The long-term proficiency of early, middle, and late starters learning English as a foreign language at school
A narrative review and empirical study
Baumert, J., Fleckenstein, J., Leucht, M., Köller, O., & Möller, J. (2020). The long-term proficiency of early, middle, and late starters learning English as a foreign language at school: A narrative review and empirical study. Language Learning, 70(4), 1091-1135. https://doi.org/10.1111/lang.12414
This is a comprehensive study on a topic that continues to merit attention: the potential long-term advantages of an early start in classroom foreign language learning. It addresses questions that are important both at a theoretical level (how does age of acquisition of an L2 impact eventual proficiency) and at a practical/policy level (how should government and educational institutions design L2 instruction to be maximally beneficial). The study investigates the effects of early-start English on the receptive English skills of nearly 20,000 students in Year 9 classes in Germany. The early starters are compared with middle and late starters, and the results show only slight differences in the English reading and listening comprehension of the three groups. This finding confirms that of previous studies in a more robust design than research hitherto. The study also demonstrates a critical new insight: the reason for the lack of observed benefit of an early start is poor continuity of instruction between primary and secondary institutions. Additionally, the results indicate that children of immigrants are less likely to benefit from early school exposure to English as a foreign language if their command of the majority language of the community is weak; such children appear to be better served by waiting until they have developed a strong foundation in the language of schooling before beginning their learning of English.