Literacy, foreign language learning and wider academic achievement

The relationship between literacy, foreign language learning and wider academic achievement

Literacy has a role in foreign language (FL) learning research from a range of perspectives.

Could FL pedagogy with a literacy emphasis support FL outcomes?
UK-based, primary school research presents a mixed picture:

> FL instruction with literacy did not improve FL (oracy) outcomes compared to FL instruction with less literacy (Graham et al., 2014)

> There was a relationship between FL oracy and FL literacy outcomes after a teaching programme in which French oracy was supported by systematic and explicit French literacy (Porter, 2014)

Can this be linked back to quality of pedagogy? Does it depend what kind of FL literacy teaching and learning is on offer?

See our related theme pages: pedagogy and teacher expertise and linguistic development and expectations.

L1 Literacy seems to predict FL proficiency

Research in the US found that FL proficiency in university could be predicted by L1 literacy scores e.g. L1 decoding and L1 spelling (Sparks et al., 2009). 

UK-based research in primary schools has found that L1 literacy skills seem to predict FL outcomes in both KS2 and KS3.

> National Curriculum literacy levels were a good indicator of FL oracy proficiency and FL self-efficacy (Courtney et al., 2015).

> National Curriculum literacy levels, L1 reading age and L1 spelling age showed strong relationships with FL general proficiency and FL literacy outcomes (Porter, 2014).

FL pedagogy has the potential to support English literacy skills

KS2 (Year 3) pupils showed improved English literacy skills (such as phonological awareness) after a period of either French or Italian FL instruction (Murphy et al., 2014).

Learning a FL has the potential to support achievement across the curriculum

Again, it’s a mixed picture but some research in the USA suggests that FL learning in elementary school (FLES) can slightly improve performance on some elementary education tests e.g Taylor-Wood, 2003).

> KS2 (Year 4) pupils showed potential cognitive benefits

  • Can the teaching and learning of a specific language facilitate the development of language learning aptitude and metalinguistic awareness? (Tellier & Roehr-Brackin, 2013).
  • Can young children’s metalinguistic awareness be enhanced to kick-start their ability for explicit learning, and result in improved L2 proficiency? (Tellier, 2015).

> Stakeholder interviews reported perceptions that FL learning could support learning and progression in English literacy, communication and knowledge about language (Cable et al., 2010: 49).


Examples of task sheets and reference cards in different languages used in research projects.

If you are interested in knowing more about the importance of literacy, foreign language learning and wider academic achievement in language teaching and learning in primary schools, and / or if you would like to join our network and contribute to the development of the pages on literacy and achievement, please contact Alison, who would very much welcome your input:

If you are interested in finding out about research that is being carried out in this area, click on the button to the right for one-page reader-friendly summaries.