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Modern Languages and LinguisticsPart of Humanities

An Early Start to Foreign Language Literacy

Research into primary linguistic progression undertaken by Professor Ros Mitchell and Dr Alison Porter has informed the rationale and attainment targets of the new foreign language requirement in the Primary National Curriculum in England, and enabled education stakeholders to support its sustainability and effective implementation.


Group of children

Early foreign language learning in schools is a global education phenomenon, but many countries report problems with learner progression and motivation. This is in part due to curricula uninformed by empirical evidence, and a lack of age-appropriate resources, teacher expertise and pedagogic confidence.

Research by Professor Ros Mitchell, Professor of Applied Linguistics, and Dr Alison Porter, Lecturer in Applied Linguistics, is addressing this gap.

Research challenge

Mitchell’s research has established that the commitment of school leadership, teacher education providers and professional development specialists is critical to successfully teaching a foreign language to seven to 11-year-olds. Regular, consistent teaching time, plus access for teachers to professional development, are also key.

But their work has also identified that there are limited resources for teachers to engage in the kinds of literacy activities recommended for primary schoolchildren.

Porter developed and implemented principles for teaching and learning French literacy alongside spoken language, finding that a) beginner learners of French could make meaningful progress in both spoken and written language proficiency at the same time and b) these learners were able to participate in creative and independent, meaning-focused language use

Porter devised pedagogic resources, tools and assessment practices that have allowed her to advocate for improved FL provision while meeting the needs of teachers in the classroom.

Influencing the primary foreign language curriculum

Mitchell’s collaborative research informed the 2014 Primary Foreign Languages curriculum, recognising the value of learning a foreign language for wider academic and social development.

Supported by Mitchell’s collaborative research, the curriculum calls for “substantial progress in one foreign language” and recognises the value of communication in a foreign language and the potential for FL education to have a positive influence on wider academic and social development.

Improving classroom practice and school provision

In 2017, Mitchell and Porter founded the Southampton University Primary Languages research/practice partnership (SUPL), providing collaborative opportunities for professional development to local teachers. SUPL has provided research-informed face-to-face and online training for teachers to support their delivery of a foreign language in the classroom.

SUPL held a one-day workshop in July 2019 for 45 teachers and teacher educators. SUPL members designed interactive sessions and shared their classroom successes in foreign language teaching. Attendees reported that the workshop had greatly supplemented their understanding of the role of foreign language literacy in supporting beginner foreign language learning, and had boosted their personal and professional development around foreign language teaching.

Dr Porter subsequently developed the SUPL model into a three-week MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), with collaborators from the Universities of Essex and Reading. The MOOC offered primary language CPD on a global scale and included examples of professional practice from SUPL members. The first MOOC, in July 2020, was attended by 4,657 participants from 139 countries and continues to run three times a year.

Through collaborating with teachers, Dr Porter has co-created resources to support teachers in the classroom. She has co-designed foreign language texts with links to other areas of the curriculum, such as history, science and music.

Key Publications

List of all staff members in
Staff MemberPrimary Position
Rosamond MitchellEmeritus Professor in Applied Linguistics
Alison PorterLecturer in Applied Linguistics
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