Learning L2 German in the primary school classroom: An investigation into the effectiveness of explicit grammar instruction

Educational researcher Rowena Kasprowicz delivers a talk on the effectiveness of explicit grammar instruction in primary teaching.

A talk by Rowena Kasprowicz, University of York

Within the limited input foreign language classroom context, opportunities to draw on implicit learning mechanisms are limited. Yet little research has explored the efficacy of explicit grammar instruction for young learners, an important consideration given the recent inclusion of foreign languages in the primary curriculum. This study investigated the extent to which English learners of L2 German (aged 9-11) benefitted from instruction on masculine definite article accusative casemarking (den), a problematic feature for English learners due to a reliance on word order when assigning grammatical roles (as predicted by MacWhinney’s Competition Model and VanPatten’s First Noun Principle).

Two input-based interventions provided explicit information plus EITHER: Task-Essential FormMeaning Connection (TE-FMC) activities forcing attention on the article and its role-assigning function; OR Task-Essential Form (TE-F) activities forcing attention on the article only ('spot the form'). Learners were randomly assigned to the TE-FMC (n = 45) and TE-F (n = 41) treatments. A control group (n = 52) received instruction on lexical items, but no exposure to den. Two untimed written tasks (sentence matching, gap fill), three one-to-one oral tasks (act-out comprehension, actout production, elicited imitation), and a metalinguistic task were administered as pre-, post-, and delayed post-tests to assess knowledge of der and den.

Both interventions yielded large, durable gains across all tasks, although the learners’ verbalisable knowledge deteriorated somewhat by delayed post-test. The Control group made no improvement. Under both conditions, learners had developed explicit knowledge of the target feature, available on untimed written tasks, as well more automatized knowledge, accessible under time and communicative pressure. Fine-grained analysis revealed that group-level gains could be accounted for by a sub-group of learners within each condition, reflecting the importance of individual differences in mediating instructional effectiveness. The findings demonstrate the beneficial role of explicit instruction for child L2 learning within the classroom.

Part of the Centre for Language Education Research (CLER) Seminars for Winter 2016.