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Zurich wants primary pupils to learn English

Children as young as seven may soon be learning English in canton Zurich swissinfo C Helmle

Zurich is to introduce English classes for pupils as young as seven years old.

Cantonal authorities are planning to begin English lessons from the start of the second year of primary education.

The changes – which will see seven- to eight-year-olds sitting down to classes in English – are due to be introduced at the beginning of the 2006 academic year.

The canton had previously planned to start English lessons from the third year of primary school.

But education officials decided to start teaching English one year earlier than scheduled because pupils typically change teachers at the end of their third academic year.

“By introducing English a year earlier, the students will benefit from uninterrupted learning of the basics for two years,” said Regine Fretz, an official from Zurich’s education department.


The decision to introduce English classes in the canton’s primary schools may yet be put to a public vote.

Critics – including a number of teachers – launched an initiative against the move in January.

They argue that teaching seven- and eight-year-olds English could affect their ability to learn so-called “high” German at the same time.

Foreign languages

Campaigners also say that English should be the only foreign language taught in primary schools and that the programme will not succeed if pupils have to study French as well.

French lessons in canton Zurich currently begin in the fifth year of primary school.

The majority of other cantons in German-speaking Switzerland are also considering introducing English at an earlier age.

Canton Basel City, for example, is considering bringing French lessons forward to the third year of primary school and introducing English in the fifth.


A census in 2000 found English is the most important foreign language in Switzerland.
One per cent of the Swiss population speaks English as their main language.

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