The introduction of languages into primary schools suffers from chaos and inefficiency which is unlikely to enthuse pupils about the subject at secondary stage, research from Manchester University has concluded.
Angela McLachlan, of the university's school of education, spent a year studying in depth how languages were being introduced in four contrasting primaries.
Ms McLachlan concluded: "The nature of the languages programmes being delivered, and the depth and level of sophistication embedded into those programmes, is catastrophically diverse."
She pointed out that secondary schools were faced with pupils arriving in Year 7 with the broadest possible range of ability and prior knowledge. She also said that assessment was patchy, time in the curriculum was limited, and there was pressure to emphasise English and maths because they are the subjects in the national tests.
Funding was difficult to access, she added, and while specialist language colleges supported the strategy, it was not clear to what extent ordinary secondary schools should be providing training, teaching or resources in languages to their local primaries.
The research was published this week from original work in 2007, four years after the initiative begun.
Ms McLachlan added: "Because the quality and quantity of children's exposure to primary language teaching varies so much, it's often impossible to teach a class in secondary school with such a wide range of skills.
"Languages - either at primary or secondary level - are just not a priority for the Government despite what it says. If we follow this course, we are doomed to retain our global reputation as the least proficient and most unenthusiastic linguists in the world."
The research comes as the national body responsible for language training says a lack of language graduates will hamper the UK's ability to emerge from recession.
Cilt, the National Centre for Languages, said that language skills directly benefit the economy, pointing out that the CBI has found that more than a third of employers specifically recruit people for their language skills - and have to recruit overseas to meet this need.
Kathryn Board, Cilt chief executive, said: "We want to see more people of all ages, from all social backgrounds gaining language skills."
The organisation has called for the education system to raise expectations of how many pupils will learn languages after 14, offer a far wider range of languages in schools and colleges, provide more courses that combine languages with other subjects, and encourage children who already speak another language to develop that alongside English.
A spokesman at the Department for Children, Schools and Famililies said: "We are making great strides to improve language provision in primary schools.
"Languages will be a compulsory part of the curriculum for seven to 11- year-olds from 2011, giving children the early start they need to develop a lifelong love of languages. As part of including languages in the national curriculum we have already committed to delivering nationally agreed level descriptors."