The present paper reports findings from a longitudinal study examining the development of English as foreign language learning in a sample of 86 Italian students tested at Grade 6 (mean age 11:3) and Grade 8 (mean age 13:3) . Two measures were examined: one relating to sustained learning ( i.e., English learning attainment), and one to short period development,(i.e., change in English proficiency). Different pattern of predictors were identified among L1 reading (speed and comprehension) and mathematics skills. The main findings indicated that calculation components of mathematics skills and reading comprehension predicted English learning attainments at Grade 8, whilst L1 reading speed at Grade 6 strongly predicted changes in English learning proficiency. The theoretical and empirical implications of the results are discussed in the specificity of a learning direction from a transparent L1 to a non-transparent L2. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.