The Early Language Learning in Europe project, also known as the 'ELLiE' project, closed in January 2011, having investigated early language learning in seven European primary-school contexts, including primary schools in England (6 to 8 schools per country; total N = approximately 1,400 children). The principle research aim was “to clarify what can realistically be achieved in state schools where relatively limited amounts of class time are available for foreign language learning” (Enever, 2011:145).
The project and its findings are reported in the resulting 'ELLiE' book, (Enever , 2011).
Participating schools were drawn from a wide socio-economic range and diverse geographical spread, although not wholly representative of their respective contexts. The nature of the ELLiE study is necessarily amorphous, in the sense that it covered widely differing educational systems and teaching methods across Europe.
ELLiE looked at three main issues with regard to additional language learning in the selected contexts: policy and implementation, factors contributing to the success of early language learning, and the linguistic and non-linguistic outcomes of early language learning. Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected, although the quality and quantity of input across the countries varied: English schools, for example, had the least additional language (instructional) input, little surrounding media input or out-of-school input (Note: in many cases there was some, but too minor to be counted statistically).
All schools learned English as an additional language, except for the English schools which studied French or Spanish.
Instruments included interviews, questionnaires and observation, and an in-depth study of six focal learners from each class. Data were collected on learner characteristics, attitudes and motivation. Normal class teachers delivered the language lessons.
Language proficiency was assessed through communicative tasks in listening, speaking and reading, but for practical reasons only listening data were collected for all participants. The researchers were particularly interested in the interrelationship between learner characteristics, especially attitude and language proficiency.
Some of the key findings from the ELLiE project are:
> most young learners began their learning of an additional language with a very positive outlook, although this tended to deteriorate over time;
> learner (individual) characteristics impacted on language achievement, with the impact stronger at age 10 to11 than at age 7 to 8 years;
> average ELLiE learners approached A1 level (Common European Framework of Reference) in oral and aural skills during the first four years of additional language instruction, that is at age 10 to 11 years;
> generally speaking, children’s competence in speaking, listening and reading developed similarly in the fourth year of instruction, although there were instances of individuals who were stronger in one or two skills and weaker in others;
> listening skills in children with a more positive self-concept increased over time, whilst skills in those with a less positive self-concept remained static or decreased;
> there were steady gains in vocabulary, although communicative fluency varied considerably;
> factors influencing achievement (language proficiency) included “motivation, teachers, parents and exposure” (Enever, 2011:7).
Lastly, findings suggested that “progress in the ... [additional language(s)] may be more rapid in contexts which provide greater exposure, but, encouragingly, even quite limited exposure can result in the steady development of communicative skills” (Enever, 2011:150).