University of Oulu

Nils Jaekel, Michael Schurig & Markus Ritter (2022) Investigating cohort effects of early foreign language learning, The Language Learning Journal, DOI: 10.1080/09571736.2022.2108124

Investigating cohort effects of early foreign language learning

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Author: Jäkel, Nils1; Schurig, Michael2; Ritter, Markus3
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Education, Oulu, Finland
2Technische Universitat Dortmund, Dortmund, Germany
3Ruhr-Universitat Bochum, Bochum, Germany
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.5 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Informa, 2022
Publish Date: 2022-08-26


With the rapid implementation of early foreign language programmes in the state of North-Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, first for Grade 3 (ages 8–9 years) in 2003 and then from Grade 1 (ages 6–7 years) in 2008, primary school teachers had to adapt to teaching a foreign language in Grade 1 quickly. Teachers had little experience with language teaching to very young learners, and curricula and materials had not been tested prior to implementation. This study investigates the development of receptive English proficiency across three large cohorts (N = 7,289). The first cohort started in Grade 3, the second cohort was the first to start in Grade 1, and the third cohort started in Grade 1, six years after the initial implementation. Propensity scores were 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 indicate 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.

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Series: Language learning journal
ISSN: 0957-1736
ISSN-E: 1753-2167
ISSN-L: 0957-1736
Volume: In press
Issue: In press
DOI: 10.1080/09571736.2022.2108124
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 6121 Languages
Funding: This work was supported by Stiftung Mercator GmbH.
Copyright information: © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.