In Norway, children encounter English daily through listening to music, using streamed media, playing online games and more. To describe such activities children engage in just because they want to, the term Extramural English (EE) is used ("English outside the walls" of the classroom). Children can learn English informally through EE, which complements their formal learning of English. Regarding offering English instruction in Norwegian schools, it starts in grade 1 when learners are 6 or 7 years old. This starting age of formal English instruction differs between countries. While many start early, others wait and introduce English later. This is the case in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, where French is the first foreign language taught and English instruction starts in the 7th or 8th grade when learners are 12-13 or 13-14 years old. In both regions, Norway and Flanders, the technological infrastructure is similar so regardless of setting, children can be expected to have similar access to English. For this reason, Norway and Flanders are suitable settings when investigating the role of age at the start of instructed learning of English. By comparing learners of English from both settings on several language-proficiency measures in grades 1, 6, and 10 and by interviewing them, and by collecting data about their EE habits, it is possible to get an indication of whether, and to what extent, formal English instruction matters for the development of English proficiency. It will also be possible to see whether the resources invested in offering formal English instruction from grade 1 "pay off" in terms of better English proficiency among Norwegian children when compared to a similar sample from Flanders. STAGE aims to advance our understanding of the relation between language input and language acquisition by investigating the mechanisms underlying language learning among learners engaged in EE, but who have different starting ages for formal English instruction.
The STAGE project, STarting AGe and Extramural English, aims to advance our understanding of the relation between language input and language acquisition by investigating the mechanisms underlying language learning among English-as-Foreign-Language learners who are exposed to large amounts of English language input outside of school (Extramural English, EE), but who have different starting ages for formal English instruction in school. The project is the first of size to investigate the impact of an early start in input-rich contexts. The regions involved are Norway, early start (grade 1, age 6-7), and Flanders, late start (grade 7, age 12-13, or grade 8, age 13-14). The main objective of STAGE is to provide new and crucial insights into the input-acquisition relationship by unraveling the relative contribution of formal instruction and EE to learners’ English proficiency. We will use several methods and analyze and compare (across age groups and settings) test measures of English vocabulary knowledge, reading comprehension, and speaking, as well as data from learner interviews and speaking tests. Results will show what learners are capable of as a result of exposure to EE and inform teachers about how to boost English proficiency outside the classroom, and about how to face challenges of increasingly large individual differences in classrooms. STAGE will contribute substantially to language learning theory by addressing important, current scientific challenges in the field of Second Language Acquisition, to research by delivering two new reliable tests (vocabulary, speaking) designed specifically for very young learners, and to society about the optimal starting age for formal instruction – results relevant to policy-makers and politicians. The most critical challenges are anticipated in the collection of data, as it involves children and adolescents. However, the researchers have long experience of projects with young participants, so these challenges can be met.