The project will report to the Secretary of State for Education in March 2001 with recommendations on how modern languages for all - a policy encouraged by Tony Blair - could be achieved.
Researchers will evaluate th extra staff and training that would be needed, as well as the effect on the secondary curriculum. It is estimated that currently 90 per cent of independent schools teach languages to primary-age children, but only a quarter do in the state sector, mostly through out-of-school clubs.
Earlier this term, the Nuffield Inquiry, co-chaired by news-reader Trevor McDonald and Sir John Boyd, Master of Churchill College, Cambridge, recommended that by 2010 all pupils aged seven and over should learn a language.
Meanwhile, from September education action zones will be able to apply for DFEE funding to introduce primary languages.