Navigationsweiche Anfang

Navigationsweiche Ende

Starting early or late? Parental perspectives on the onset of English at primary school

by Sonja Brunsmeier, Raphaela Porsch & Dominik Rumlich (Universities Paderborn, Magdeburg, Vechta; Germany)


For more than 15 years, all German pupils have started to learn a foreign language (English or in some cases French) at primary school – an educational objective advocated, inter alia, by the Council of Europe (1997). This usually meant two lessons per week. Some federal states offered it from year 3 onwards, while others, such as Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), started in the second term of year 1. Recently, the latter moved it back to year 3.

The above timeline indicates that the teaching of foreign languages at primary school in Germany on a large scale is a rather recent phenomenon, hence the body of research is rather limited by default – and partly inconclusive with differing interpretations and mixed empirical results on the effectiveness of an early start (Wilden & Porsch 2020; compare, for instance, Jaekel et al. 2017 and Frisch 2017).

One blind spot of the existing research in the debate “early versus late start” is the parents. Besides family education, institutional caretakers, and school, parents play a pivotal role in the care-taking, education and development of young children (Tietze et al. 2012). Their commitment might hence be valuable and influential for the successful implementation of early English teaching. Yet, there are hardly any studies on parental views on early foreign language learning in primary school (for an exception see Carmel 2022) and none has been conducted in Germany yet.

The aim of the EUBE study (“Englischunterrichtsbeginn aus Elternsicht”) is to explore parental views on teaching English at primary school and to identify potentially influential factors, such as their occupation, i.e. (English) teachers vs. other occupations, educational aspirations, attitudes towards English, their own language biography, etc. The study implements a mixed-methods design, consisting of a questionnaire with open and closed questions in phase one and interviews in phase two. The presentation will report on the data of phase one, which was gathered on the basis of (adapted) items and scales from existing instruments (e.g. Wendt et al. 2016 on parental support of their children’s English studies or Council of Europe 2001/2018 on objectives of foreign language learning) supplemented by newly-developed items if necessary (e.g. knowledge and evaluation of children’s English classes). The survey started in the middle of January, 2022, ran until April, 2022, and was administered nationwide. So far, almost 2000 parents took part in the survey.


The presentation will include first results comprising descriptive and analytical statistics (e.g. means, correlations, regression analyses, ANOVAs), which will be discussed in the light of the most recent developments in early foreign language learning.






Carmel, Rivi (2022). “Parents’ discourse on English for young learners”. In: Language Teaching Research 26 (1). 141-159.


Council of Europe (1997). “Council resolution of 16 December 1997 on the early teaching of European Union languages (98/C 1/02)”. In: Official Journal of the European Communities 1. 2-3. Retrieved from:


Council of Europe (2001). Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teachong, Assessment. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.


Council of Europe (2018). Common European framework of reference for languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Companion volume with new descriptors. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.


Frisch, Stefanie (2017). Stellungnahme zum Antrag der Fraktion der AfD „Englischunterricht in der Primarstufe abschaffen – Deutsch und Mathematik dafür stärken!“ (Drucksache 14/794). Retrieved from:


Jaekel, Nils / Schurig, Michael / Florian, Merle / Ritter, Markus (2017). ”From early Starters to Late Finishers? A Longitudinal Study of Early Foreign Language Learning in School”. In: Language Learning 67 (3). 631-664.


Müller, Dagmar / Beck, Mira / Gerleigner, Susanne / Guglhör-Rudan, Angelika / Hein, Kerstin / Schwaß, Mariann / Stemmler, Mark / Walper Sabine (2015). Evaluation des Bundesprogramms „Elternchance ist Kinderchance – Elternbegleitung der Bildungsverläufe der Kinder“. Abschlussbericht. München: DJI. Retrieved from:


Tietze, Wolfgang / Becker-Stoll, Fabienne / Bensel, Joachim / Eckhardt, Andrea G. / Haug-Schnabel, Gabriele / Kalicki, Bernhard / Keller, Heidi / Leyendecker, Birgit (2012). NUBBEK. Nationale Untersuchung zur Bildung, Betreuung und Erziehung in der frühen Kindheit. Bochum: NUBBEK. 


Wendt, Heike / Bos, Wilfried / Goy, Martin / Jusufi, Donieta (2017). TIMSS 2015. Skalenhandbuch zur Dokumentation der Erhebungsinstrumente und Arbeit mit den Datensätzen. Münster / New York: Waxmann. 


Wilden, Eva / Porsch, Raphaela (2020). ”National foreign language policies for primary schools.” In: Teaching for Young Learners 2 (2). 192-212.