Which language?

HOME > Why learn languages early? > Which language? > Our approach > UK policy

How to order
Catalogue request
What's in a pack?
Big Book CD-ROMs
EURO Play-money
Our approach
Which language?
Visiting northern France
Contact us

About 80% of UK primary schools that currently teach any foreign language teach French.
Is such concentration a good thing?

Should you look at teaching more than one language in primary school?

Which are Europe's most-talked languages?

( based on a contribution by Graham Davies to LinguanetForum, 25 August 2006)

Which iwestern European language gives you most people to speak to?

A survey in 2005 of languages spoken by people in the European Union (EU) + candidate coountries (Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Turkey) asked EU citizens which language they spoke as their Mother Tongue (MT) and first Foreign Language (FL).

The figures for the main languages are:

English: 51% (MT 13%, FL 38%)

German: 32% (MT 18%, FL 14%)

French: 25% (MT 12%, FL 13%)

Italian: 16% (MT 13%, FL 3%)

Spanish: 15% (MT 9%, FL 6%)

This Eurobarometer survey was published in February 2006.

Source: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_243_en.pdf

Overall English is spoken almost everywhere in the countries surveyed - generally by younger, better educated people.

There are more German MT speakers, followed by English and Italian speakers. Italian speakers are concentrated in and around Italy, while German speakers are spread more widely.

Studying languages at school

Overall, 77% of European citizens considered that children should learn English as their first FL. Only the UK, Ireland (64%) and Luxembourg (8%) considered French to be the first FL that children should learn.

When asked which two FLs UK children should learn at school, UK citizens answered:

French: 77%

Spanish 39%

German: 34%

German came higher in most other European countries and French and Spanish came lower.

Europe's most-talked languages

Back to top of page

Back to top of page

The case for language diversification

What are your primary school objectives?
[See "Why PMFL"] We are educating today's children for an international world of rapid communications and travel. To be a citizen of the world in the 21st century, they will need to communicate with people from other cultures and languages.

The willingness and ability to acquire languages and openness to other cultures will open the door to participating in this world.

Primary school can prepare children by giving them confidence that they CAN learn languages, they CAN communicate with people from other cultures. It can offer them a view of the diversity of the world, before they accept and absorb national stereotypes.

Should you teach the same MFL as your secondary schools?
The old idea that children should select just one language and study that alone throughout their school career and maybe into university makes little sense today. No-one wants to restrict their contacts to one small part of the world.

Learning a little of a foreign language and being introduced to other cultures at primary school is worthwhile in itself. It's part of establishing an awareness of the rest of the world and its diversity and richness. A successful early experience in learning any foreign language develops useful confidence and skills that are transferable to picking up other languages in later life.

The range of languages taught in UK secondary schools is sadly diminishing - but it is worth checking what languages are offered by those serving your school's catchment area. But why do we often assume that children need to study just one language throughout their school career? The best gift you can offer your children is the knowledge that they CAN succeed at communicating in a foreign language - give them the taste for it, and maybe they won't go through life thinking that it's all too difficult...

It is also important to ensure that, when children move up to their next school, they are not demotivated by having to start at the beginning and repeat material they have covered already. That is why Early Start Languages welcomes the government initiative to encourage and help finance Language Colleges and other secondary schools to form partnerships with their local feeder schools. Our video-packs offer primary schools their own appropriate course materials with a different cross-curricular approach to secondary school textbooks - you can use it with confidence.

Secondary MFL teachers need to be aware of what MFL work their pupils have done before, and to be confident to take it into account and build on it. If liaison is not initiated by the secondary school, then a good primary school should make efforts in that direction.

Primary MFL experience should aim first at building confidence, then at encouraging awareness of other languages and cultures, and at fostering transferable language-learning skills. This will be a life-long activity - it will not stop when they leave school.

So let's forget the idea that you teach PMFL simply to get children better grades in GCSE or A-levels. Whatever language you teach, it will be worthwhile to children if it broadens their horizons and helps them learn more later.

Should you teach just ONE language at primary school?
The Discovering Languages Project sponsored by ASCL, the influential Association of School & College Leaders,makes an interesting case for introducing languages into primary schools through a multi-lingual awareness programme.

Makes language learning fun

Gives pupils an understanding of how to learn different languages. Instead of studying just one language, pupils experience the basics of the basics of up to six languages, and this may include Latin

Develops listening skills and stimulates communication

Can be delivered flexibly in school, enhancing cross-curricular links

Promotes cultural and linguistic diversity

Does not need specialist teachers.
The classroom teacher can deliver the lessons and 'teach' the language by using excellent materials which do not require specialist teachers. In practice, it is often 'co-learning', often drawing on the native language skills of others in the class or school community

Eases the transition to secondary schools

Find out more:

Are some languages easier for beginners?
If you're choosing between French, German, Spanish or Italian - or most other European languages - the short answer is that the differences are marginal. There are some UK primary schools that teach children languages with different script patterns like Japanese, Greek or community languages like Urdu.

Don't they all speak English?
Spanish and Chinese are also fast-growing world languages - and "International-English" is not the same as UK-English. In most Western European countries, a majority of people still do not speak English - and if you want to communicate with them effectively, it's better to know something of their own language. Remember the saying, "you can buy from foreigners with English, and if you want to sell to them, you need to speak their language."

Links across the curriculum
Learning something of any language and culture offers many cross-curricular opportunities in the primary classroom for work in geography, history, art, music - a European dimension, and often a world dimension too.

  • Spanish and Portuguese are widely spoken in Latin America
  • German is spoken in Austria and Switzerland - and is a common second language in Eastern Europe.
  • French is spoken in many Africa countries, Canada, Polynesia and some West Indian islands

Holiday & leisure opportunities to speak (and listen to) other languages?
France, Germany and Spain are less than two hours flying time away, and many of your class will spend family holidays in Europe. Many towns in UK have links with European towns through twinnings and exchange programmes. You may have access to satellite and cable TVs that carry French-, German- or Spanish-speaking channels.

Your class may well know the names of several European football teams - there could be a French-, German, or Spanish-speaking player in your local team...

Business links with your local community?
Businesses in your area may have links with French-, German- or Spanish-speaking countries. So there are likely to be native-speakers in your community who might be persuaded to give your children a chance to practice speaking and listening to their language.

Check out your local supermarkets and shopping centres for goods from Europe....

Developing links with native-speakers?
Many European primary schools now teach English, and are keen to develop links with UK schools. (see European partner-finding service and other information about grants, etc.). Valuable exchanges can be based on e-mails, video-conferencing - or by swapping parcels of home-made videos and everyday items.

Specialist school travel firms do offer attractively-priced packages for trips between France, Germany, Spain and UK.

Language diversification

Support with teaching other languages:
Most countries offer some official support - often quite generous - to young people learning about their language and culture. They also organise courses to help teachers improve their own language skills, and their familiarity with the culture. Help with foreign language assistants and with contacting schools interested in excahnge links is also generally available.

The French Embassy Service Culturelle supports French teaching in UK schools with courses, publications and materials.
French Embassy educational website
A list of useful French links to get started

The German Goethe-Institut [the equivalent of the British Council] supports German teaching with courses, materials through its centres in London, Manchester, York, Belfast and Dublin. There are regular day-courses for primary teachers, and an annual residential course in Stauffen [where our video-pack "3-2-1 LOS!' was recorded].
Goethe-Institut London website

The Spanish Embassy Education Office offers a series of services, publications, courses and resources in support of Spanish teaching through its three resource centres, in Belfast, Edinburgh and London. An annual residential "language-and-culture" course for primary and secondary teachers is held in Pamplona.

For further information contact the Spanish Embassy Education Office on
Conseieria de Educación y Ciencia
20 Peel Street, London W8 7PD
Tel: 0171 243 8535 or 0171 727 2462
Fax: 0171 229 4965, E-Mail:


Back to top of page
Our approach
UK Policy
www.earlystart.co.uk Updated: 25 August 2006 Copyright © 1995-2006 Invicta Media/Early Start Languages