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The transition from elementary school bilingual programs to regular foreign language lessons in secondary schools: A longitudinal perspective

by Anja Steinlen, Daniela Schwarz & Thorsten Piske (Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg; Germany)



It is well known that the transition from elementary to secondary school may constitute a critical bridge in foreign language (FL) learning, due to changes in teaching strategies and assessment practices and a shift from an oracy to a literacy focus which may affect students’ long-term FL proficiency development and success (e.g. Jaekel et al., 2021). The main objective if this longitudinal study is to explore the development of a particular subgroup of students, i.e., students who were enrolled in a bilingual program in elementary school and who afterwards attended regular English lessons in from grade 5 to 7 in secondary school. We will address the following research questions: What is the students’ attitude towards bilingual learning in elementary school? How do they perceive English-as-subject lessons in secondary school? Do their attitudes change over time? Are their attitudes influenced by age, gender and enrolment in different types of secondary school, i.e. Mittelschule, Realschule, Gymnasium? Our original sample included 400 fifth graders in more than 120 secondary schools in Bavaria, Germany. 100 of these students completed a questionnaire in grades 5, 6 and 7. In addition, we obtained questionnaire data from 70 secondary school English teachers who taught these students in grades 5, 6 or 7.

Preliminary results indicate that the students rate the elementary school bilingual program as very positive (cf. Böttger & Müller, 2020), with only a small decline over the years. The students’ positive attitudes towards English-as-subject lessons in secondary school decrease from grade 5 to 7, probably due to a general decrease in students’ interest in school subjects (Schurtz & Artelt, 2014). Moreover, whereas the English teachers in grade 5 had the impression that students from bilingual elementary school programs outperformed their peers from regular programs (Steinlen et al.,, this difference seemed to diminish by the end of grade 7. In our discussion the focus is on how students who attended a bilingual program in elementary school can be adequately supported in regular English lessons in secondary school, even if they are mainly taught together with students who had previously not attended such a program.






Böttger, Heiner / Müller, Tanja (2020). Schulversuch Lernen in zwei Sprachen. Bilinguale Grundschule Englisch Bayern. Abschlussbericht der wissenschaftlichen Evaluation.


Jaekel, Nils / van Ackern, Isabelle / Schurig, Michael / Ritter, Markus (2021). ”Investigating the transition from elementary to secondary school: student perspectives of the continuum and receptive language proficiency”In: The Language Learning Journal, DOI: 10.1080/09571736.2021.1879906.


Schurtz, Irene M. & Artelt, Cordula (2014). Die Entwicklung des Fachinteresses Deutsch, Mathematik und Englisch in der Adoleszenz: Ein personenzentrierter Ansatz. Diskurs Kindheits- und Jugendforschung 3, 285-301.


Steinlen, Anja / Schürmann, J. /Piske, Thorsten. “In print. Wie geht es in Klasse 5 weiter? Vorläufige Ergebnisse der Anschlussuntersuchung zur Bilingualen Grundschule Englisch“. In: Böttger, Heiner / Schlüter, Norbert (ed.). Tagunsband zur 5. FFF-Konferenz 2021 in Eichstätt.