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Teaching young children English no danger to their Dutch

14 March 2012

Four and five-year-olds are very capable of learning English. This is the outcome of a study into the effectiveness of early foreign language teaching (vvto – vroeg vreemdetalenonderwijs ) in primary school and the influence this has on Dutch language skills of pupils. The research, which began in 2009 at the request of Minister of Education, Culture and Science Marja van Bijsterveldt, shows that pupils reach a higher level of English while retaining their Dutch capability. The department of Applied Linguistics of the University of Groningen is conducting the research project entitled ‘The Foreign Languages in Primary School Project’ (FLiPP) together with Utrecht University and the ‘European Platform – Internationalising Education’.

Higher level

Over the past decade, increasing numbers of enthusiastic teachers have been teaching English in the junior years of primary school. By now there are over 650 schools in the Netherlands that provide early foreign language teaching in English, and a few dozen that teach their pupils French, German or Spanish. The progress in English of four and five-year-olds was measured at a number of schools. Although the final results of this study are not expected to become available until late 2012, initial results quite logically show that children who have been taught English from the first year of primary school (i.e. from age four) have a higher level of proficiency in the language than those who have not had English lessons. When it comes to Dutch vocabulary, both pupils who follow English lessons and those who do not perform in accordance with their age norm. These results were obtained by measuring both pupils’ progress in English and their proficiency in Dutch. The researchers took a number of tests, measuring the children’s language skills in a playful manner.

Minister’s plan

Education Minister Marja van Bijsterveldt recently stated that she was an enthusiastic proponent of vvto: “Early foreign language teaching means investing in the future of the today’s pupils – a future that will be increasingly internationally orientated.” She has promised the Dutch House of Representatives that she will present a plan of approach by the end of 2012. One of the matters the plan must address is the connection to teaching in secondary education.

International consciousness

Thanks to vvto, tens of thousands of pupils have a high level of English proficiency and international consciousness when they finish primary school. The enormous rise in numbers of schools that begin teaching English in the first years of primary school (from 37 schools in 2044 to over 650 (in 2012) has made it necessary for secondary education to respond to this development. In addition, primary school teacher training programmes (PABO) must also pay extra attention to teaching English and the associated didactics. This is the only way we will be able to safely deal with the question so frequently heard in class today: ‘Miss, when can we do English again?’

More information

- Prof. C.L.J. de Bot, professor of Applied Linguistics, Faculty of Arts, University of Groningen. c.l.j.de.bot@rug.nl , tel. +31 50 3637282
- FLiPP: ‘Foreign Languages in Primary School Project’
- Dutch national coordination point for vvto : the European Platform

Last modified:16 March 2018 11.02 a.m.
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