Longitudinal study of linguistic progression

In September 2014, foreign languages became a compulsory part of the primary school curriculum in England, with the clear expectation that learners should make “substantial progress in one language” (DfE, 2013) throughout the four years of language learning at primary school (age 7-11). However, schools face considerable difficulties (e.g., limited time, low teacher confidence and expertise, limited guidance), in particular due to the lack of clarity regarding core content and learning outcomes for language learning at this level.

Through a 4-year longitudinal study, we will examine young learners’ language development in French, German and Spanish over four years of learning at primary school in England. Pupils (aged 7 to 11) from our partner schools will complete a set of language tests twice per year (commencing January 2023), which will measure the development of understanding and use of target language vocabulary, grammar, and phoneme-grapheme correspondences, receptive (listening, reading) and productive (writing, speaking) skills. Our school partners are chosen on the basis that their language provision is ‘optimal but realistic’ for this context (offering 45-60 minutes of teaching per week following a defined scheme of work).

The findings of the study will build a full and detailed picture of how foreign language knowledge develops in young learners in a primary school setting and shed light on the factors that affect language learning in this context. The data generated through the longitudinal study will help to identify realistic learning outcomes and benchmarks for primary languages, following on from key recommendations in the 2019 White Paper published by the Research in Primary Languages Network.


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