Early language learning helps learners develop positive attitudes towards other cultures and languages as well as laying the foundation for language learning in later life. In 2002 the Heads of State and Government meeting in Barcelona called for further action to improve the mastery of basic skills, in particular by teaching at least two foreign languages from a very early age.
Owing to their lack of inhibition, young children are usually enthusiastic participants in oral exchanges, making early language learning a great developer of receptive and productive oral skills, as well as of enjoyment for language learning and communication.
The profile of a good teacher in early language learning includes not only language competence but also the specialist skills and knowledge of an effective nursery, infant or primary teacher. The teacher has a central role as he/she is likely to be the main source of input in the target language. He/she is also bringing an intercultural dimension to the learners, helping them learn about languages (i.e. developing language awareness, as well as developing strategies for language learning which will help in later life. The teacher also has to be able to understand the needs and capabilities of the young learners including the stage of mother tongue language development they have reached.

Good practice in early language learning

  1. Creating meaningful contexts. Storytelling provides children with a perfect framework for listening, speaking and spoken interaction.
  2. Language learning by imitation is very efficient at this age, for example repeating what a character in a story says, memorising a song, chant or poem.
  3. Establishing routines is important because this helps to structure what happens in the classroom.
  4. Maximum exposure to the target language not only from the teacher, but through a varied range of sources such as songs, DVDs, cue cards and any other resources available.
  5. Parental involvement: A clear definition of the objectives of the teaching and learning of a foreign language in primary education is essential for a shared understanding between the schools and the parents.
  6. Continuity and progression within primary and between primary and secondary is important for successful language learning and learner motivation.