A research team from around the world examined how English lessons in primary schools affect language proficiency in secondary school. The results of the study showed that children who began learning English in the first grade were more proficient in reading comprehension and listening in grade nine than those who started in grade 3. This study was an extension of an earlier paper, which only examined the period from the seventh grade to the ninth. It didn’t show any learning advantages.
In cooperation with Dr. Michael Schurig, the Technical University of Dortmund, the team led by Professor Markus Ritter (RUB), and Dr. Nils Jakel (University of Oulu, Finland) describes their findings in ” System“. It is available online. Researchers are part of the university consortium UNIC: European University of Post-Industrial Cities.
Data from North Rhine-Westphalia
Data from approximately 3,000 students participated in the longitudinal study in North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany) between 2010 and 2014. Similar data were used in the previous study. The researchers published the results in 2017. They had previously compared two cohorts. One had begun English lessons in grade 1, the other in Grade 3. They had compared the English listening and reading comprehension of both the five- and seven-year-olds. Another set of data was used to assess the English performance of grade nine children.
Previous research had shown that children who started English lessons in primary school earlier than others in grade 7 were less proficient in listening comprehension and reading comprehension than those who started English lessons in grade 3. The new analysis revealed that in grade nine, English lessons were more effective for early learners than those who started later.
Other background variables, such as gender, language or cognitive ability, could not explain the difference in performance between the seventh-grade and ninth grade.
Transition between school types decisive
Nils Jakel, who was previously at RUB and is now at the University of Oulu, believes that the best explanation is that the lessons after the transition period in secondary schools have been more adapted to the needs of the children who begin to take English lessons early. This explanation is consistent with research that shows the transition between school types plays a key role for the long-term success in English language education. It is important to optimize the didactic coordination of English classes at the intersections of school types. It is possible that students will benefit from having more implicit language lessons in primary schools.
Researchers state that they see a need for more research to determine factors for language education success and recommend that educational policy be well-coordinated and evidence-based.