Studies on pre-primary learners of foreign languages, their teachers, and parents: A critical overview of publications between 2000 and 2022

Marianne Nikolov & Jelena Mihaljević Djigunović
Language Teaching, 2023-05-02


This article offers insights into trends found in 74 empirical studies on teaching and learning a foreign language (FL) in pre-primary schools in 25 countries. The emerging picture is like that of primary-school programs: most are implemented in English, mostly owing to parents’ enthusiasm rather than evidence on long term FL benefits. Researchers focus on measurable outcomes in the FL rather than embedding studies in what early childhood education and language policies aim for: developing children not only in a FL, but also in their first language and emotional, cognitive, and social domains. A short literature review on how children learn languages and what necessary conditions include, is followed by the evidence empirical studies offer along themes found in them. Research has revealed encouraging results as well as weaknesses, whereas most authors frame their findings in positive terms. Overall, the younger the children the slower their rate of FL development. The field is dominated by FL experts; it would benefit from early childhood expertise to shift it towards the whole child. Although the increase in research is significant, more is necessary to build a model of pre-primary FL programs. A table available online complements the text.
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