Languages policy and English for young learners in early education

Authored by: Richard Johnstone

The Routledge Handbook of Teaching English to Young Learners

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138643772
eBook ISBN: 9781315623672
Adobe ISBN:


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An early start in learning an additional language as a focus of national/international educational policy became prominent in the 1950s. Following a major World War, a new view of children’s education was sought that would help prepare them for a more open society. This represented a move away from viewing children as unilingual and unicultural and towards viewing early language learning as beneficial not only to children’s languages but also to their cognitive, social, intercultural and other development and to their awareness of key values such as citizenship. Since then, waves of increasingly large-scale policy initiatives have ensued, interspersed with periodic setbacks. By far the most widely taught language is English for Young Learners (EYL). By the early twenty-first century, EYL had become truly global, with many governments substantially and continually investing in resources for it. This shift led to a number of critical issues/questions in primary school contexts, such as: ‘The Early Start’, e.g., how solid is the evidence in favour of an early start?; ’Time Allocation’, e.g., what are the effects of allocating different amounts of time to EYL, and in particular what can be achieved within the most common and very limited time allocation?; ‘English and Other Languages’, e.g., with the massive expansion of EYL, what will be the effects not only on the diversity of languages in primary school education but also on children’s general learning and progress at school, especially if their first language is a local minority language that is squeezed out of the curriculum? Nonetheless, if policy makers show sensitivity and foresight in relation to critical issues such as these, EYL can play a positive role in children’s education at primary school; a number of implications may help achieve this aim.

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