Subject 137

Teaching Languages to Young Learners: Patterns of History

  • Period: 476 BCE to 1492

    Latin in the Middle Ages

    In the Middle Ages there had been clear practical uses for Latin skills.
  • Period: 1401 to 1500

    Vernacular languages

    There was a growing awareness of national identity facilitated by developments such as the invention and spread of printing.
  • 1500

    Away from Latin

    By 1500 the stage was set for what might have been a major educational shift away from Latin and towards the vernacular languages, but the opposite happened.
  • Period: 1550 to

    Subsidiary role

    From the mid 16th century onwards one educational reformer after another across Europe preached the same message: education should grow out of the child's experience of the mother tongue and foreign languages should be relegated to a subsidiary role.
  • 1582

    I love Rome but London better

    One of the earliest champions of the vernacular in England was a teacher in Elizabethan London called Richard Mulcaster who spoke up eloquently for the use of English in his First Part of the Elementarie.
  • Period: to

    Necessary prerequisite

    Mulcaster's book sets out a programme for the coification of the English language as a necessary prerequisite for any serious system of vernacular schooling and he offered a set of rules and principles which made a significant contribution to the standardisation od the English spelling system in the early 17th century.
  • Period: to

    Lack of sensible practical planning

    In Europe Wolfgang Ratke opened the first German mother tongue school at Koethen in Saxony in the 1620s but in spite of arousing considerable public interest the venture eventually failed through lack of sensible practical planning.
  • The order of Nature

    Ratke's basic principle, expressed in his Methodus has been restated in different guises by educational innovators up to the present day: 'In everything we should follow the order of Nature'.
  • World of the senses

    Ratke's follower, the great Comenius, underlined the central role of the mother tongue in the child's exploration of meaning in his Great Didactic originally published in Czech around 1630: 'First of all the mother tongue must be learned, since it is intimately connected with the gradual unfolding of the objective world to the senses'.
  • English before Latin

    'My drift and scope therefore is, to have a child so well versed in his mother's tongue before he meddle with Latin that when he comes to the construing of a Latin author, he shall from the signification of his words in construing, be in some good measure able to tell distinctly what par of speech every word is' said an early enthusiast Joshua Poole.
  • Period: to


    'English' did not appear on any school curriculum until the late 17th century
  • The horrors of grammar school

    In Britain John Locke wrote Some Thoughts Concerning Education, an essay containing supremely sensible advice on a modern system of education to replace the horrors of the grammar schools: 'To speak or write better Latin than English, may make a man be talked of, but he would find it more to his purpose to express himself well in his own tongue'.
  • Natural method

    The notion of a 'natural method' of foreign language teaching mimetic of the universally effective processes of first language acquisition. Theory presented by Locke's, 'Direct method' enthusiasts, and many others.
  • Period: to

    Education in Europe

    Until the 18th century, formal education in Europe consisted almost exclusively of the teaching of foreign languages.
  • Period: to

    The vernacular movement

    The vernacular movement gradually gathered support throughout the 18th century but progress was slow and it was always seen as 'second best' to the traditional if increasingly moribund Latin grammar school tradition.
  • The learning of dead languages

    Daniel Duncan expressed in public what many must have felt in private: 'The learning of dead languages is a yoke that neither we nor our fore-fathers could ever bear when we were children. And I fancy the loathsomeness of that dry study comes for what of reasoning previously with them enough about the nature of word and their dependency on one another in their own mother tongue'.
  • English grammar

    Joseph Priestly: 'The propriety of introducing the English grammar into English schools cannot be disputed'.
    Robert Lowth: 'To enter at once upon the science of grammar and the study of a foreign language is to encounter two difficulties together, each of which would be much lessened by being taken separately in its proper order'.
  • The empty verbalism

    Rousseau rejected the idea of the empty verbalism or the use of the direct methods for teaching a second language.
  • Period: to

    Reject English

    Grammar schools continued to reject English on any school curriculum until reform was forced upon them in the mid 19th century.
  • Period: to

    Education for all

    Privilege was the hallmark of schooling throughout Europe for centuries and when basic elementary education for all arrived in the late 19th century, it did not include foreign languages which were restricted to the secondary schools.
  • Period: to

    The object lesson

    The 'object lesson' had a significant influence on the history of language teaching methodology in the mid 1860s when a follower of Pestalozzi from Germany called Gottlieb Heness was inspired by the theory to conduct a small-scale experiment in which he taught German as a foreign language to the children of the staff at Yale University using objects of various kinds and a 'conversational' method that totally avoided the use of the native language.
  • Prep schools

    'Prep schools' taught Latin and French because the 'public schools' made it worth their while to do so, but the state elementary schools did not follow it.
  • The schools of Berlitz

    The 'Natural method' was the fore-runner of the better-known 'Direct method' associated initially with the schools of Berlitz, the first of which was opened in nearby Rhode Island.
  • Modern studies

    The 'early-start' practice of teaching foreign languages and the 'late-start' sides met on a government committee chaired by Stanley Leathes which was set up in 1916 by the Board of Education to look into the whole question of 'modern studies' including the future of foreign languages.
  • Linguistic minorities

    In recent times here have been far-reaching changes in the patterns of languages use throughout the world and in people's perceptions of their significance. Large-scale shifts of population since 1950 have resulted in substantial linguistic minorities in countries where they did not exist before.
  • Responses still flexible

    A psychologist called William Penfield appeared to answer the call in a paper which supported the view that pre-adolescent children were paricularly well-suited to the acquisition of foreign languages since their responses were still flexible enough to cope with the demands of new speech habits.
  • Period: to

    Great changes begin

    In the early 1960s the absence of foreign languages from most of the state education sector was seriously questioned.
  • Period: to

    Reorganisation of the secondary schools

    Penfield's theory of the early 60s had evaporated long since and the basic motivation for primary French had come about anyway through the reorganisation of the secondary schools and the abolition of selection.
  • Period: to

    Experiment to teach French

    A small but highly publicised experiment to teach French to primary school children was carried out by a native-speaking teacher in Leeds.
  • Period: to

    The Fles programme

    The FLES programme continued until the mid 60s with some success, but the breakthrough suggested by the new ideas failed to materialise.
  • Period: to

    Multi-million pound project

    By the mid 60s the scheme created after the experiment to teach French to primary school children had blossomed into a multi-million pound project involving the production of audio-visual courses not only for primary and secondary French but also secondary German, Spanish and Russian whihc, it was believed, would benefit from the new policy.
  • Bright adolescents

    In Britain before the 1970s foreign languages were reserved for bright adolescents.