Ministers have said that they want to lower the age at which pupils must begin studying a modern foreign language from 11 to 7 when the new national curriculum is introduced in 2014.
But a recent report from the CfBT education trust, Lessons from Abroad, notes that children in many countries begin foreign language learning when they start school, typically at the age of 6, and some start as young as 3.
The report's authors, Teresa Tinsley and Therese Comfort, said researchers are divided on whether there is a "critical age" for learning a language. But there is evidence that starting early, by the age of 6, can help learners to acquire correct pronunciation.
They also pointed out that English-speaking countries face particular hurdles because of more complex decisions about which languages to teach.
But they concluded that, given the wide range of educational benefits learning a language provides, anglophone countries would "become intellectually and culturally diminished" if young children did not get the opportunity to do so.