Multilingualism and additional language learning

A typical English primary school is a fascinating mixture of monolingual, bilingual and multilingual children, many of whom have English as an additional language.

Can educational interventions help EAL children improve their English language and literacy skills?

Yes they can. Not every intervention works of course, but many studies have demonstrated that interventions focused on improving English language and literacy skills of EAL pupils (in English speaking countries) can be successful. See: A review of intervention studies examining this issue.

What kind of interventions might help?

The systematic review of interventions aimed at improving English language and literacy has shown that interventions aimed at improving word-level analysis skills can help with the decoding aspects of reading.  Interventions aimed at improving vocabulary development (with a particular focus on academic vocabulary for school-aged children) can have a positive impact on the comprehension aspect of reading skills. See the complete review.

A recent update to this review (2018) shows that in the intervening years not much has changed and that there is still a pressing need for more intervention research on best practice for EAL pupils.

For children in the early years, interventions aimed at supporting oral language can have a positive impact and ultimately are likely to lead to improved performance on reading.  See Fricke & Millard (2016) which can be found in the volume:  “Early Childhood Education in English for Speakers of Other Languages” (Murphy & Evangelou, 2016) .

Other examples of successful interventions in the early years for developing oral language in EAL pupils are Dockrell, Stuart and King (2010).

This report presents an analysis of data from six local authorities on the Proficiency in English (PiE) of pupils with EAL which was introduced by the DfE, but has since been rescinded. This report illustrates how important PiE is in predicting academic achievement in EAL pupils and illustrates the need for the DfE to reinstate the requirement to collect this data.

If you'd like to find out more about multilingualism in the classroom and the primary-school experiences of children with English as an additional language, explore our links below.

If you have any questions, or if you are a school or classroom teacher who would like to take part in our research, please feel free to contact us.


Dockrell, J.E., Stuart, M.  & King, D. (2010) Supporting Early Oral Language Skills for English Language Learners in Inner city Preschool provision. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 497-516

Fricke, S. & Millard, G. (2016).  A setting-based oral language intervention for nursery-aged children with English as an additional language.  In. V. Murphy & M. Evangelou (Eds.). Early childhood education in English for speakers of other languages.  London: The British Council

Murphy, V.A. & Evangelou, M. (Eds) (2016).  Early childhood education in English for speakers of other languages.  London: The British Council

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.

If you are interested in knowing more about multilingualism and additional language learning and / or if you would like to join our network and contribute to the development of the pages on this theme, please contact Vicky: