The debate over teaching English has intensified with the House of Representatives calling on the government to coordinate the reform of elementary schooling in Switzerland.
Monday's vote comes just five days after canton Zurich announced English would be taught before French as a second language in primary schools from 2003.
Politicians voted by a narrow majority on a motion which was originally put forward more than a year ago by Social Democrat, Hans Zbinden.
The federal government has no constitutional means to take the matter out of the hands of the cantonal authorities.
But the issue has once again become topical following last Thursday's announcement by Ernst Buschor, head of Zurich's education department, that the canton would introduce English classes in the third year of primary school from 2003. This is two years before French, which is one of the national languages.
Many politicians are keen to ensure that the country's national languages receive priority over English when pupils learn their first foreign language.
Cantonal education directors met earlier this year to discuss the issue. They are due to meet again in November to make a decision.
swissinfo with agencies
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