Young Second Language Learners: The acquisition of English in Norwegian first-grade classrooms
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This thesis deals with the acquisition of English as an L2 in young Norwegian children aged approximately six. The main focus is on learning in a traditional foreign-language setting, but also an immersion setting in an international school is investigated. The thesis contains four research papers, each addressing a separate topic related to the overall issue of early SLA. The first paper studies vocabulary acquisition in two Norwegian classrooms where English is taught as a foreign language, which differ in the volume of target-language input to which the students are exposed. A significant and substantial effect is found of increased input. The second paper evaluates the use of a sentence repetition test as a measure of early second language competence, by administering it to four groups of children with different competence levels in English. This paper finds that sentence repetition is indeed a valid measure of early L2 competence, which assesses a range of competences such as phoneme perception, lexical knowledge, and morphology. The third paper studies the two foreign-language classes described for the first paper, and evaluates their performance on receptive vocabulary, sentence comprehension, and sentence repetition after one year of school, finding a clear advantage for the group with the highest English exposure on all measures, but on sentence comprehension in particular. The final paper focuses on the group of students immersed in English in an international school, and finds rapid development but great individual variation in English competence after one year of school. The general discussion of the four papers focuses on what they can tell us about foreign-language learning as a form of SLA, about early L2 competence, and about the role of input in acquisition. In particular, it is argued that foreign language learning is indeed to be viewed as a form of SLA, and that the reported lack of benefits of a young age of onset in foreign-language settings may be a result of teaching styles being more suited to older learners, and to a lack of target-language input in particular. Results in the present thesis indicate that in early FL learning, input is in particular beneficial for processes such as phoneme perception, speech segmentation, and lexical access, facilitating sentence comprehension. Results also show that L2 lexical learning can be rapid in a school context, both for immersion and foreign language learners, at least as far as receptive vocabulary is concerned.