Link between multilingualism and better GSCE grades

multilingualism students, language learning

Students who are multilingual – regardless of whether they are fluent or beginners in another language – scored higher in GSCE results

Learning a new language has numerous benefits, including better memory (short and long term), enhanced problem-solving skills, and improved verbal and spatial abilities.

Language helps to advance a positive mentality and self-belief which is seen typically amongst pupils with a multilingual identity, which has transferrable benefits for their wider education.

Cultivated in languages classrooms, research highlights that exposing young people to learning different types of language and dialect, or encouraging them to think about how languages shape their lives both inside and outside school, could benefit students overall.

Now, researchers suggest there is a positive correlation to multilingual students, regardless of their ability, and better results in their GCSE exams.

Those who defined themselves as multilingual achieved more academically

The study, involving around 800 pupils across England, discovered a positive relationship between GCSE scores and ‘multilingual identity’ – which was used as a reference to whether pupils felt a personal connection with other languages through knowledge and use.

Led by academics at the University of Cambridge, they found that students who self-identified as multilingual generally outperformed other students, not just in subjects such as French and Spanish, but in non-language subjects including maths, geography and science, even if they were not able to speak the second language fluently.

However, not all pupils who were officially described by their schools as having ‘English as a Second Language’ (EAL) thought of themselves as multilingual, even though the term is used by schools and Government as an alternative for multilingualism.

In the research, comparatively, these non-identifying pupils did not perform either better or worse, as a group at GCSE than their non-EAL peers.

Dr Dee Rutgers, a Research Associate at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, said: “The evidence suggests that the more multilingual you consider yourself to be, the higher your GCSE scores. While we need to understand more about why that relationship exists, it may be that children who see themselves as multilingual have a sort of ‘growth mindset’ which impacts on wider attainment.”

Dr Linda Fisher, Reader in Languages Education at the University of Cambridge, added: “There could be a strong case for helping children who think that they can’t ‘do’ languages to recognise that we all use a range of communication tools, and that learning a language is simply adding to that range.

“This may influence attitude and self-belief, which is directly relevant to learning at school. In other words, what you think you are may be more important than what others say you are.”

Self-belief in language ability improves academic achievement

Multilingualism implies more than the official EAL definition of being ‘exposed to a language at home that is known or believed to be other than English’, however, and researchers suggest that even young people who see themselves as monolingual possess a ‘repertoire’ of communication.

An example of this can be seen with the use of different dialects, as people pick up words and phrases on holiday, know sign language, or understand other types of ‘language’ such as computer code.

To follow this data, the researchers asked each pupil if they personally identified with these languages, by asking each pupil to plot where they saw themselves on a 0-100 scale, where 0 represented ‘monolingual’ and 100 ‘multilingual’. This data was then compared with their GCSE results across nine subjects.

Students who spoke a second language at home did not always personally identify either as EAL or multilingual. Conversely, pupils who saw themselves as multilingual were not always those earmarked by the school as having English as an additional language.

School-reported EAL status had no impact on GCSE results

Although pupils who self-identified as EAL generally did better than their peers in modern languages. Those who considered themselves ‘multilingual’ on the 0-100 scale, however, performed better academically across the board.

The strength of this relationship varied between subjects and was, again, particularly pronounced in modern languages. In all nine GCSE subjects assessed, however, each point increase on the monolingual-to-multilingual scale was associated with a fractional rise in pupils’ exam scores.

For example: a one-point increase was found to correspond to 0.012 of a grade in Science, and 0.011 of a grade in Geography. Students who consider themselves very multilingual would, by this measure, typically score a full grade higher than those who consider themselves monolingual.

Positively identifying as multilingual could often therefore push students who would otherwise fall slightly short of a certain grade up to the next level.

Rutgers continued: “The fact that these terms didn’t correlate more closely is surprising considering that they are all supposedly measuring the same thing. Just having experience of other languages clearly doesn’t necessarily translate into a multilingual identity because the experience may not be valued by the student.”

Fisher finalised: “Too often we think about other languages as something that we don’t need to know, or as difficult to learn. These findings suggest that if pupils were encouraged to see themselves as active and capable language learners, it could have a really positive impact on their wider progress at school.”

The results highlight that encouraging pupils to identify with languages and to value different styles of communication could help them to develop a mindset which can support their academic success across the board.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here