Navigationsweiche Anfang

Navigationsweiche Ende

Investigating cohort effects of early foreign language learning

by Nils Jaekel, Michael Schurig & Markus Ritter (University of Oulu, Technical University of Dortmund, Ruhr Universität Bochum; Finland & Germany)



With the rapid implementation of early foreign language programs in Germany, primary school teachers had to adapt to teaching a foreign language in grade 1 quickly (Schmelter, 2010). Teachers had little experience with language teaching to very young learners, and curricula and materials had not been tested (Edelenbos et al., 2006). EFLL programs and policies remain heavily impacted by regional and national educational or language policies.

The primary motivation for this replication study were key limitations of Wilden et al. (2013), who investigated the first-ever cohort of students that took EFL from grade 1. Six years later, more teachers have been trained with an EFL major. EFL teachers are more experienced in teaching English from grade 1, the first year of public school, and have developed routines. Materials and curricula have also been adapted to meet the needs of grade 1 students.

Research question: How does the first cohort of students in the sample learning English from grade 1 compare to

a.              a cohort that started learning English from grade 3 

b.              a cohort that started learning English from grade 1 six years after the initial cohort concerning listening and reading comprehension?

The study investigates the development of receptive proficiency between three large cohorts (N=7,289) of English as a Foreign Language students. The first cohort started in grade three, the second cohort was the first one that started in grade one, and the third cohort started in grade one, six years after the initial implementation. Propensity score matching was used to compare sampling weights of cohorts without the influence of confounding variables.

Results confirmed a slight advantage for an earlier start in primary school for students' receptive proficiency in grade 5. The results further suggest that proficiency scores did not improve from the first cohort of students starting in grade 1 to one six years later. Systemic changes in teacher education for language specialists in primary education may not yet have been able to affect student outcomes.






Edelenbos, Peter / Johnstone, Richard / Kubanek, Angelika (2006). The main pedagogical principles underlying the teaching of languages to very young learners: Languages for the children of Europe: Published Research, GoodPractice & Main Principles [Final Report of the EAC 89/04, Lot 1 study]. European Commission.


Schmelter, Lars (2010). “(K)eine Frage des Alters – Fremdsprachenunterricht auf der Primarstufe“. In: Zeitschrift Für Interkulturellen Fremdsprachenunterricht, 15 (1). 26-41.


Wilden, Eva / Porsch, Raphaela / Ritter, Markus (2013). „Je früher desto besser?: Frühbeginnender Englischunterricht ab Klasse 1 oder 3 und seine Auswirkungen auf das Hör- und Leseverstehen“. In: Zeitschrift für Fremdsprachenforschung, 24/2. 171-201.