Nuremberg Recommendations
Language choice and language sequence

A host of factors determine which foreign languages will be learnt in a given country. Provision made for language learning depends very largely on the country’s political, economic, cultural and societal profile, its international links and its degree of involvement in regional and global networks; and these factors likewise strongly influence the chronological order in which foreign languages are learnt. The foreign language that will secure first place in the learning sequence is generally the one seen as most relevant in terms of ‘usefulness’ – currently English, in its capacity as global lingua franca.

But if the policy aim is a command of two or more modern foreign languages – as is the case in Europe, in line with the concept of European multilingualism – the approach used for the first foreign language will have to be modified to take more account of the role that this first language will play in the learning of further foreign languages. This is particularly true for the encounter with the first foreign language when it occurs at nursery, pre-primary, or primary level, as it has to open the door to further foreign languages [1].

The majority of parents ask for English to be the entry language: this on the basis of a conviction that English is easy to learn and also, as a global communicative medium, will equip their children well for their educational career and subsequent employment. But choice on such a basis takes into account neither that professional mobility in the real world is required mainly on a regional basis, calling for languages other than English, nor that the choice of English to come first in the language sequence evidently can adversely affect motivation for learning further foreign languages.

However, if at the outset of foreign language learning a different foreign language is taught, in a manner appropriate to the age group and on a consistent basis, then a positive attitude to this language and the relevant culture can be developed. Adoption of this sequence makes it possible for English to be started later – after three to four years – and at that stage more intensively, so that the desired level of competence in English is not compromised in any way [2].

From the standpoint of languages policy, the concept of regional multilingualism [3] has contributed substantially to the emergence of a balanced view of language choice and language sequence. At the centre are the child’s individual communication and learning needs, with due regard to his or her future personal and vocational ambitions. From this perspective there is a clear need for greater diversity and flexibility in the design of early language learning programmes and language learning sequences, so that regionally valid child multilingualism profiles can be developed.


  • Language learning programmes should have sufficient diversity to enable children to choose from several languages.
  • Given the background of individual and regional multilingualism, the language sequence should be kept flexible.
  • The initial foreign language should continue to receive consistent support.
  • There should be an enhanced public awareness effort with the aim of ensuring that parents in particular are better informed about the effects of the different language sequences.
  • If English is to be the first foreign language, it should take on a special role with regard to continued language learning, and pave the way for the learning of further languages.

Source Information
[1] Cf. Legutke (2006)
[2] Some studies even furnish evidence that schoolchildren can benefit from this ‘reversed’ language sequence in terms of successful learning outcomes both in the first foreign language taken up and in English where it is the second foreign language (cf. Orešič 2002)
[3] Cf. Gehrmann (2007, 2009)

Further Information