A multiple case study on the effects of temperamental traits in Chinese preschoolers learning English

Sun, H., de Bot, K. & Steinkrauss, R., 1-Dec-2015, In : International Journal of Bilingualism. 19, 6, p. 703-725 23 p.

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  • A multiple case study on the effects of temperamental traits in Chinese

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The current study tests Clarke’s (1999) findings on phases and variations of the English development of young second language learners in a Chinese EFL setting and explores the cause of these variations under the following questions:
1. What verbal and nonverbal behavior can be observed in Chinese preschoolers in an English-learning classroom?
2. What variation can be observed among the children in such a class?
3. To what extent can the observed variation be interpreted on the basis of the children’s temperament?
Four Chinese children have been followed longitudinally in China and their developmental pattern and variation were compared with what has been found in Clarke’s study (1999). The variation has been related to children’s different temperamental scores.

Data and Analysis
The four three-year-old English learners in China were videoed and audio-recorded in class for five months. Their class data were transcribed with CLAN and analyzed with SPSS. Their temperamental information was provided by the parents by filling in NYLS questionnaire. The temperamental traits were analyzed with the software MentalList 2.

During the initial five months, the four Chinese preschoolers’ English learning behavior developed from nonverbal reactions, such as nonverbal repetitions to verbal reactions, such as English responses, generally being in line with the first two phases outlined by Clarke (1999). Children varied significantly in terms of time of entry into the verbal phase, in the extent of interaction with teachers and peers and in learning style.
Temperamental traits such as the adaptability and mood were found to be related to differences in development. A higher level of adaptation, a higher level of activity, more initial reactions and a positive mood were found to be related with more verbal and nonverbal repetitions and responses. A lower level of activity and less initial reactions were shown to be related to a smaller amount of verbal and nonverbal production. Finally, a negative mood and a higher threshold of responsiveness seem to have led to the teacher misreading a child’s needs and thus hampered that child’s motivation and incidental learning.

Temperamental traits have been introduced into child foreign language development and successfully shown to capture the difference of children’s learning behaviors.

Data on temperamental characteristics might enable the teachers to get to know the young learners quicker and better and thus support their teaching and facilitate their teaching handover.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)703-725
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number6
Early online date5-Jun-2015
Publication statusPublished - 1-Dec-2015


  • Early foreign language development, temperament, , phase, variation

ID: 15097482