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    Early language learning

Early language learning

There is a growing trend across Europe to begin language learning in early primary or even in kindergarten. Teaching languages to young children requires combining the general skills needed for this age group and specific language teaching approaches. The language aspects must be associated with children’s cognitive and emotional development as well as their early experiences of learning together in social groups.


In recent years a considerable body of research has been conducted which confirms the value of early language learning, but also points to difficulties and challenges. If teachers are to provide optimal support for early language acquisition processes, the importance of quality pre and in-service teacher education is paramount. 

The ECML offers a range of support materials and training modules to ensure that appropriate pedagogies, based on plurilingual and intercultural approaches, are embedded from the very beginning. These approaches also emphasise the use of active, communicative and interactive teaching methods and new technologies. They encourage cooperation with parents as home-school partnerships can strongly support the learning process and foster favourable attitudes toward other languages and other cultures. Collaboration between class teachers, language specialists and teachers of other subjects is also promoted.

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How the work of the ECML contributes to early language learning

A variety of ECML projects provide support for the development of professional competences in this area. The project European Portfolio for Pre-primary Educators (PEPELINO) provides a comprehensive catalogue of competences required by teachers of young learners. Other projects provide examples of classroom activities suitable for young learners.

Early language learning and other thematic areas

Teacher and learner competences

The project PEPELINO has adopted the approach of the European Portfolio for Student Teachers of Languages (EPOSTL), which focus on didactic competences required at all levels of teaching.

Content and language integrated learning (CLIL)

Increasingly in primary schools a language is taught using a CLIL approach – young learners use the foreign language to learn the content of other subjects. This approach can be found in the EPLC project (available in French and German).

Plurilingual and intercultural education

Early language learning is intrinsically linked to plurilingual and intercultural approaches. Several ECML projects (CONBAT+, PLURIMOBIL etc.) provide a variety of classroom activities to support learning in these areas.

Evaluation and assessment

The ECML project AYLITT considers how reading and writing can be assessed in the primary language classroom linked to the Common European Framework of Reference.

Think Tank: Early language learning

From 1-2 December 2016 a Think Tank was held at the ECML on this topic. An online questionnaire identified key challenges as well as examples of innovative practice. Presentations held at the conference can be downloaded here.

Featured resources

European portfolio for pre-primary educators. The plurilingual and intercultural dimension

This portfolio is designed for educators and teachers in the pre-primary sector, either in initial or in-service training. It encourages personal reflection on the professional skills related to the linguistic and intercultural dimension of working with children.

Available in English and French

Go to the publication page

PLURIMOBIL – Mobility in primary school

PluriMobil offers 12 lesson plans for primary school and ready-made materials that support the process of a mobility project.

Go to the publication page

Current projects

Inspiring language learning in the early years
This project aims to help teachers and other educators prepare young children to successfully face the challenges of a culturally and linguistically diverse world. It will provide them with learning and teaching resources and strategies which take existing linguistic repertoires into account in order to (further) develop the linguistic and intercultural competences of both learners and educators.
View project pages

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