Many education authorities across Europe want to lower the age at which children start to study foreign languages (in response to a variety of geopolitical and economic drivers) and need some form of external certification to validate learners' skills. However, many institutions and teachers are often confused by the administrative decisions resulting from such a policy, and by descriptions of teaching materials and of strategies used in teaching and teacher training. Parents also sometimes view language teaching as secondary to the teaching of more basic subjects and with no means of verifying either goals or results.
The ALTE Young Learners (Teenagers and Children) Special Interest Group (SIG) was set up in response to this ongoing debate. Its objectives are to discuss the issues involved more widely; to provide teachers with suitable materials both in terms of topics and language; and to establish ability levels ('Can do' statements) relevant to the needs of children. This is an important area of education as a language test may represent a child's first experience of serious formative evaluation, and even though such tests are primarily aimed at motivating candidates because everybody succeeds, and only the degree of success varies they can also help to prepare children for future test-taking experiences.