Social, Emotional, and Linguistic Experiences of Developing Bilingual Preschoolers as They Learn English as an Additional Language (EAL)

By Amy Catherine Farndale, Pauline Harris and Michele de Courcy.

Published by The International Journal of Learning: Annual Review

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: August 18, 2016 $US5.00

The preschool population of three-to five-year olds living in many Australian and global cities is becoming increasingly linguistically diverse. Almost 300 languages are now spoken by children in Australia, and this change alerts early childhood practitioners to develop more thorough understandings of bilinguals’ preschool experiences. The following investigation reports on a descriptive case study at Gumtree Preschool, a preschool which offered some bilingual support to children in 2013. Seventy percent of enrolments were identified as having culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds and a number of educators were multilingual, speaking languages such as Vietnamese and Khmer. Past research on preschoolers learning EAL has focused on detailing the linguistic stages of additional language learning. This study however focused on social-emotional aspects of bilingual learners’ experiences along with children’s functional language, drawing from Halliday’s seven language functions. The research design merged Vygotskyian perspectives of sociocultural theory, the zone of proximal development (ZPD), and the concept of a more knowledgeable other (MKO), with an emotions-considerate approach to language research. Observations captured four focus children’s social interactions, emotional challenges, and functional language experiences over six months of preschool while learning EAL. Data included: field notes, movie-mode, audio and photographic recordings, reflective journaling, and interviews with parents and educators. Findings uniquely contrasted preschoolers who encountered bilingual first language support (a Khmer and a Vietnamese speaker) with preschoolers who did not have opportunities to speak their first language at preschool (a Burmese and an Albanian speaker). Several themes emerged from the thematic analysis and a priori coding using NVivo. The social aspect of the study revealed issues of “balancing bilingualism” and protecting first language skills as well as “branching out” to speak EAL. The role of “less knowledgable others”(LKO) who enhance EAL learners’ productive language was also identified in addition to MKOs. Additional emotional challenges concerning individuals’ “willingness to communicate” (WTC) in EAL, as well as displays of “anxiety” and challenges when “separating from parents,” were also highlighted. The functional language findings identified the common prevalance of informative and regulatory utterances and noted the limited number of heursitic questions. Implications of this study include: improving the availability and ratios of educators (particularly bilingual) to support both languages and ease anxiety, intentionally supporting both MKO and LKO forms of peer interactions as well as faciliating branching out and explicitly teaching questioning.

Keywords: Preschool, English, Bilingual, Language

The International Journal of Learning: Annual Review, Volume 23, 2016, pp.41-58. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: August 18, 2016 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 728.439KB)).

Amy Catherine Farndale

PhD Candidate, School of Education, The University of South Australia, Magill, South Australia, Australia

Pauline Harris

The Lillian de Lissa Chair in Early Childhood Research, School of Education, University of South Australia, Magill, South Australia, Australia

Michele de Courcy

Senior Research Fellow, School of Education, University of South Australia, Magill, South Australia, Australia