
teachers); a minority of schools (TEE), has also been examined from a classroom
have specialist English teachers perspective by Kang (2008: 224) who found that
Teacher Four-year primary teaching degree;
in elementary schools ‘the full practice of TETE is
qualifications pass national teacher exams not always beneficial to students’. In his case study,
including an interview in English a teacher made judicious use of the L1 with the
students’ interest always at the heart of her language
Teacher English Not specified
choice. This also aligned with students’ perceptions
language level
of language use: they reported being much more
motivated to learn English with their current teacher
In-service Widespread; primary class teachers than with their teachers the previous year who
provision required to take a minimum of 120 had used only English and no Korean at all in their
hours for English teaching (language lessons. Exclusive use of English had led to students’
and pedagogy)
loss of interest, not least because they could
English has very limited presence in not always understand what was happening in
the environment the classroom.
There is a range of academic literature discussing Teachers’ own language levels are an obstacle to
various aspects of English education in Korean generalist primary teachers taking responsibility
primary schools. Jung and Norton (2002) discuss for the teaching of English in the short term, although
the implementation of the elementary English in the longer term including English as one of the
programme – English was first introduced into components of the primary teaching degree should
primary schools in 1997 – and provide case studies lead to higher levels of language and language-
of selected schools. Of particular note is the limited teaching competence. Many primary teachers in
impact of the 120-hour in-service teacher training service at present do not feel they have adequate
programme; as one teacher commented: ‘It was language skills to teach English. This has been found
nonsense to ask elementary teachers to teach in a range of studies (Butler, 2004; Hayes, 2008a;
spoken English with only 120 hours of teacher Jung and Norton, 2002). The common misconception
19 | Country focus 2: Korea