Research on form-focused instruction has provided support for the use of collaborative tasks in which learners focus their attention on formal aspects of language (e.g., Swain 1998), or on those parts of their interlanguage that deviate from the target language, and consciously reflect on their own language use (i.e., produce language-related episodes or LREs). LREs were originally defined by Swain (1998: 70) as “[…] any part of the dialogue in which students talk about the language they are producing, question their language use, or other- or self-correct.” A strand of research on LREs in different educational contexts examines the effect of learner-internal factors, such as target language proficiency and personality traits on the amount, type and resolution of LREs (e.g., Kim and McDonough 2008; Leeser 2004; Malmqvist 2005; Watanabe and Swain 2007) while completing collaborative tasks. This research has also examined the effect that pairing learners with same proficiency levels or having learners choose their partners have on the production of LREs in their amount, type and resolution (e.g., Storch 2002; Storch and Aldosari 2013; Watanabe and Swain 2007). Results suggest that pair dynamics and the relationships formed by the dyad members may be a more important consideration than proficiency. However, little is known about whether young English learners in content-and-language-integrated-learning (CLIL) programs pay attention to formal aspects of language and much less about the relationship between pair dynamics and/or learner proficiency and LREs in such programs.
Therefore, this study investigates the amount and types of LRES produced by primary education CLIL learners in an oral narration task. A total of 28 pairs from a public school in the Basque Country participated in the study. Participants were Basque/Spanish bilinguals learning English as their L3 and belonged to two different school grades (5 and 6). All the students were placed in pairs following two different criteria –half of the students were asked to select a partner to work with whereas the other half of the participants were paired according to the scores they obtained in the Key English Test (KET). All the pairs were asked to work together to do two things: (1) order a total of six pictures provided by the investigators to make a story and (2) tell the story depicted in the pictures orally in turns.
Results show that grade 5 and 6 students behave in the same way, both groups significantly producing more meaning than form LREs. As for the analysis of the proficiency-matched vs. self-selected pairs, it is found that the latter produce a significantly larger number of meaning LREs, no inter-group differences being found for form LREs. Besides, self-selected pairs significantly produce more resolved than unresolved meaning LREs, a pattern which is not discovered for proficiency-matched students. These findings indicate that young CLIL learners’ interactive behaviour in the L2, at least in terms of LRE production, seems to be more dependent on social/affective dimensions than on psyco-linguistic aspects like the level of proficiency.