Gemäss Raphael Berthele von der Uni Fribourg handelt es sich bei der Untersuchung von Simone Pfenninger und David Singleton um eine «ausgeglichene und einfühlsame Studie», die sich mit einem Thema befasst, das uns alle interessiert. Pfenninger und Singleton präsentieren dabei neue Daten und analysieren diese sorgsam. Die Autoren untersuchen die Auswirkungen sowohl interner als auch externer Faktoren unter Anwendung modernster statistischer Modelle.
Die Studie ist die bisher einzige Schweizer Langzeitstudie, welche frühe mit späten Englisch-Startern vergleicht. Die Datenerhebungen erfolgten zwischen 2009 und 2015.
Beim Werk handelt es sich um einen wichtigen Beitrag zur Altersdebatte im Fremdsprachenunterricht. Die beiden Wissenschafter liefern überzeugende Hinweise dafür, dass ein späterer Beginn linguistische, kognitive und affektive Vorteile bringt. Ausserdem wird das Phänomen «Alter» auf seine spezifischen Einzelfaktoren wie Motivation, Transferstrategien, Einfluss anderer Sprachen und schulischer Kontext untersucht. Die Autoren nennen auch Implikationen für die Schulpolitik.
Im folgenden liefere ich Auszüge aus dem Buch in der englischen Originalsprache. Dabei habe ich die Aussagen thematisch geordnet.
Momentaner Stand des Wissens
«… very few linguistic and extralinguistic advantages have been found to be associated with beginning the study of a foreign language earlier in an instructed situation».
Späte Starter holen schnell auf
«… six months into secondary school, the late classroom learners had already been able to catch up with the early class learners…. What is more, the early learners failed to surpass the late learners in the long run».
«… none of the tested skills turned out to be negatively affected by a later AO (starting age) ».
«…the efforts to effect a successful introduction to the foreign language at primary school seem not to bear fruit later in secondary school and progression generally seems not to be maintained“.
«The late classroom learners were thus able to assimilate as much in 6 years as the early classroom learners were able to in 11 years».
«… the early classroom learners were not able to retain their learning advantages in the long run”.
«Just six months into secondary school, the five-year difference in instruction time had no significant effect on the learning outcome with respect to the English article system».
«… young learners soon start to develop negative attitudes to foreign language learning».
«… motivation had a stronger influence on foreign language achievement than AO (starting age) ».
«… the early classroom learners had extremely unfavourable attitudes towards foreign languages in general».
«… we cannot say that more hours of instruction per se are associated with more positive attitudes».
«These results thus run counter to the commonly held view that younger school learners have a more positive attitude towards a foreign language than older school learners».
«Our results thus run counter to the commonly held view that younger school learners have a more positive attitude towards a foreign language than older school learners and that this is a definite advantage of an early start».
«Seventy-two percent of the learners pointed to the perceived inefficiency of early foreign language instruction».
«By and large, the picture that emerges relative to the evolution of attitudes and motivation is of a piece with what emerged from the earlier discussion. At Time 1, early high achieving starters in English tended to value the importance of their early experience of English in primary school. Early low achievers in English, as well as late starters in English in general, were much more diffident regarding early L2 instruction. At Time 2, the attitudes of these latter groups had not altered markedly. The attitude of the early high achievers, on the other hand, had moved away from the enthusiasm for primary school language instruction evidenced at Time 1, and showed signs of being affected by disappointment with the effectiveness of such instruction».
Einfluss der Erstsprache
«Educators concerned with additional languages should consider the role that initial literacy plays in learning such languages, and should bear in mind that mastery of such literacy skills in the primary school years is important for students in this connection».
«It becomes clear at first glance that the factor which influenced the learners’ English production was Standard German literacy skills rather than AO (starting age)».
«… the factor that appears to explain the late classroom learners’ high productive and receptive scores on the various EFL measures at Time 1 was ‘Standard German literacy skills’».
«… students with well-developed L1 skills, especially those related to literacy, are expected to have a head start».
«… it pays off to devote the first few years of primary school to the acquisition of skills in the language of literacy».
«… as the number of students within a class increased, foreign language performance and particularly motivation tended to decrease at both data collection times».
«… we found a strong negative effect for class size: as the number of students within a class increased, the foreign language performance and particularly motivation tended to decrease at both data collection times».
«… intensive exposure in the classroom is a more determinant factor than starting age».
«Real empirical evidence of long-term advantages emerging under such conditions is in fact not available. Indeed, there are, on the contrary, negative findings regarding the effects of early instruction going back a long way».
«These findings, along with similar findings which have accrued on this topic around the world over more than 40 years, seriously call into question the notion that in a normal school context an early start yields better results».
«Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the issue of the possibility of loss of face; education politicians are not willing to consider intensifying foreign language instruction over shorter periods of time later in the school curriculum (i.e. in secondary school), as this would almost certainly be considered ‘backpedalling’ and an admission of the failure of the new Education Acts».
«… all those educational authorities whose policies (and whose spending of public money) is founded on the premise that an early start does yield better results have a serious responsibility to re-examine the basis for such policies».
«Another use of available means which would undoubtedly bring perceptible benefits would be to significantly increase the amount of L2 input and interaction on offer in secondary school».