According to the European Report of EU Publications “Key data on teaching languages at school in Europe”, the most typical starting age of a language in Primary Education is between six and eight years old. The common agreed opinion is starting a foreign language in an early age so that explains why in most countries it begins from the first grades of primary school. It is noticed that Europe’s foreign language teaching has increased the last years as a result of lowering the average age of starting point of compulsory language teaching at primary schools (Union, 2018).
English is mandatory in the most education systems that stipulate a particular foreign language that all students have to study (see Figure C8 below). All students are obliged to study English in 13 countries /regions in the European Union (Union, 2018, p. 43). The number of students learning foreign languages, according to statistics, shows that English is taught in all European countries independently of its status (mandatory, recommended or free choice) (Union, 2018, p. 44).
In Europe, the student percentage of 79.4 in primary schools learn English and the reason is that it is less mandatory in some countries’ first year curriculum (Union, 2018, p. 72). It is considerable that more and more primary school students are evolving in learning English compared to 2005 data results (an increase of 18.7 %). (Union, 2018, p. 71)
Generally, in Primary education one teacher is responsible for (almost) all the lesson subjects in each grade and it is termed as a generalist teacher. More specifically, generalist teacher: a teacher (usually at primary level) who is qualified to teach all (or almost all) subjects in the curriculum, including foreign languages. Such teachers may provide foreign language teaching irrespective of whether or not they have received training in the field. (Union, 2018, p.142)
So, in some countries this teacher is qualified to teach the foreign language(s).
On the contrary, in some other countries language teaching is dedicated to a different teacher who has studied separately some foreign languages or a specific foreign language (for example: In a Department of English Literature Studies). This kind of teacher is called semi-specialist or specialist. Semi-specialist teacher: A teacher qualified to teach a group of at least three different subjects (foreign languages being one of them).
For a semi-specialist foreign language teacher, this would include one or more foreign languages and at least two other subjects. Specialist teacher: A teacher qualified to teach one or two different subjects (foreign languages being one of them). For a specialist language teacher, this would include either foreign languages only, or one or more foreign language(s) and one other subject (Union, 2018. p.143).
Additionally, as it comes to the teaching hours, in almost every country top level authorities recommend the compulsory teaching hours according to each grade’s needs and curricula. As it is expected, in the first grades of primary school the teaching hours are lower than they are in the secondary education (Union, 2018).
And what is learning without outcomes? As it happens with every course, foreign language teaching has an aim to provide students all the knowledge tools to make them independent to use the language and benefit from it. Emphasis is given in assessment that students complete after a certain teaching unit or level. The main skills that students are required to have upon the completion of general foreign language studying are: listening comprehension, speaking, reading and writing ability.
These are examined by using the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Usually, countries are linked to that kind of framework and they provide national/international tests in which students participate (Union, 2018). In most European countries, foreign language curricula explicitly mention communication skills (Union, 2018, p. 119). However, in eight countries, including Sweden and Greece, they use another scaling system to define attainment levels in the knowledge of foreign languages (Union, 2018).