Primary Modern Languages: the impact of teaching approaches

This study investigated the progress and preparedness of young learners of French in England, as they moved from primary to secondary school. It explored whether an 'oracy-based approach' or a 'literacy-based approach' leads to better outcomes for learners, in terms of their grammatical knowledge and readiness for further study.

Key recommendations:

  • Expectations of what progress can be achieved in grammatical development by the end of Key Stage 2 need to be realistic.

  • Fine-grained assessment tools are needed to show whether or not learners make 'substantial' progress during Key Stage 2 in grammar and vocabulary.

  • Sixty minutes of foreign language instruction a week at Key Stage 2 rather than 30-40 minutes is more likely to enable learners to make 'substantial' progress.

  • Detailed curriculum planning across Key Stage 2 and 3 is important to ensure a sense of progress in learners and to avoid a sense of repetition. This should include suitable differentiation in Year 7.

  • Teaching approaches and materials that help pupils learn grammatical gender, adjectival agreement and simple present tense verbs should be considered. These should draw on evidence from previous research.

  • Systematic training in language pedagogy and language skills is recommended for teachers to achieve the desired outcomes for their learners by the end of Key Stage 2.

  • Primary languages instruction that combines literacy with oracy work may prepare learners with lower English literacy skills more effectively for secondary school language learning. Again, such literacy instruction should draw on previous UK-based research.

  • Primary teachers should continue to include those activities that motivate learners the most – those based on interaction, creativity, cultural contact and purposeful communication. These are most likely to promote the positive attitudes to language learning that are needed for successful learning in the secondary phase.

  • In Year 7, learners' motivation for language learning would be better protected through activities that promote meaningful communication (especially those that prepare them for contact with native speakers of the language), and that involve interaction and pair or group work. 

Project details



Professor Suzanne Graham, Dr Theodoros Marinis and Dr Alan Tonkyn, University of Reading

Grant amount and duration:


1 April 2012 – 31 July 2014

Project outputs


Primary Modern Languages: the impact of teaching approaches on attainment and preparedness for secondary school language learning (2014)

Final Report (PDF)

Executive Summary (PDF)

Other documents, presentations and video from the project conference, University of Reading, 5 June 2014.