Language learning in pre-school education is expanding rapidly, although differences occur in its application and the role accorded to this level of education as a whole.
In some EU countries (Denmark, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands), the primary role of pre-school education is to act as a compliment to the child’s family life. While the family unit is considered to be responsible for much of the child’s general education, teachers deal more with socialisation and have no remit to give instruction.
In other countries (Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain), an emphasis is also placed on learning skills, and pre-school education is responsible for progressively familiarising the child with the world of school.
Parental involvement - Parents should be involved during the introduction of language learning, with a clear understanding of the objectives. This facilitates a supportive atmosphere outside the classroom.
Continuity - Children’s language learning can be problematic if transferred between different environments. Therefore, continuity in the teaching method is of the utmost importance.
Time - The overall amount of time devoted to early language learning (and especially to speaking) should be increased in primary schools, preferably with short, daily lessons as opposed to one or two longer lessons per week.
Teacher training - The quality of teaching is vital to the success of language learning.
- proficiency in the target language
- ability to analyse and describe that language
- knowledge of the principles of language acquisition
- teaching skills specifically adapted for young children
Opportunities for all pupils - For pupils with learning difficulties or who come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, it is important to develop the means to motivate and support early language learning.
Appropriate classes for different age groups - Suitable methods must be developed for each age group concerned. It is not enough to simply employ the same methodology with younger classes.
Linguistic diversity - While a choice of languages at primary level is desirable, for less common languages this may not be available at secondary level. Some schools may also insist on “international languages”. One solution might be to concentrate on raising young children’s awareness of the diversity of foreign languages.
Potential dangers - If early language learning is implemented without providing sufficient resources and without sufficient planning, it can be counter-productive. Disappointing results can lead to widespread disenchantment with the very concept of early language learning.