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Studies Supporting Increased Academic Achievement

Language learning correlates with higher academic achievement on standardized test measures.

Armstrong, P. W., & Rogers, J. D. (1997). Basic skills revisited: The effects of foreign language instruction on reading, math, and language arts. Learning Languages, 2(3), 20-31.

Third-grade students from were randomly assigned to receive 30-minute Spanish lessons three times a week for one semester.    These lessons focused on oral-aural skills and were conducted entirely in Spanish.  Students in the Spanish classes scored significantly higher than the group that did not receive Spanish instruction in math and language on the Metropolitan Achievement Test (MAT).   There was no significant difference in reading scores.

Cade, J. M. (1997). The foreign language immersion program in the  Kansas City, Missouri  Public Schools, 1986-1996 [Abstract]. Dissertation Abstracts International -A 58(10), 3838.

This study describes the planning, development, implementation, and assessment of the foreign language magnet plan in schools in the Kansas City, Missouri Public School District. The program outcomes appeared to support the contentions found in research that, over time, second language learners (1) have improved test scores; (2) are able to think divergently; (3) achieve in their first language; and (4) attract and maintain parent involvement.

Carr, C.G. (1994). The effect of middle school foreign language study on verbal achievement as measured by three subtests of the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills [Abstract]. Dissertation Abstracts International -A 55(07), 1856.

This study looked at the effects of foreign language study on the verbal achievement of middle school students as measured by three subtests of the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills.   The students were compared with students who did not have language study but were enrolled in the Challenge Reading program.    The study concluded that performance in reading comprehension, language mechanics, and language expression was significantly higher in favor of the experimental group (foreign language study) when such variables as academic aptitude and level of performance in the treatment were statistically controlled.

Johnson, C. E., Flores, J. S., & Eillson, F. P. (1963). The effect of foreign language instruction on basic learning in elementary schools: A second report. The Modern Language Journal, 47(1), 8-11.

This study looked at the effects of 20 minutes of daily Spanish instruction on academic achievement.   Students were given the Iowa Every-Pupil Test of Basic Skills in September of students’ fourth and fifth grade years.  Students receiving Spanish instruction scored higher than the control group in language skills, work study skills, and arithmetic, but the difference was not statistically significant.   Likewise, the control group scored higher than the experimental group in reading vocabulary and reading comprehension, but differences were not significant.  The author concludes that foreign language instruction does not hinder academic achievement.

Johnson, C. E., Ellison, F. P., & Flores, J. S. (1961). The effect of foreign language instruction on basic learning in elementary schools. The Modern Language Journal, 45(5), 200-202. 

In this pilot study, two third-grade classrooms were used to compare the effects of foreign language instruction on basic skills. One classroom received Spanish instruction for 25 minutes per day for the spring semester, while the other class followed the regular curriculum with no foreign language instruction. Analysis of the results showed the groups receiving language instruction had higher mean scores than the control group in arithmetic and English grammar, although their scores were slightly lower than the control group in English punctuation, comprehension, and vocabulary.

Haak, L. A., & Leino, W. B. (1963). The teaching of Spanish in the elementary schools and the effects on achievement in other selected subject areas., 100. from ERIC database.

Classes from six schools were used with the experimental groups devoting 15 minutes per day to Spanish instruction over a three-year period.   The Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and the Stanford Social Studies test served as measurements.  The conclusions drawn were (1) deletion of time from arithmetic, language and social studies had no detrimental effect upon measured achievement in subject areas from which the time was taken; (2) measured intelligence is positively correlated with measured achievement in the learning of Spanish.

Lopato, E. W. (1963). FLES and academic achievement. The French Review, 36(5), 499-507.

114 third-grade students from four classrooms participated in this study.   Students were “equated” for grade placement, age, intelligence, and socio-economic status, and teachers were “equated” for fluency in French.  These experimental groups received daily 15-minute French lessons from their classroom teachers, who were both described as “fluent” in French. The French instruction was aural-oral and did not include reading or writing in the target language. The Stanford Achievement Test was given as a pre-test at the beginning of the school year, and an alternate form of the test was given at the end of the school year. At one of the school sites, the experimental group scored significantly higher than the control group on the average arithmetic scores, but not on average reading, spelling, or language.  At the other school site, students receiving foreign language instruction scored significantly higher on the average arithmetic and spelling sections, but not the average reading or language sections of the test. 

Rafferty, E. A. (1986). Second language study and basic skills in Louisiana. U.S.; Louisiana, from ERIC database.

A statewide study in Louisiana revealed that third, fourth, and fifth graders who participated in 30-minute elementary school foreign language programs in the public schools showed significantly higher scores on the 1985 Basic Skills Language Arts Test than did a similar group that did not study a foreign language. Further, by fifth grade, the math scores of language students were also higher than those of students not studying a foreign language. Both groups were matched for race, sex, and grade level, and the academic levels of students in both groups were estimated by their previous Basic Skills Test results and statistically equated. The results of the analysis suggest that foreign language study in the lower grades helps students acquire English language arts skills and, by extension, math skills. 

Sheridan, R. (1976). Augmenting reading skills through language learning transfer. FLES Latin program evaluation reports, 1973-74, 1974-75, 1975-76. From ERID database.

A project was begun in 1973 in the Indianapolis  Public School system based on the hypothesis that English language skills and the control of syntactic structures can be measurably improved through participation in a specially designed Latin FLES program stressing the importance of Latin root words. Goals of the project were to assess whether or not the study of Latin and classical civilization will: (1) expand the verbal functioning of sixth grade children in English, and (2) broaden their cultural horizons and stimulate an interest in humanities. The project was directed towards approximately 400 sixth graders in six schools, all studying Latin and classical civilization in a program coordinated with their regular classes. They received a thirty-minute lesson each day 5 days per week taught by a Latin specialist. The present program evaluation report shows overall gains in word knowledge, reading, language, spelling, math computation, math concepts, math problem solving, and social studies after the first year, and gains in spelling, reading, and math concepts following the second and third years of the program, as seen from results on subtests of the Metropolitan Achievement Test.

Thomas, W. P., Collier, V. P., & Abbott, M. (1993). Academic achievement through Japanese, Spanish, or French: The first two years of partial immersion. Modern Language Journal, 77(2), 170-179. from PsycINFO database.

Compared the academic performance of 719 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd graders in a foreign language partial immersion program with that of 1,320 students in the same grades and with similar demographics, but not in an immersion program. Students were tested to determine performance in mathematics and English language arts, and oral proficiency in the target language (Japanese, Spanish, or French) was examined for immersion students. Immersion students scored at least as well, and to some extent better than, nonimmersion students. There was no evidence that the immersion experience hampered academic and cognitive development. In target language proficiency, immersion students made steady progress toward oral proficiency in the target language, reaching the upper end of the midlevel proficiency range by the end of the 2nd yr.  

Barik, H. C., & Swain, M. (1978). Evaluation of a French immersion program: The  Ottawastudy through grade five. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 10(3), 192-201. from PsycINFO database.

Assessed a Canadian French immersion program in which English-speaking pupils attending English schools are taught partially or completely in French. The program involved nearly 33% of the children who entered the Ottawa public school system in kindergarten. Two groups were matched according to socioeconomic status characteristics and were generally from a middle to upper-middle-class background. Sstudents were administered several measures including the Canadian Cognitive Abilities Test and Canadian Tests of Basic Skills. Only Grade 5 students were given the Metropolitan Science Test only. French immersion pupils were given a set of achievement tests in French and tests of reading comprehension in French. Results indicate that immersion group students were in general on the same level with or ahead of the regular English in most academic areas considered (e.g., work-study skills and mathematics) and were performing satisfactorily in French.

Genesee, F., & Lambert, W. E. (1983). Trilingual education for majority-language children. Child Development, 54(1), 105-114. from PsycINFO database.

Examined the effectiveness of double-immersion (DI) programs in which English-speaking children receive curriculum instruction in 2 second languages (Hebrew and French) before or along with 1st-language instruction. French second-language proficiency of Grade 5 DI students was as good as that of comparable students in single-immersion programs in French only and better than that of non-immersion students with conventional French-as-a-second-language instruction. None of the DI groups showed deficits in 1st-language development or academic achievement. It is concluded that DI, especially if begun early, can be an effective means for English-speaking children to acquire functional proficiency in 2 non-native languages and that instruction in the 1st language in the beginning of the program has no long-term benefits to first-language development but may slow down second-language learning. 

Turnbull, M., Hart, D., & Lapkin, S. (2003). Grade 6 French immersion students' performance on large-scale reading, writing, and mathematics tests: Building explanations.   AlbertaJournal of Educational Research, 49(1), 6-23. from PsycINFO database.

We analyzed data from Ontario's provincial testing program to ascertain if the reading, writing, and mathematics skills of grade 6 immersion students were comparable to those of regular English program students. The analysis confirms the results of earlier program evaluations that any lags in immersion students' achievement in reading, writing, and math disappear by grade 6. We offer two explanations to account for this result. The lag explanation holds that taking reading, writing, and math in French until the end of grade 3 creates a lag in achievement until English is introduced into the curriculum, after which immersion students catch up to regular students' performance. The selection explanation suggests that immersion test performance improves by grade 6 relative to regular English program counterparts because the composition of the grade 6 cohort is more select than that of earlier cohorts.  

 

Language learning is beneficial to both monolingual English and English language learners in bilingual and two-way immersion programs.

Cohen, A. D. (1974). The  Culver CitySpanish immersion program: The first two years. The Modern Language Journal, 58(3), 95-103. from Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts database.

A report on the Culver City Spanish Immersion Program designed for the bilingual education of English speaking students learning Spanish showed definite patterns emerging following the second year of the program. The English speaking students were acquiring competence in understanding, speaking, reading, and writing Spanish, while maintaining English language proficiency. These students are also performing on the same level as their English speaking age group who were not in bilingual programs in content subjects such as mathematics.

Pagan, C. R. (2005). English learners' academic achievement in a two-way versus a structured English immersion program [Abstract]. Dissertation Abstracts International, A: The Humanities and Social Sciences, 66 (5), 1603-A-1604-A. (Available from UMI, Ann Arbor, MI. Order No. DA3175715.)

This study examines the academic achievement scores of English learners in a two-way immersion (TWI) program and a Structured English Immersion program in two California elementary schools. In addition, this study compares the English and Spanish academic performance of English learners with the achievement levels of English-dominant students in the same TWI program. A total of 194 students were followed over a three-year period beginning with the 1999-2000 school year and ending in 2001-2002. Assessment scores from the Stanford 9 (reading and mathematics) and the Spanish Assessment for Basic Education (SABE) (reading and mathematics) were collected and analyzed. The findings support work by other researchers who have reported that teaching English learners in their home language does not impede the acquisition of English. Similarly, English-dominant students in a TWIprogram, by the end of their first and third year of this study, were achieving at-or-above grade level in both English and Spanish.

 

Language learning is beneficial in the development of students’ reading abilities.

D'Angiulli, A., Siegel, L. S., & Serra, E. (2001). The development of reading in English and Italian in bilingual children. Applied Psycholinguistics, 22(4), 479-507. from PsycINFO database.

This study analyzes the reading abilities of 81 English-speaking Canadian-born children (ages 9-13) who had been exposed to Italian at home, where both languages were spoken by their middle-class parents.   The children attended an Italian heritage language class every day for 35 minutes, starting in the first grade.  English and Italian monolingual comparison groups of students were used, which matched students on age.  English monolingual students were comparable to bilingual students in that they lived in same geographical area, were taught using similar methods, and had comparable socioeconomic status.  The Italian monolingual students from northern Italywere similar to the bilingual group in socioeconomic status and family background.  A series of word reading, pseudoword reading, spelling, working memory, and oral cloze tasks were administered in each language.  Findings indicate significant similar levels of performance in both languages, with correlations between English and Italian word reading, pseudoword reading, and spelling.  In comparing 9-10 year-old bilinguals to English monolinguals on tasks in English, the bilingual skilled readers scored higher on word-reading and spelling tasks than the monolingual skilled readers, although no differences were found on psuedoword reading tasks, working memory, or oral cloze tasks. 

Diaz, J. O. P. (1982). The effects of a dual language reading program on the reading ability of Puerto Rican students. Reading Psychology, 3(3), 233-238. from ERIC database.

This study revealed that Puerto Rican students recently arrived in the United States who participated in a bilingual reading program in Spanish and English performed significantly better than did similar students who did not participate in the program.

District of Columbia Public Schools,  Washington, D.C. (1971). A study of the effect of Latin instruction on English reading skills of sixth grade students in the public schools of the district of Columbia, school year, 1970-71., 18. from ERIC database.

This study examines the effect of language study on the English reading skills of sixth-grade school children. Achievement in reading skills of a control group of students receiving no foreign language instruction was compared with that in the Latin instruction group. Differences in scores of pretests and posttests of the more than 1100 students in three categories of reading achievement--vocabulary, comprehension, and total reading skills--were used as the data in determining average achievement in each group. Results of the study indicate that there is a significant difference between reading achievement scores of sixth-grade students receiving foreign language instruction and students with no foreign language instruction.

Garfinkel, A., & Tabor, K. E. (1991). Elementary school foreign languages and English reading achievement: A new view of the relationship. Foreign Language Annals, 24(5), 375-382. from Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts database.

In a four-year study of the relationship between the length of elementary foreign-language education & English reading achievement, 672 students from a Midwestern elementary school were administered reading tests after they had received two or four years of foreign-language instruction - up to grade six. The sample represented varying intelligence levels. Results indicated that students of average intelligence profited most from the two extra years of instruction in terms of English reading skills.  

 

There is evidence that language learners transfer skills from one language to another.

Cunningham, T. H., & Graham, C. R. (2000). Increasing native English vocabulary recognition through Spanish immersion: Cognate transfer from foreign to first language. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(1), 37-49. from PsycINFO database.

Effects of Spanish immersion on children's native English vocabulary were studied. Matched on grade, sex, and verbal scores on a 4th-grade Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT), 30 5th- and 6th-grade immersion students and 30 English monolinguals did 60 consecutive Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) items. The CAT and conventionally scored PPVT revealed comparable verbal ability between groups, but on 60 consecutive PPVT items, immersion did better than control because of cognates. On SECT, immersion significantly outperformed students in the control group. Findings support the idea that Spanish immersion has English-language benefits and that positive transfer (cross linguistic influence) occurs from Spanish as a foreign language to native English receptive vocabulary.

Hoffenberg, R. M., et al. (1971). Evaluation of the elementary school (FLES) Latin program 1970-71.R7202, Report: R-7202. 53.

This study analyzes the effect of one year of daily Latin instruction (15- to 20-minute lessons) on academic achievement, as measured by the vocabulary section of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Thirty four fifth- and sixth-grade experimental subjects were matched with an equal number of control group subjects on measures of Iowa test score (from the previous year), grade level, and neighborhood. The authors note, however, that the neighborhood matching only provided a "rough control over socioeconomic factors." Results indicated that fifth-grade students in the experimental group were functioning on grade level (sixth month of fifth grade) on the English vocabulary measure while the control group scored one year below grade level. The authors concluded that Latin instruction was effective in building English vocabulary of experimental group students.

Masciantonio, R. (1977). Tangible benefits of the study of Latin: A review of research. Foreign Language Annals, 10(375), 382. From ERIC database.

This article examines the linguistic benefits of Latin in light of recent research which seems to document the relevance of Latin in building English vocabulary and reading skills. Evidence is cited from eight educational projects in which an experimental group of students taking Latin, and a control group not taking Latin, were pretested, posttested, and compared with regard to English verbal skills. In each case, the Latin students showed significant gains over the control group. Other studies supporting these findings are cited, as well as projects presently being conducted. These studies yield important pedagogical implications: (1) educational administrators and curriculum specialists should consider the significance of Latin in improving language skills; (2) the language profession should assume the responsibility of disseminating information about this research; and (3) responsible educators should combat the tendency to ignore research data for budgetary or other reasons.

 

There is a correlation between second language learning and increased linguistic awareness.

Demont, E. (2001). Contribution of early 2nd-language learning to the development of linguistic awareness and learning to read/Contribution de l'apprentissage précoce d'une deuxième langue au développment de la conscience lingustique et à l'apprentissage de la lecture. International Journal of Psychology, 36(4), 274-285. from PsycINFO database

This study aimed to validate the effects of second language learning on children's linguistic awareness. More particularly, it examined whether bilingual background improves the ability to manipulate morpho-syntactic structure. The study postulated that children who received a precocious learning of 2 languages (French-German) may develop enhanced awareness and control of syntactic structure since they need an appropriate syntactic repertoire in each language. In return, these children will gain access to the written language with more ease. The results showed an advantage for the children who attended bilingual classes since kindergarten: they were better at grammatical judgment and correction tasks and word recognition.

 

There is a correlation between language learning and students’ ability to hypothesize in science.

Kessler, C., & Quinn, M. E. (1980). Positive effects of bilingualism on Science problem-solving abilities. In J. Alatis (Ed.), Georgetown  Universityround table on languages and linguistics (pp. 295-308). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, from Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts database.

Examined are the consequences of bilingualism on children's ability to formulate scientific hypotheses or solutions to science problems & interactions of this ability with aspects of linguistic competence. Experimental group treatment consisted of 12 science inquiry film sessions & 6 discussion sessions, all taught by the same teacher in English. The quality of scientific hypotheses and the complexity of the language used to express them were found to be significantly higher for both experimental groups than for the control groups. However, the bilingual children, given the same instruction by the same teacher in formulating scientific hypotheses, consistently outperformed monolingual children both in the quality of hypotheses generated and in the syntactic complexity of the written language. One implication is that a well-organized bilingual program where children develop in two linguistic perspectives can make the positive interactions of cognitive functioning & language development more fully operative.

 

Language learning can benefit all students.

Holobow, N. E.,  Genesee, F., Lambert, W. E., & Gastright, J. (1987). Effectiveness of partial French immersion for children from different social class and ethnic backgrounds. Applied Psycholinguistics, 8(2), 137-151. from PsycINFO database.

Evaluated a program of partial (half-day) French immersion in kindergarten. The English and French language development of 122 native English-speaking children from both working and middle class backgrounds was assessed. Results indicate that the 73 experimental students progressed just as well in English as 70 matched controls who followed a conventional all-English program. It was also found that socioeconomically underprivileged students (both Black and White) benefited from an immersion-type introduction to a foreign language as much as students from middle class homes did. Degree of progress in French was not linked with social class background, even though this background factor clearly affected performance on the English language tests.  

 

There is a correlation between young children’s second language development and the development of print awareness.

Bialystok, E. (1997). Effects of bilingualism and biliteracy on children's emerging concepts of print. Developmental Psychology, 33(3), 429-440. from PsycINFO database.

Three groups of 4- and 5-year-old children were examined for their concepts of how print refers to language. All of the children could identify printed letters and their sounds but not read alone. The groups studied were monolingual speakers of English, bilingual speakers of French and English, and bilingual speakers of Chinese (Mandarin) and English. Bilingual children were equally proficient in both languages and were familiar with print and storybooks in both languages. The tasks assessed children's understanding of the general correspondence between print and language in which the printed form represents a word and the specific correspondence between a constituent of print and one of language that determines representation in a given writing system. The general correspondence relation applies to all writing systems, but the specific correspondence relation changes for different kinds of writing systems. Bilingual children understood better than monolingual children the general symbolic representation of print. The older Chinese-English bilingual children also showed advanced understanding of the specific correspondence relations in English print.

 

Heritage learners who use their language skills to interpret and translate for family members experience higher academic performance and greater self-efficacy.

Buriel, R., Perez, W., De Ment, T. L., Chavez, D. V., & Moran, V. R. (1998). The relationship of language brokering to academic performance, biculturalism, and self-efficacy among Latino adolescents. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 20(3), 283-297. from PsycINFO database.

Children who interpret for their immigrant parents are referred to as language brokers. The present study examined the relationship of language brokering to academic performance, biculturalism, academic self-efficacy, and social self efficacy. The many adultlike experiences of children who broker on a regular basis suggest that their cognitive and socioemotional development may be accelerated relative to children of immigrant families who broker infrequently or not at all. 122 Latino adolescents from immigrant families were participants in the study. Results showed that, as expected, language brokering was positively related to biculturalism, and in turn, both of these variables were positively related to academic performance. In addition, the strongest predictor of academic performance was academic self-efficacy. Results also indicated that, to some degree, language brokering is a gendered activity, with females reporting more brokering than males.

 

There is a correlation between language study and higher scores on the SAT and ACT Tests.

Cooper, T. C. (1987). Foreign language study and SAT-verbal scores. Modern Language Journal, 71(4), 381-387. from ERIC database.

Comparison of verbal Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and California Achievement Test (CAT) scores of high school students who had or had not taken at least one year of foreign language study supported the conclusion that length of foreign language study was positively related to high SAT verbal scores.

Eddy, P. A. (1981). The effect of foreign language study in high school on verbal ability as measured by the scholastic aptitude test-verbal. final report. U.S.; District of Columbia, from ERIC database

Students in the eleventh grade in three Montgomery County, Maryland high schools were the subjects of a study to determine the effect of foreign language study on performance on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The following results were reported: (1) when verbal ability is controlled, students who study foreign language for longer periods of time will do better on various SAT sub-tests and on the SAT-Verbal as a whole than students who have studied less foreign language; (2) having studied two foreign languages has no significant effect on SAT scores or on scores on the Test of Academic Progress (TAP); (3) language studied has no differential effect on SAT or TAP scores; and (4) there is some evidence that higher grades in foreign language study will increase the effect of this study on SAT scores (particularly the reading and vocabulary sub-scores). In conclusion, it appears that the effect of foreign language study makes itself felt more in the area of vocabulary development than it does in that of English structure use.  

Olsen,  S.A., Brown, L.K. (1992). The relation between high school study of foreign languages and ACT English and mathematics performance. ADFL Bulletin, 23(3), from ERIC database.

Analysis of the American College Test (ACT) scores of 17,451 students applying for college admission between 1981 and 1985 found that high school students who studied a foreign language consistently scored higher on ACT English and mathematics components than did students who did not study a foreign language in high school.  

Timpe, E. (1979). The effect of foreign language study on ACT scores. ADFL Bulletin, 11(2), 10-11.

School records of 7,460 students at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale were analyzed to assess the extent to which foreign language study correlates with ACT scores.  Students were selected on the basis of having ACT scores on file and having answered survey questions about their previous foreign language study.  To control for intelligence, students were divided into a "more gifted" group (GPA of 3.0 or higher, college preparatory program, top quarter of their class) and a lower group not meeting the stated requirements.   The authors explain that the more gifted students were more likely to take foreign languages, but that for each group, years of study led to improved composite ACT scores, with the highest effect on scores in the English subsection of the test. 

 

There is a correlation between high school foreign language study and higher academic performance at the college level.

Wiley, P. D. (1985). High school foreign language study and college academic performance. Classical Outlook, 62(2), 33-36. from ERIC database.

Examines the correlation between high school foreign language study and success in college. Found that those who studied Latin, French, German, or Spanish in high school may be expected to perform better academically in college than students of equal academic ability who do not take a foreign language.  

 


Thanks to Amanda Kibler and Sandy Philipose, Graduate Research Assistants of Guadalupe Valdés at Stanford University, for assisting in the compilation of these studies. 

This information is not designed to provide a comprehensive review of the research studies available but instead has been compiled to provide support for the benefits of language learning.