SMILE - Studies on Multilingualism in Language Education

Project Goals

The interdisciplinary longitudinal SMILE project investigates the role of internal and external factors in the acquisition of a second language (L2) by young monolingual and multilingual learners in different primary school settings. A particular interest is on the linguistic input provided in the classrooms. The psycholinguistic focus of the study is combined with an applied focus, which aims at identifying successful educational practice for L2 acquisition in heterogeneous classrooms.

Primary school programs in the project include regular foreign language classes starting in first grade or third grade, and bilingual classrooms. The latter comprise non-intensive CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) programs with a small amount of bilingual units, as well as intensive immersion classroom, where 50%-75% of the curriculum are taught in the L2.

Variables the project focusses on include receptive lexical and grammatical L2 knowledge, individual cognitive skills such as working memory, phonological awareness and nonverbal intelligence, the learners' home language background, their socioeconomic background, the L2 contact duration and intensity of the L2 input, as well as the quality of the language input and the scaffolding techniques used by the L2 teachers (Couve et al. forthc., Kersten et al. 2010, Kersten 2014, Kersten & Rohde 2015, Maier et al. forthc., Rohde 2010, Steinlen et al. 2010, Weitz et al. 2010, Weitz 2015).

The data pool is collected in different L2 English school programs in Lower Saxony, Germany. Data elicitation is carried out at the end of the third and the fourth grade. Assessment instruments include standardised and non-standardised tests on receptive lexical and grammatical L1 and L2 knowledge and cognitive skills, parent questionnaires on the home and language background of the learners, an observation scheme for classroom L2 input as well as videography of classroom interaction. An additional case study will be carried out with two groups of learners with Turkish and Russian language background.

The project is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation's funding initiative Niedersächsisches Vorab, Lower Saxony, Germany.

Project Members

Head of Project
Prof. Dr. Kristin Kersten (English Department, Hildesheim University)

Project Partners
Prof. Dr. Werner Greve (Psychology Department)
Christoph Schüle (Department of Applied Educational Science)

Project Coordination
Marie Adler (English Department, Hildesheim University)
Katharina Ponto (English Department, Hildesheim University)

Other Project Members
Ann-Christin Bruhn (English Department, Hildesheim University)
Cirsten Carlson (English Department, Hildesheim University)
Sebastian Hemme (English Department, Hildesheim University)
Joanna Hirst-Plein (English Department, Hildesheim University)
Martin Koch (Psychology Department, Hildesheim University)
Dr. Heike Mlakar (English Department, Hildesheim University)
Dr. Anna Trebits (English Department, Hildesheim University)

Former Project Members
Katharina Hagenfeld (English Department, Hildesheim University)

Dissertations and Post-doc Projects

Habilitationsprojekte (Post-doc projects)

Mlakar, Heike (in prep.) Teaching reading and writing to young German EFL learners: A comparative study of synthetic phonics versus whole word instruction.

Trebits, Anna (in prep.) Environmental factors in cognitive and linguistic development: Socioeconomic status and bilingualism.

Dissertation projects

Adler, Marie (in Vorb.) Kognitive Variablen im frühen Fremdsprachenerwerb.

Carlson, Cirsten (2019) Elementary School L2 English Teachers' Language Performance and Children's Second Language Acquisition.

Hemme, Sebastian (in Vorb.) Untersuchung zur sprachlichen Entwicklung der Zweit- und Tertiärsprache bei mehrsprachigen Grundschulkinder.

Hirst-Plein, Joanna (in prep.) Cognitive Variables as a Predictor for L2 Phonological Recoding in Young Learners.

Mannion-Ghanbari, Alison (in. Vorb.) Faktoren interkultureller multilingualer Erziehung in bilingualen Kitas. (extern)

Ponto, Katharina (in Vorb.) Die Entwicklung des rezeptiven Wortschatzerwerbs im Kontext des Zweitspracherwerbs der Grundschule - eine testkritische Untersuchung.


For more information, check out profiles at and

Final report (public part, in German)

Work in progress:

Kersten, K. © TIOS - Teacher Input Observation Scheme. L2 Input Rating Schedule, Hildesheim University.

Kersten, K., Schüle, C., Steinlen, A.K.  (under review). "Variables affecting early foreign language acquisition." (request PREPRINT)

Kersten, K. , Bruhn, A.-C., Böhnke, J., Ponto, K., Greve, W. (in prep.) "Operationalizing foreign language teaching strategies in primary school classrooms."

Kersten, K., Greve, W., Ponto, K., Hagenfeld, K., Hemme, S., Schilder, L., Werkmeister, N. (forthc.). "Cognitive variables and other influencing factors in early second language acquisition." In T. Piske, A.K. Steinlen (eds.), Cognition and Second Language Acquisition. Tübingen: Narr. (peer reviewed)

Lenzing, A., Kersten, K., Ponto, K., Wiegang, J. (forthc.). "Developmental stages in L2 grammatical comprehension: Investigating and extending a processing framework."

Trebits, A., Adler, M, Kersten, K. (in prep.). "Cognitive variables and socioeconomic status in early second language acquisition." (request PREPRINT)


Greve, W., Kersten, K. (accepted). "Investigating cognitive-linguistic development in SLA – theoretical and methodical challenges for empirical research." In T. Piske, A.K. Steinlen (eds.), Cognition and Second Language Acquisition. Tübingen: Narr. (peer reviewed) (pdf PREPRINT)

Kersten, K. (accepted). "Der Zusammenhang von kognitiven Fähigkeiten und Mehrsprachigkeit: Individuelle und externe Variablen im frühen L2-Erwerb." In H. Böttger, J. Festman, T. Müller, T. (Hg.), Language Education & Acquisition Research: Blick auf den frühen Spracherwerb. Bad Heilbrunn: Klinkhardt Verlag.

Invited article:
Kersten K. (2019). "Einflussfaktoren im bilingualen Fremdsprachenerwerb." In A. Rohde, A.K. Steinlen (eds.), Sprachenvielfalt als Ressource begreifen: Mehrsprachigkeit in bilingualen Kindertagesstätten und Schulen (Band II). Berlin: dohrmannVerlag, 35-70. (pdf)

Steinlen, A.K., Kersten, K., Piske, T. (2019). "Mehrsprachige Jungen als Problemfall in bilingualen Kitas? Zur Rolle von Geschlecht und sprachlichem Hintergrund." In A. Rohde, A.K. Steinlen (eds.), Sprachenvielfalt als Methode begreifen: Mehrsprachigkeit in bilingualen Kindertagesstätten und Schulen (Band II). Berlin: dohrmannVerlag, 71-88.

Invited Article:
Kersten, K. (2016). "Early Language and Intercultural Acquisition Studies: Forschungsergebnisse des ELIAS-Projekts in bilingualen Kitas." In T. Piske, A.K. Steinlen (eds.), Bilinguale Programme in Kindertageseinrichtungen: Umsetzungsbeispiele und Forschungsergebnisse. Tübingen: Narr, 239-258. (peer reviewed)

Maier, E., Neubauer, L., Ponto, K., Couve de Murville, S., Kersten, K. (2016). "Assessing linguistic levels of L2 English in primary programs." In J.-U. Keßler, A. Lenzing, M. Liebner (eds.), Developing, Modelling and Assessing Second Languages. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 163-192. (peer reviewed)

Couve de Murville, S., Kersten, K., Maier, E., Ponto, K., Weitz, M. (2016). "Rezeptiver L2 Wortschatz in der Grundschule." In A.K. Steinlen, T. Piske (eds.), Wortschatzlernen in bilingualen Schulen und Kindertagesstätten. Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang, 85-121. (peer reviewed)

Invited article:
Kersten, K., Rohde, A. (2015). "Immersion teaching in English with young learners." In J. Bland (ed.), Teaching English Language to Young Learners:Critical Issues in Language Teaching with 3-12 Year Olds. London: Bloomsbury, 71-89. (peer reviewed)

Invited article:
Kersten, K. (2014). "Bilingual pre-primary schools: language acquisition, intercultural encounters and environmental learning." In S. Mourão, M. Lourenço (eds.), Early Years Second Language Education: International Perspectives on Theories and Practice. London: Routledge, 29-45. (peer reviewed)

Conference Papers

Trebits, A., Kersten, K. (2019) "Bilingual education trumps socioeconomic status: L1 and L2 development in primary school learners of English as a foreign language". EUROSLA (Lund University)

Kersten, K., Bruhn, A.-C. (2019). "The effect of L2 input and cognitively stimulating tasks on second language acquisition". EUROSLA (Lund University)

Kersten, K. (2019). "SLA, cognitive development and foreign language teaching: Variables affecting early foreign language learning in bilingual preschools and primary schools". Summer School on Multilingualism and Diversity Education (University of Hildesheim)

Kersten, K. (2019). "Sprachliche, kognitive und soziale Einflussfaktoren im frühen bilingualen Fremdsprachenerwerb". LEAR (Language Education & Acquisition Research Conference): Focusing Early Language Acquisition (Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt)

Kersten, K., (2019). "Die Rolle des sprachlichen Inputs im frühen Fremdsprachenerwerb". LEAR (Language Education & Acquisition Research Conference): Focusing Early Language Acquisition (Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt)

Carlson, C. (2019). "Teachers' L2 English performance and elementary children's development of English." Paper (rated ‘above par’) presented at The Next Generation. International Symposium of Bilingualism ISB12. (Edmonton, Canada)

Carlson, C. (2019). "Second language speaking: A study on the relationship of complexity, accuracy, and fluency." Language, Research, and Teaching in the 21st Century, LIF2019 (Dubrovnik, Croatia)

Mlakar, H. (2019). "Cognitive and linguistic variables influencing young learners’ L2 reading comprehension." 43rd Literacy Association of Ireland Conference (DCU St. Patrick's College, Ireland)

Kersten, K., Bruhn, A.-C., Greve, W. (2019). "Videografie von sprachlichem Input im Fremdsprachenunterricht und im bilingualen Unterricht: Ein Beobachtungsinstrument". Videografie in der Lehrer_innenbildung (Centrum für Lehrerbildung und Bildungsforschung, Universität Hildesheim)

Kersten, K., Bruhn, A.-C., Wegner, A. (2019). "Kognitive Fähigkeiten in zweisprachigen Kitas und Schulen". Fachtagung Gelebte Mehrsprachigkeit in Krippen, Kitas und Schulen (didacta, Köln, FMKS)

Kersten, K. (2019). "Gelingensbedingungen in bilingualen Grundschulen: Programm, sprachlicher Input, Feedback und weitere Faktoren". Arbeitstagung Schulversuch Lernen in zwei Sprachen – Bilinguale Grundschule Englisch (Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Unterricht und Kultus / Stiftung Bildungspakt Bayern) (pdf)

Kersten, K., Steinlen, A.K., Schüle, C. (2018). "Variables affecting early foreign language learning: Evidence from bilingual preschool". EUROSLA (Univ. Münster)

Bruhn, A.-C., Kersten, K. (2018). "Operationalizing teacher input: Empirical evidence on the effect of input on the L2 acquisition of young learners". EUROSLA (Univ. Münster)

Adler, M., Trebits, A., Kersten, K. (2018). "The role of cognitive variables, socioeconomic background and parenting style in the L2 acquisition of young learners". EUROSLA (Univ. Münster)

Carlson, C. (2018). "English teachers' lexical diversity and students' receptive vocabulary." Contemporary Means and Methods in ELT and Applied Linguistics. Language in Focus, LIF2018 (Thessaloniki, Greece)

Kersten, K., Bruhn, A.-C. (2018). "Comprehensible input and interaction in the primary classroom: Operationalizing foreign language teaching strategies as predictors for SLA". Niedersächsisches Kolloquium der Fremdsprachendidaktik (Universität Hildesheim)

Kersten, K. Bode, L., Coors, H., Gerhardy, K., Vilbrandt, K. (2018). "The implementation of classroom videography in teacher education". Niedersächsisches Kolloquium der Fremdsprachendidaktik (Universität Hildesheim)

Kersten, K. (2018). "Bilinguale Grundschulprogramme: Die Rolle von Lehrkräften und anderen Faktoren". Fachtagung Frühe Mehrsprachigkeit in Kita, Krippe und Schule (FMKS, didacta Hannover)

Kersten, K., Rohde, A. (2017). Panel Chairs: "Focus on Learner Language – Structures, Processes, Support". Deutsche Gesellschaft für Fremdsprachenforschung DGFF (Universität Jena)

Kersten, K. (2017). "Factors affecting bilingual learning and teaching". Bilingual Primary Education Conference (University of Nijmegen)

Adler, M., Trebits, A., Ponto, K., Kersten, K., Greve, W. (2017). "Cognitive variables and socioeconomic status in early second language acquisition." Bi-/Multilingualität - Sprachliches und literarisches Lehren und Lernen. 2. Kooperatives Symposium Universität Hildesheim – Freie Universität Bozen (Hildesheim University, 12.-13. Mai 2017)

Carlson, C. (2017). "L2 English teachers’ language performance: Complexity, accuracy, fluency." Language in Focus Conference (Cyprus)

Carlson, C. (2017).  "L2 English teachers’ language performance: Complexity, accuracy, fluency, and second language acquisition." 11th International Symposium of Bilingualism (University of Limerick, Ireland)

Kersten, K. (2016). "Variables influencing the acquisition of a second and third language - Evidence from the SMILE project." Workshop zum kindlichem L2/L3-Erwerb im (Grund-)Schulkontext (Universität Braunschweig, 28.10.2016)

Carlson, C. (2016). "Elementary school English teachers‘ language performance and SLA." Language in Focus Conference (University of Instanbul)

Hemme, S. (2015). "A comparison of primary school students in Germany learning English as a second language with students learning English as third language." EUROSLA (Aix-en-Provence)

Kersten, K., Greve, W. (2015). "Eine neue Sprache lernen - interdisziplinäre Perspektiven." 1. Kooperatives Symposium Freie Universität Bozen - Universität Hildesheim (University of Brixen, 15.-16. Juli 2015)

Ponto, K., Hemme, S., Kersten, K., Greve, W. (2015). "Variables of Multilingualism - Die Qualität fremdsprachlichen Inputs in der Grundschule." Deutsche Gesellschaft für Fremdsprachenforschung (Universität Paderborn)

Kersten, K. (2014). "Bilinguale Kitas – Chancen und Herausforderungen des bilingualen Fremdsprachenerwerbs im Kindesalter". Mehrere Sprachen – Mehrere Möglichkeiten: Bilinguale Bildung von Beginn an (IHK Magdeburg)

Greve, W., Kersten, K. (2014). "Entwicklungshilfe: Betrachtungen aus psychologischer und fachdidaktischer Perspektive". Kind - Kinder - Kindheiten (Kompetenzzentrum Frühe Kindheit Niedersachsen, Universität Hildesheim)

Teacher Training

Kersten, K. (2019). "Sprachsensibel im vorschulischen Bereich und in der Primarstufe unterrichten". Dreitägige Fortbildungsveranstaltung (inhaltliche Leitung), Washington DC (ZfA Schulmanagement weltweit)
Materials (English and German):
"Sessions 1-2: Principles of knowledge construction and (language) teaching" (pdf)
"Sessions 3-4: Principles of input and interaction" (pdf)
"Sessions 5-6: Principles of (second) language learning" (pdf)
"Sessions 7-8: Cognitive effects of bilingual teaching" (pdf)
"Session 10: Transition from pre-primary to secondary school + List of references" (pdf)

Kersten, K. (2019). "Teacher Input: Empirical evidence on the effect of input on the L2 acquisition of English in primary school". Pädagogische Hochschule Weingarten

Kersten, K. (2019). "Variables affecting early foreign language learning: Evidence from bilingual preschools and primary schools". Pädagogische Hochschule Weingarten

Kersten, K., Adler, M., Bruhn, A.-C., Ponto, K., (2018). "Faktoren, die den Spracherwerb beeinflussen: Ergebnisse aus Immersion und Fremdsprachenunterricht". Leineberg Schule (Göttingen)

Kersten, K., Becker, J. (2014). "Immersion in der Grundschule". Fortbildung (Dreisprachige Internationale Grundschule Magdeburg)

Pilot Studies and Student Qualification Papers

Koch, M. (in prep.). Empirical Validation of a Second Language Grammar Test. Unpublished interdiscipliary MA-Thesis (English Department / Psychology Department). Hildesheim University.

Conradi, L., Lietzau, V. (2019). Operationalizing Teacher Input in Bilingual and EFL Classrooms. Unpublished MA-Thesis. Hildesheim University.

Horn, J., Stoffregen, T. (2019). Teaching ESD Bilingually in Grades 3 and 5 – A Multiperspective Study. Unpublished MA-Thesis. Hildesheim University.

Rasche, V. (2019). The Relation Between Multilingualism and Self-Regulation. Unpublished MA-Thesis. Hildesheim University. Unpublished MA-Thesis. Hildesheim University.

Gerhardy, K. (2018). Teacher Attitudes Towards Content and Language Integrated Learning in Primary Religious Education. Unpublished MA-Thesis. Hildesheim University.

Pieczurczyk, I. (2017). The Operationalization of Scaffolding Techniques and Teaching Strategies in the Primary EFL Classroom. Unpublished MA-Thesis. Hildesheim University.

Böhnke, J., Bruhn, A.-C. (2017). The Use of Scaffolding Techniques in Primary EFL Classrooms. Unpublished MA-Thesis. Hildesheim University.

Von Bronsart, K. (2017). The Role of Socioeconomic Background in Language Acquisition. Unpublished BA-Thesis. Hildesheim University.

Conradi, L. (2017). Parent-Child Interactions in Language Acquisition. Unpublished BA-Thesis. Hildesheim University.

Bruhn, A.-C. (2015). Developing an Observation Scheme – The Application and Operationalization of Selected Categories. Unpublished BA-Thesis. Hildesheim University.

Schilder, L. (2015). The Relation Between Social Background and the Receptive L2 Skills of Fourth-Graders. Unpublished MA-Thesis. Hildesheim University.

Werkmeister, N. (2015). The Relation Between Cognitive Variables and Receptive Second Language Skills. Unpublished MA-Thesis. Hildesheim University. (Förderpreis der Universitätsgesellschaft der Stiftung Universität Hildesheim)


Verein für Frühe Mehrsprachigkeit an Kitas und Schulen e.V. (FMKS)
Projekt Fremdsprachenlerne in inklusiven Kontexten (FLINK)

Classes Integrating Evidence from the SMILE Project

1. Psycholinguistics: Cognitive Effects of Bilingualism

2. Didactics: Bilingual Teaching and Learning in Primary School

3. Second Language Acquisition

4. Empirical Research Methods

5. Introduction to Biligual Teaching and Learning

6. Introduction to Studying English

7. Projektband

Media and Press Articles

Science Slam an der Universität Hildesheim: 5. November 2019, 18:30 (Audimax)
Vortrag: "Wie lerne ich am besten eine Sprache?
" (youtube)

Über das Sprachenlernen im Allgemeinen und die Vorteile von bilingualem Lernen in der Grundschule im Besonderen

Zweisprachig aufwachsen (ZDF-Interview zum Thema Bilinguale Kitas, 28.03.2017) (Artikel zum Video)

Mehrsprachigkeit: Herausforderung oder Selbstverständlichkeit? (Interview BEGEGNUNG 4/2017; Bundesverwaltungsamt: ZfA Deutsche Auslandsschularbeit International, pdf)

Das große Sprachensterben (3SAT Dokumentation 27:20, 15.09.2016)

Mehrsprachigkeit (Interview ZEIT ONLINE, 18.11.2015)

Ins Sprachbad eintauchen (Gehirn und Geist, Spektrum der Wissenschaft, 05.2013)

Further References

Kersten, K., Rohde, A., Schelletter, C., Steinlen, A.K. (eds., 2010). Bilingual Preschools. Vol. I: Learning and Development. Vol II: Best Practices. Trier: WVT. (Final Report pdf)

Rohde, A. (2010). "Receptive L2 lexical knowledge in bilingual preschool children." In K. Kersten, A. Rohde, C. Schelletter, A.K. Steinlen, Anja (eds.): Bilingual Preschools. Vol. I: Learning and Development. Trier: WVT, 45-68.

Steinlen, A.K., Neils, K., Piske, T., Trumpp, C. (2010): "SETK 3-5: A Developmental Language Test on German for 3-to-5-Year-Old Children." In K. Kersten, A. Rohde, C. Schelletter, A.K. Steinlen, Anja (eds.): Bilingual Preschools. Vol. I: Learning and Development. Trier: WVT, 119-135.

Weitz, M., Pahl, S., Flyman Mattsson, A., Buyl, A. & Kalbe, E. (2010). "The Input Quality Observation Scheme (IQOS): The Nature of L2 Input and its Influence on L2 Development in Bilingual Preschools." In K. Kersten, A. Rohde, C. Schelletter, A.K. Steinlen, Anja (eds.): Bilingual Preschools. Vol. I: Learning and Development. Trier: WVT, 5-44.

Weitz, M. (2015). Die Rolle des L2-Inputs in bilingualen Kindergärten. Inquiries in Language Learning. Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang.