The Social and Cultural Contexts of Second Language Acquisition in Young Children
Anne K. Soderman, Professor
Department of Family and Child Ecology
Michigan State University
Worldwide, many more young
children are required to learn
new languages
Increase in international
migration for financial and
political reasons
New emphasis in schools on
multiethnic, multicultural, and
multilingual education
Concerns about Second Language Acquisition
• What is optimal time to introduce?
• What kinds of learning contexts are
• What defines best practice in
curriculum, instruction, assessment?
• Are there gender differences?
Primary Language Acquisition
• Core to what makes us human
• Takes place early and naturally in a social context
• Requires mastery of
– Phonology (sounds)
– Vocabulary (words)
– Grammar (syntax)
– Discourse (sentences)
– Pragmatics (rules)
Second Language Acquisition
• Becomes more difficult – brain maturation brings early and
ongoing decline in ability
• Five factors essential:
– Age
– Aptitude (talent)
– Social (outgoingness with others)
– Psychological (motivation, willingness to take risks
– Low anxiety in environment
Stages of Second Language Acquisition
(Clarke, 1996; Tabors, 1997)
Stage 1 – Home language use
Stage 2 – Nonverbal period
Stage 3 – Telegraphic and formulaic speech and code switching
Stage 4 – Productive language
The Study
• Year long, August-June
• 3e (Explore, experiment, express) International Kindergarten, Beijing, China
• Dual-immersion program, Mandarin & English
• Best of the East and West pedagogy
• 23 preschool and kindergarten children, Ages 3-6
• 16 different family nationalities
Study Aim
• The aim of this study was to examine social behavior and
competence of children as they progressed through the stages
of second language acquisition.
• Over 100 2-3 hour observations, 6 different classrooms
• Pre- and Post-test, Social Competence and Receptive Vocabulary
Measure of Social Competence
• Social Competence Behavior Evaluation (SCBE) (LeFreniere &
Dumas, 1992)
– T scores <37 – significant adjustment difficulty
SCBE – Teacher Questionnaire, 80 Items,
Ages 30-78 Months
• 8 basic scales, negative/positive poles
– Emotional Adjustment
» Depressive-joyful
» Anxious-secure
» Angry-tolerant
– Social Interaction with Peers
» Isolated-integrated
» Aggressive-calm
» Egotistical-prosocial
– Social Interaction with Adults
» Oppositional-cooperative
» Dependent-Autonomous
SCBE 4 Summary Scales
• Social Competence – Summary of basic scales
• Internalizing Problems – 4/8 negative poles
– Depressive, anxious, isolated, dependent
• Externalizing Problems – 4/8 negative poles
– Angry, aggressive, egotistical, oppositional
• General Adaptation – Global Summary Score
Findings: Differences in Eastern
and Western Classrooms, T1
• Eastern teachers:
– Children viewed as more depressive (p<.01)
– Children viewed as more anxious (p<.01)
– Children viewed as more dependent (p<.01)
– Children lacking in overall social competence (p<.05)
• Western teachers:
– Children viewed as more egotistical and oppositional (p<.05).
Differences in Western and Eastern
Perceptions, Time 2
Eastern: Chinese teachers see children as more depressive (p<.01),
more isolated (p<.05)
Western: Social Competence and General Competence improve
significantly (p<.001 and p<.01). Children less angry, anxious,
isolated, oppositional; fewer internalizing problems (p<.01)
Conclusion 1:
Teachers in Western and
Eastern Classrooms rate
children’s competency
differently, based on
Conclusion 2:
Boys’ interactive play depends less on language.
Conclusion 3:
Boys are more likely to solve own problems
Conclusion 4:
Girls are more territorial about friendships and possessions.
Conclusion 5:
There was animosity and exclusion among children,
based on language and nationalities.
Conclusion 6:
Rules were extremely important to the boys, and
they were more likely to enact them.
The Future
• Research on 2nd Language Acquisition at 3e continued – Larger
• Findings from 2006/07 disseminated
Young Children, November 2007
International Journal of Early Childhood Education
• 3. New strategies in place to support social adjustment and
language acquisition
This project was supported by the Sun Wah Educational Foundation in Hong
Kong. The author would like to thank the teaching staff of 3e International
Kindergarten in Beijing, China, for their assistance.

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