Skip to main content

How do primary school children learn foreign languages? New UKRI funded project first to build full picture – University of Reading

Show access keys

How do primary school children learn foreign languages? New UKRI funded project first to build full picture

Release Date 15 October 2021

Primary school children listening in a classroom


Learning a foreign language at primary school has been a compulsory part of the national curriculum since 2014, yet little research has been done to fully understand how seven- to 11-year-olds develop language knowledge in school environment.

Dr Rowena Kasprowicz from the Institute of Education at the University of Reading has been awarded a prestigious UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship to explore the topic through the Progression in Primary Languages project.

Dr Kasprowicz will lead the project, which will, for the first time, provide a full and detailed picture of how foreign language knowledge develops in young learners in an instructed settings where he time available for language teaching is limited.

Dr Rowena Kasprowicz, Lecturer in Second Language Education at the University of Reading said:

I am thrilled and honoured to have won this Fellowship. This funding will allow me to spend the next four years working with schools, teachers, pupils, and professional bodies to explore language learning in primary schools in-depth.

“It is fantastic to be given the opportunity to shine a light on language learning in primary school and I hope that this work will provide much-needed research evidence that will support primary schools’ delivery of the languages curriculum, help to identify clear learning outcomes for primary languages, and feed forward to inform secondary schools’ curriculum planning for new starters.

While there are primary schools across the country offering excellent primary languages provision, foreign language learning does tend to be among some of the first subjects to fall by the wayside. The British Council reported that one in five primary schools suspended language learning in in the last school year due to Covid-19. This has deprived children of a valuable skill and opportunity to develop international perspectives, and I hope that through the Progression in Primary Languages project we can better show how foreign language teaching in Key Stage Two lays an important foundation for future educational outcomes.”

Watch: Dr Rowena Kasprowicz talking about how video games can help students learn grammar as part of their modern foreign language journey

By carrying out a longitudinal study over four years, Progression in Primary Languages will look at language learning throughout Key Stage 2 (ages 7 to 11) in primary schools in England. The aim is to identify the individual, instructional, and contextual factors that influence language learning in classroom settings in English-speaking countries where exposure to the language being learned is limited.

Dr Rachel Hawkes will collaborate on the project and the team will also be supported by the Association for Language Learning, the National Centre for Excellence in Languages Pedagogy, and the Research in Primary Languages Network. The data generated through the longitudinal study will help to identify realistic learning outcomes and benchmarks for primary languages, following on from key recommendations in the 2019 White Paper published by the Research in Primary Languages Network.

Professor Adrian Bell, Research Dean at the University of Reading said:

“The UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship supports the most promising research leaders in the country to pursue their innovative research.  That is why we are so proud of Rowena who has been recognised through this scheme.  This is a key award for the University of Reading, its Prosperity and Resilience research theme and the Institute of Education. We are all looking forward to supporting Rowena and learning from the research into early foreign language acquisition.”

UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said:

“I am delighted that UKRI is able to support the next generation of research and innovation leaders through our Future Leaders Fellowship programme.

“The new Fellows announced today will have the support and freedom they need to pursue their research and innovation ideas, delivering new knowledge and understanding and tackling some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

The Future Leaders Fellowships scheme, which is run by UK Research and Innovation, helps universities and businesses in the UK recruit, develop and retain the world’s best researchers and innovators, regardless of their background. They can apply for up to £1.5 million to support the research and innovation leaders of the future, keeping the UK at the cutting edge of innovation. Each fellowship will last four to seven years. Awardees will each receive between £400,000 and £1.5 million over an initial four years.

More information about the UK Research Institutes’ Future Leaders Fellowship scheme can be found at


We use Javascript to improve your experience on, but it looks like yours is turned off. Everything will still work, but it is even more beautiful with Javascript in action. Find out more about why and how to turn it back on here.
We also use cookies to improve your time on the site, for more information please see our cookie policy.