Earlier is not always better

As opposed to natural language acquisition, where small children are clearly at an advantage, the systematic language learning that we practice in schools is more appropriate for adolescents or adults. Due to their cognitive capacities, they are able to learn linguistic rules in a systematic way. Hence, even after five years of English instruction, the early starters did not show any measurable advantage.

Which conclusions can be drawn from these results with regard to the Swiss educational policy? We know now: early foreign language instruction is not particularly useful for a successful school career. However, it does not do any harm either. If we want to keep it, the expert recommends the introduction and support of programs that promote more intensive exposure to English in both primary and secondary school (such as immersion programs).

Charlotte Meisner