Linguistic Development of Classroom Learners of French: A Cross-sectional Study

From October 2001 to September 2002
Project Leader(s): Professor Florence Myles
Contact: Florence Myles
Sponsors: ESRC

ESRC reference number: R000223421.  Awarded: £41,922 

This project is a one-year cross-sectional study of classroom learner development in French in the three years leading to GCSE. The primary aim of this research is to document and analyse linguistic progression in these learners. The reason for choosing to document progression in years 9 to 11 is that there is no learner language database for this stage of learning, and we know very little about it. There is now an extensive database for years 7-8 (and the first term of year 9), arising from the ESRC-funded Progression in Foreign Language Learning project directed by Dr R. Mitchell (University of Southampton) and Mr P. Dickson (NFER), conducted from 1993 to 1996 (Mitchell and Dickson, 1997). This project has made data available documenting progression in the first two years of learning French within the British educational system, but there is no such dataset for the further two and a half years leading to GCSE. In fact, very little is known about the developmental route followed by classroom learners of French at that level, and a better understanding of the processes involved is crucial. Moreover, while we have a fairly comprehensive picture of the development of English as a second language across stages, the picture we have of the development of French is very patchy. The above-mentioned project went some way towards filling this gap in the very early stages, but we now need to document the next stages in order to build a comprehensive picture of how children develop in French during their school years. This project will take this a stage further, by documenting and analysing the development of a range of morphosyntactic structures, such as sentence structure, verbal morphology, gender, interrogation, negation, embedding, pronominal reference etc... It is only by properly documenting classroom development that we will be able to address and redress some of the concerns which have been expressed about rate of progress and standards of achievement in Modern Languages in UK secondary schools, which do not seem on a par with their European counterparts (Dobson 1998, Cole and De Cecco 1998, Milton and Meara 1998). The linguistic analysis will be conducted with a view to informing some of the most important theoretical debates currently being discussed in the field. For example, some learners at the beginning of year 9 are just entering a stage similar to that characterised as the Basic Variety in naturalistic learners (Klein and Perdue, 1997 for naturalistic learners; Myles, Mitchell, and Hooper, 1999 for classroom learners), and documenting the next stage is crucial to our understanding of the processes underlying early linguistic construction: do classroom learners still continue to progress in similar ways to naturalistic learners, or does classroom instruction provide them with more sophisticated linguistic means? A crucial issue in the second language acquisition literature is to determine whether the processes underlying linguistic development are universal and therefore just as applicable to classroom learners as to naturalistic learners. The specificity or otherwise of classroom learning will be an important feature of this project, and the interaction between rote-learning and universal processes will be investigated. 

Evaluated as 'outstanding' by the ESRC moderators